No 493 Posted by fw, June 3, 2012
“We’ve become so obedient that we’ve forgotten how to refuse to submit to a structure of law that is harming us.” —Russ.
I highly recommend the following abridged version of a post from the blog, Volatility*. It will be of particular appeal to anyone interested in the strategy of building an effective grassroots counterpower movement. Sure the article is long. But what else are you doing that is more important than saving the planet and taking back our democracies from the bad guys? To facilitate browsing, I have added subheadings and used bulleted formatting in places. (*Other than the fact that the following post from the Volatility blog appeared on the CELDF website, I’m unclear about any other aspects of the relationship between them, if any).
To read the original article, click on the linked title below. The author is identified only as “Russ”. By the way, don’t miss the two comments at the end of the post.
[Introduction to CELDF]
We’re trying to build a new society, and rebuild a natural one, based on Food Sovereignty and true democracy. The negative aspect of this is to abolish corporations and dissolve centralized hierarchies in general.
Finding focus and strategic and tactical certainty is not easy
Finding focus on these simple goals is hard enough. But even among those of us who agree on the basic goals, there’s great strategic and tactical uncertainty. We can agree that in the end on bottom-up action, especially direct action, movement-building, and mutual assistance, will work. We can agree that the officially allowed modes of “action”, electoral voting and other passive, process “politics” and consumerism, cannot work.
But there’s an array of possible actions which lies somewhere between direct action and kettled process reformism which may, depending on the circumstance, the operational goal, and the execution, lie on the vector [course] toward the great democratic goal.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) strategy for local-level constitutionalism and anti-corporate ordinances is a good example of this. The CELDF was formed to fight back against several kinds of corporate assaults which are especially tyrannical at the immediate local level – CAFOs [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation], fracking, dumping sewage sludge on fields, water privatization and plunder; and also against the overarching legalistic/constitutional framework for these assaults, such as federal pre-emption (anti-federal, by any non-Orwellian definition of the term), the captivity of the electoral system to money (but they want to focus on local ordinances banning corporate money in local elections) as enshrined by Citizens United, and the general regime of corporate personhood and “rights”.
The basic plan – communities would assert local sovereignty enshrined in local bills of rights
The basic plan is for communities to enact ordinances asserting local sovereignty and proclaim local constitutions, really bills of rights, enshrining this.
CELDF’s core beliefs
It has assisted over 120 communities and larger towns in Pennsylvania, New England, and California in passing ordinances and/or drawing up constitutional charters asserting local democracy against corporate invasions. The largest action has been Pittsburgh’s law banning fracking within city limits. As I write Vermont is on the verge of banning fracking in the state.
CELDF’s strategy – Don’t level the playing field, build a new one
The CELDF strategy isn’t meant to succeed according to the [existing] system’s own rules, but rather to provide a political and organizational framework for resisting the system’s depredations and for building a democratic relocalization movement. It’s not so much to level the playing field as to set up a new one.
Food sovereignty and positive democracy are self-evident, moral and just
Food sovereignty and positive democracy are, first of all, a set of principles. We must internalize it like the air we breathe, feel it assimilated to our very bodies, and experience any contradiction of it as an outrage. Every part of it is common-sensical and self-evidently moral and just. So we need to build the mindset, this is right. Then, wherever we see the system reject, resist, and repress it, we have a stark lesson in the illegitimacy of the system.
The strategy doesn’t depend on “winning in court” but on building an “amend-the-constitution” movement
The CELDF isn’t naive about how well these ordinances and bills of rights are likely to fare in the system courts. The strategy doesn’t depend on “winning in court”. The plan is for communities to organize around their ordinances and constitutions, then confederate toward larger-scale constitutional conventions which would turn pre-emptive “federalism” right side up. So each community draws up its own bill of rights, and then this constitutional network is used toward building an amend-the-constitution movement. (Let me stress again, I don’t consider this sufficient, but it’s a piece of the overall movement strategy.) None of this is to say that the ordinances are “only” symbolic, or that we concede being ignored in court. This is just, this is the real law, this is the constitution, this is the right thing to do. Any legitimate court will uphold it.
People have rights and that the state has no authority to license violation of those rights
This idea that people have rights and that the state has no authority to license violation of those rights, is the core principle, the underlying premise, for mounting a new civil rights movement for the legal recognition and protection of community rights…
Adopting community rights ordinances forces the courts to publicly strip people’s rights
The larger strategy behind organizing locally to assert rights has zero to do with relying on the courts. Adopting community rights ordinances and banning corporate activities that violate rights is an organizing strategy, not merely a legal strategy. The courts likely will not vindicate our rights; they may, on behalf of the corporations, strip them, as they have done for many years. But community rights ordinances force them to do so publicly, clearly, and not in a quiet blizzard of legal mumbo-jumbo hidden away from public attention or interest.
The legal goal is to publicly expose conniving of state and corporate power
Exposing the oppressive conniving of state and corporate power publicly, in sharp contrast to the people’s aspirations and sense of public justice – this is the legal goal.
Why take this route? If we are to have our rights stripped, let it not be because we failed to exercise them; let it not be because we surrendered them and settled for regulating the rate of destruction; let it not be because we zoned where our community rights could be denied, or because we adopted conditional use regulations that amount to little more than terms of surrender. If we are to have our rights stripped by the state on behalf of wealthy and powerful corporations, let us expose it to the world as the tyranny that it is…
Past successful movements for constitutional change focused on exposing the unjustness and immorality of the existing system. Let’s adopt that proven approach.
As it turns out, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There have been successful movements in the United States that have achieved constitutional change – including abolishing slavery and winning the right to vote for women. Those movements didn’t focus on building a regulatory agency dedicated to regulating the number of lashes for slaves or new rules for how husbands should treat their wives – they focused instead on driving constitutional change by illustrating how the existing system was unjust and immoral. To do that, they broke existing law, forcing the system to punish them, as a clear, explicit, and public illustration of how the system functioned.
Northern juries violated the law by refusing to send slaves back to their owners, blacks sat at lunch counters in violation of the law, women illegally cast ballots at voting places, and American revolutionaries illegally declared their independence from England. Each of those actions served to illustrate how the existing system operated and what a new structure might look like. In the process, those actions galvanized people to join together to build movements that eventually undid the existing system permanently – not through the courts, but through changing the very structure of the existing system.
We’ve become so obedient that we’ve forgotten how to refuse to submit to a structure of law that is harming us.
Eventually, there will be a thousand lawsuits just like the one in Blaine Township. And then a thousand more. As Frederick Douglass once noted, “power concedes nothing without demand.” We’ve become so obedient that we’ve forgotten how to refuse to submit to a structure of law that is harming us.
The long-term goal of adopting ordinances is constitutional change
Some of those lawsuits may be appealed and, in others, elected officials will sacrifice their communities to maintain the municipal treasury. Some cases may win, many will lose – but together, they will give birth to a peoples’ movement that this country hasn’t seen since the late 1800s – a movement aimed at throwing off the authority that enables a small number of people to override community decisions dealing with energy, food, waste, and resource sustainability…
What’s the long-term goal of adopting ordinances? Constitutional change. Since many of the doctrines – like corporate “rights,” for example, or corporate commerce rights – are wrapped up in the constitution, State legislatures are powerless to change them (even if they wanted to). Thus, long-term, the ordinances aren’t really ordinances at all – they’re mini-constitutions which embody what constitutional change must eventually look like.
To achieve the goal, enough communities must push back
To achieve that constitutional change, enough communities in enough places must begin to push-back against the structure of law, and then knit themselves together to drive changes to the state constitution, and eventually, to the federal constitution….
The inevitable result of these local refusals to follow illegitimate State law is the binding together of hundreds of municipalities to force constitutional change that overrides the authority of the State to gut community self-government. That means driving a right to local self-government into the Pennsylvania Constitution which enables our communities to begin to actually protect our health, safety, and welfare, rather than continuing to be at the mercy of gas and other corporations who solely seek to use our communities for resource extraction…
Join the push-back movement — Adopt a local “bill of rights” now
If your community hasn’t already adopted a local “bill of rights” that bans gas drilling, do it tomorrow. Without a critical mass of communities in Pennsylvania joining together, constitutional change that liberates our communities to determine their own futures will remain beyond our reach. And we will saddle our children with cleaning up the mess – and whatever is left of our communities and environment – that happened on our watch…
Here is no hypothetical calling of the corporate state to account. The question posed is this: What will lead to the exercise and protection of our unalienable rights, including the right to local, community self-government? And the answer is: Nothing but the exercise and protection of unalienable rights through the exercise of our right to local, community self-government!
Force the kleptocracy to publicly display “its true barbaric thug essence”
The activism of organizing and passing such laws, which are obviously more legitimate than the alien “laws” of the central government, and then having to fight against these alien forces for the simple right to rule ourselves, is intended to expose the truly tyrannical nature of the central corporate-government system and bring more people into the true federalist movement. That in turn will bring us to the point where we can change the Constitution, or achieve victory through bottom-up political attrition as the tyrants are unable to function once stripped of local support.
A goal here is to codify Food Sovereignty, positive democracy, and relocalization as explicit legal/constitutional principles. The more we go on record as wanting to redeem our democratic sovereignty, and the more the kleptocracy* has to resort to brute lawlessness to assert its prerogatives, the more its true barbaric thug essence will be clear. [*A government characterized by rampant greed and corruption].
All pro-democracy grassroots action is a tonic
On a general level, all pro-democracy grassroots action is a tonic. Citizens are taking action, however small to begin with, directly against corporate and central government power. We’re answering “federal” arrogation* and usurpation with our own version of pre-emption. We’re declaring that our people’s law supersedes, overrides, overthrows their illegitimate might-makes-right. We’re declaring the principles of true federalism, which is a vector opposed to all centralization and concentration. This is a value in itself. [*To take or claim for oneself without right; appropriate].
Post-oil, the direction of socioeconomic organization will be towards less consumption and relocalization
If hierarchy and centralization ever made sense, it was only because the vast energy unleashed by the fossil fuel binge required them. By the same logic we must then recognize that post-oil, where the energy vector is toward far less consumption, and the economic vector is to relocalize, we must harmoniously refederalize political and economic power to the local/regional level. This is to obey the laws of history, as formulated here by the physical imperatives of energy and therefore of economics.
Constitutionalism means to govern according to the natural economic vector. Today that means Food Sovereignty, positive democracy, and relocalization. We don’t even have to dispute the motives of 1788. All we need to say is that its vector was the opposite of today’s. For that reason alone we have to turn it right side up.
As predicted, the political/ corporate system has so far been hostile to this effort
As predicted, the system has so far been hostile to this effort. The earliest ordinance, an anti-mining ordinance in Blaine, PA, was forced to be repealed by corporate pressure. In response to the growing Pennsylvania insurgency the state legislature passed a pre-emption law which would turn the state into a veritable petrostate and fracking free-fire zone, with all democratic sovereignty legally abolished. In Maine prosecutors are carefully selecting a test case toward a more thorough assault on the local food sovereignty laws.
Authoritarian trampling of a community ordinance hits closer to home than suppression of citizen activism
Where we fight this way, we force a more “de jure” [rule by law] demonstration of tyranny. Trampling a law is more easily understood by the masses than suppressing activism in general. In this sense, the movement’s use of laws and constitutionalism is a device to achieve better middle-class understandability. In this sense it’s educational, “symbolic”, movement-building. It states a “demand” which describes why citizens engage in direct action. In this way it supplements direct action. In the end it can only supplement direct action, not substitute for it.
The CELDF strategy and related actions are, in the end, trying to use these actions as exercises in direct democratic participation, as organizational campaigns, and to educate the public about corporate/government assaults on the people’s sovereignty and rights. (I call this POE: Participate-Organize-Educate.) The more we learn, the better organized we become, the more experience of democratic participation we get, the more of a taste for this participation we develop, the more we’ll build a movement which will actually fight for our food sovereignty, true democracy, and self-rule. Using the ordinance/bill of rights strategy as the vehicle toward attaining local power, within the official government as well as parallel sovereign councils, will be a self-perpetuating organizing process, and will also help build these quasi-governmental forms into real fighting structures which will render the assaults from outside and above less and less effective against us.
The time for a full-scale transformational movement isn’t yet ripe – but it’s coming
This stuff is important for anyone looking toward full transformation. The time isn’t yet ripe for a full-scale transformational movement. Occupy, for example, seems to be in a sophomore slump. We’re gradually, inexorably, but so far slowly building toward it. In the meantime, we need outlets for action, and we need our characteristic actions in the eyes of the public. Plus, most people will still need to try many sorts of “reform” before they finally realize that reformism does not and cannot work. While we do as much personal prepping, food-growing, reskilling and relocalization action as possible, and while we do all we can to propagate transformational ideas and evidence, we also need a suite of political action, right here right now.
We need actions which meet these 4 criteria:
This has to mean everyone’s on a vector and never stagnant. It means that every time a bottom-up reform action is smacked down, we must raise our aspirations and escalate our proclaimed goals. Above all, we must not keep doing the same thing that’s already proven to fail (the proverbial measure of insanity), and we must never regress. These comprise appeasement, which we know cannot work.
2 Comments to Russ’ article
Wow – nobody has left a comment yet. I see the drill: the idea is to FORCE the system and the elites who control their government puppets to come out into the open to show themselves for the predators they are. And then hope that the people, now that they realize their condition, will rebel or resist. My main and real fear is that the people will passively accept their slavery and impoverishment and dehumanization. Thus far, they have. Perhaps as they can afford fewer and fewer trashy and glitzy consumer goods, they will develop a spine, but I am somewhat doubtful. For myself and my community, I hope that my pessimism is not warranted. I can barely convince people that they should grow a tomato plant or two – but most of them are still far too comfortable. May 21, 2012 @ 11:29 am
Reply from Russ —
You’re right about the mass inertia. The idea’s to get enough people to resist and start rebuilding, and provide a framework for doing so, that we can start affecting the inertial trajectory. This can actively weaken the system, take advantage of where it’s weakening on its own, increase the chances of a spontaneous mass breakthrough. There’s no need to be pessimistic. Rather than looking at how many haven’t yet heeded the call (most of them, we should always remember, are inertial rather than actively system-supportive), we can look at the growing numbers who are heeding it.