But, that would depend upon language and definition. The judicial system has ruled that a corporation is a person. Therefore, we do in fact have government of the people, etcetera. These people have different characteristics. Without beating hearts and nervous systems, these people have pieces of paper that documents their existence. These are the 'government of the people' types who have yet to perish from the earth.
"The rule of law under which municipal communities are prohibited from interfering with corporate projects as long as those projects comply with state and federal law, is built from legal doctrines manufactured by the same corporations protected by those doctrines. Those doctrines include the protection of corporations with constitutional “rights” and the punishment of municipalities who interfere with those rights, as well as the outright authority of state and federal governments to nullify municipal laws."
People who run corporations have a menu of options at their disposal to eliminate lawmaking that “interferes” with corporate prerogative. They may either use state legislatures to adopt new laws preempting and nullifying local laws, or they can use their corporate “rights” to get a court to overturn local laws. Effectively, local laws aren’t laws at all, but mere suggestions to corporations regarding how and whether they should operate in a community. In many ways, they only have weight if corporate executives voluntarily agree to abide by them.
Stripping communities of the legal authority to stop corporate projects not only uproots people’s ability to decide the future of their municipality, it supplants it with corporate authority imposed from outside the community. Thus, communities stopped from saying “no” to big box stores are prevented from building vibrant, sustainable downtowns; communities unable to say “no” to corporate factory farms are prevented from building and supporting small-scale, sustainable agriculture; and communities unable to say “no” to gas fracking operations are prevented from protecting clean water and breathable air.
Lacking the authority to decide what happens, communities are transformed into mere resource colonies, while residents are converted into squatters on their own land, merely enduring whatever the corporation chooses to give them.
Communities today face not just the behavior of individual corporations, but a system of law that insulates corporate power from democratic control.
The creation of the “commerce clause” within the Constitution, which bans local and state governments from directly regulating large areas of industry, can be directly traced to some of the wealthiest “founding fathers,” who sought to prevent local and state governments from interfering with commerce and industry. Washington himself, anxious to prevent state bickering from impeing the Potomac canal projects he deemed vital to trade—projects in which he was personally invested—sought the power to override them. Those commercial protections morphed to protect rising industrial and commercial powers, which now exist in the form of corporations.
Given the structure of constitutional protection, the recognition of constitutional rights for corporations by courts and judges wasn’t a mistake, but a natural evolution of the law. After all, if commercial rights were protected by the highest constitutional protections, why would those protections not be extended to the nation’s largest commercial actors, the corporations themselves?
To stop harmful corporate projects, therefore, communities must defeat not just a single corporation, but a structure of law which elevates the “rights” of a corporation above the rights of the community.
Thousands of people today in close to 200 communities across the country have begun to liberate themselves from the “corporate state.” Small, rural communities like Grant Township, Pa. are harnessing the power of their municipal government to adopt local bills of rights banning frack wastewater injection wells, corporate factory farms and corporate water withdrawals. Those municipal laws elevate the rights of residents above the claimed “rights” of corporations, while openly rejecting the authority of the state and federal government to prohibit the community from banning those harmful projects.
While professing to believe in local, grassroots, democratic control, most mainstream groups have failed to support the growing movement for community rights. Professional environmentalists within the “Big Green” groups—groups that held so much promise in the 1970s—have been at the forefront of steering communities away from challenging the existing structure of law and government. Because of that stance, it is those groups that now share more similarities with the corporations exploiting communities than with the communities themselves. Both are content to battle it out within regulatory agencies, where the ultimate decision has almost nothing to do with whether the community can reject corporate projects, but only with how the project will proceed.
A drive must be led to clear the landscape of big environmental organizations, whose goals are not the same as those working to recognize the legal authority of communities. “Better regulation” of energy, agriculture, and transportation corporations only validates the authority of those corporations, and the highest levels of government, to continue on the same path. Unless we change the decision makers, our march toward ecological destruction and the elimination of democratic self-government will continue to accelerate on its way off the cliff.
Lead, follow, or get out of the way.
Today, the small band of communities taking on the world’s largest corporations have upped the ante.
Communities in seven states have now joined hands to create statewide community rights networks. Those networks are now proposing state constitutional changes which would elevate the rights of communities above those of corporations. They have also come together to propose a federal constitutional amendment that would recognize the legal authority of communities to ban harmful corporate projects and redefine corporate “rights” at the municipal level.
It’s time to understand that the community rights movement is the movement that we’ve been waiting for—one not limited just to environmental issues, but one which can be used to advance indigenous rights, expand workplace rights, impose police accountability, challenge bank foreclosures and establish rights to housing and healthcare.
Along the way, it promises to finally liberate us from the people that we’ve become—slaves in all but name.
THOMAS LINZEYThomas Linzey, a contributing writer to Rural America In These Times, is the executive director and co-founder of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and serves as the organization’s chief legal counsel.