“Holy creeping corporatism, Batman, our rights are under attack!”

“I know, Robin. State legislatures are stripping municipalities of their zoning authority.”

No 494 Posted by fw, June 4, 2012

“Not content to leave Pennsylvania communities with any control over gas drilling within their borders, state legislators have stripped municipalities of their zoning authority under Act 13, choosing energy corporations over the people who elected them.”Ben Price

So writes Ben Price, CELDF’s Progress Director, in a Philadelphia news service. A copy of his short post appears below, tracing Pennsylvania’s transition to corporate statehood. As Progress Director, Price assists strategic functions in all areas of the US, facilitating the organizing and support of building a grassroots, transformational mass movement.

Fracking spurs a municipal mutiny in Pennsylvania by Ben Price, May 24, 2012

In latest attack on citizen’s rights, state legislators strip municipalities of zoning authority

Not content to leave Pennsylvania communities with any control over gas drilling within their borders, state legislators have stripped municipalities of their zoning authority under Act 13, choosing energy corporations over the people who elected them. This isn’t exactly new ground for the legislature; indeed, taking away communities’ authority to govern themselves is a decades-old pastime in Harrisburg, one that has shifted into high gear over the past 20 years.

In 1992 the legislature ceded logging rights to timber interests

The legislature made logging a guaranteed right in all zoning districts back in 1992, giving in to timber interests and eliminating municipalities’ authority to provide for conservation zones.

Next, lawmakers stripped municipalities of other regulatory authorities including water extraction

Shortly thereafter, lawmakers stripped municipalities of their authority to regulate corporate water extraction, the use of genetically modified seeds, and the dumping of urban sewage sludge on farmland. They also required all communities to allow “reasonable” extraction of minerals.

In 2005, state lawmakers effectively gave private agribusiness its own taxpayer-funded public lawyer – the state attorney general

Until recently, however, corporations still had to go to the trouble of suing municipalities if they wanted to overturn local laws. That changed in 2005, when, responding to the growing number of municipalities banning factory farms, the legislature adopted Act 38, the Agriculture, Communities, and Rural Environment Act, known as ACRE. It not only preempted municipal regulation of factory farming; it also gave private agribusiness a public lawyer: the state attorney general.

Under ACRE, instead of bothering to sue municipalities themselves, factory farmers could ask the attorney general to do so for them. Taxpayer-funded state attorneys were thus required to act at the behest of private corporations and against our communities to overturn democratically enacted laws. The state became not only an enactor of corporate-written law, but also a direct enforcer of it.

Using this as a model, Act 13 once again positions the state as corporate enforcer, this time through the Public Utility Commission. Under the law, the PUC can move to nullify any local laws that regulate gas extraction.

Municipalities have been transformed into wholly owned subsidiaries of the legislature

Act 13 hastens Pennsylvania’s transition to corporate statehood. Municipalities have been transformed into wholly owned subsidiaries of the legislature, with a status somewhere below that of private corporations.


  • George Carlin’s prescient political shtick, “The American Dream”, playing out before our very eyes – “Forget the politicians. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the state houses, and city halls. They got the judges in their back pocket. And they own all the big media companies so they control just about all the news and information you get to hear. They got you by the balls.”
Fair Use Notice: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.

Far and away the best damned strategy I’ve seen for building a grassroots transformational mass movement

The challenge is formidable — to abolish corporations and dissolve centralized hierarchies in general

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.

The CELDF Strategy and Similar Actions by Russ, May 19, 2012

[Introduction to CELDF]

CELDF’s goals

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.

CELDF’s origins

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.

  • The people should take back their local governments and force these to serve the community against assaults from alien governments and corporations.
  • Better yet, people can form their own democratic councils to parallel the “official”-track action shifting the initiative from the derivative government to the direct democracy of the people.
  • These dual-track actions would –
    • bring power and authority much closer to the true sovereign level of the people;
    • reverse the pre-emption doctrine enshrined in 1788, turning it right-side up;
    • these councils/municipalities would then confederate for mutual support, and to organize broader-scale constitutional assemblies.

CELDF’s core beliefs

  • Central and state level process action, including electoralism, is largely “dead”, as [CELDF] co-founder Thomas Linzey puts it;
  • The real nature of regulatory bureaucracy is to assist top-down assaults on communities rather than restrain them;
  • The notions of corporate property and rights are rejected in principle; and
  • The rights of citizens, communities, and nature are elevated in status.

CELDF’s accomplishments

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]

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.

HERE’S THE PLAN in their own words.

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:

  1. As bottom-up and relocalizing as possible.
  2. On a vector toward abolishing the system.
  3. Providing philosophical refutation of system sacred cows, and always explicitly refuting the system as such.
  4. Affording real POE opportunities and execution.

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.


Fair Use Notice: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund spearheads “massive disobedience” to U.S. law

No 142 Posted by fw, March 30, 2011

Following up on the three previous posts, which featured video recordings and transcripts of a 2009 talk by Mari Margil about the work of the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) in helping citizens protect their communities’ ecological rights from invasive corporations, this post focuses on CELDF’s Democracy School.

1. CELDF spearheads “massive disobedience” movement

It was only after watching a 57:50-minute video of a February 18, 2011 Democracy School class in action in Seattle that the revolutionary significance of CELDF’s campaign sunk in. The following transcribed passage from the video may help to give you a sense of this NGO’s ground-breaking initiative, and motivate you to watch the video that follows. To set the context, the following excerpt, spoken by Executive Director, Thomas Linzey, comes towards the end of the video,where he talks about “massive disobedience to the existing structure of [US] law” and the ominous challenges ahead:

It’s not only un-American but illegal to move outside of this [regulatory] process. ‘What else is there?’ means doing what the abolitionists and suffragists did, which is massive disobedience to the existing structure of law. There’s going to be a thousand lawsuits. There’s going to be ten thousand lawsuits by the time this is done because the institutions, including the courts are not going to help build this when people move outside of this [the existing regulatory structure]. They’re going to punish that process. And so if we know that, how do we incorporate that into the organizing to actually build it instead of have it fall apart? Because today when we go into court, and the judge rules against us, the community group dissolves and we go away. How do we capture that residue so that a loss in the court actually energizes and accelerates the organizing to happen rather than shut it down?

Not only is the video content itself informative, the engaging teaching approach is a treat to watch. No tedious talking heads here, lecturing participants into a state of cognitive stupor. Mari Margil in particular nurtures a supportive relationship with participants by valuing everyone’s contribution.

For those who might like to fast-forward through this rather long video, below are some selected notes and verbatim transcriptions of main points emphasized by CELDF’s two instructors, Mari Margil and Thomas Linzey, which might help you to zero in on sections of personal interest.

2. Mari Margil explains how state-issued permits to corporations are essentially “permits to pollute”

Drawing on an article from a 1997 edition of Virginia’s Roanoke Times, Margil methodically works her way through a journalist’s report of  a court case, repeatedly engaging participants with probing questions to direct their attention to, and test their understanding of, key passages:

  • How could a company, Smithfield Foods, violate state water permits more than 22,000 times over the past decade and remain in business?
  • What’s the significance of the word ‘excessive’ in a selected sentence in the article? (It signifies that permits are just that, “permits” to emit pollutants to a level that the law regulates as “acceptable”)
  • What’s the nature of the conversation when the state’s assistant attorney general asks the judge to consider the seriousness of Smithfield’s violations and whether or not the company has benefited from them? (It’s strictly a monetary conversation with no discussion at all of the damage done to the environment)
  • What’s the significance of a company employee’s pleading the 5th amendment when refusing to answer questions about the outcome of a previous trial in which he was found guilty of destroying and falsifying company documents? (The employee’s use of the 5th, allowed Smithfield to plead the 6th amendment — which gives a defendant the right to confront an accuser — in the current case, thereby protecting itself from the employee’s earlier testimony)
  • Why did the newspaper report not do a better job of informing the public about the legal basis underpinning the court decision? (Because corporate mainstream media has a tendency to simplify legal proceedings to make the process seem quite banal, “normal and acceptable”, with the result that citizens remain blissfully and irresponsibly ignorant about how their government really works).
  • To summarize, how does the U.S. regulatory system function? (The state issues permits to allow companies to conduct their activities, which are in fact permits to pollute to some acceptable level. And, as many companies do, they routinely exceed the limits — in Smithfield’s case over 22,000 times — which seemed to be “the standard operating procedure” for this company. And they call this a “regulatory system?”)

3. Edward Bernays (1891-1995) taught the corporate world how to tame the masses

In this section, Margil turns her attention to Edward Bernays‘ influence in developing techniques to control and manipulate public opinion. Bernays, Freud’s nephew, is considered one of the father’s of modern public relations, and the first to use psychology as a manipulative tool. One of his favorite techniques for manipulating public opinion was the use of “third party authorities” to plead his clients’ causes. He demonstrated that “If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway“. For example, in order to promote bacon sales, Bernays surveyed a sample of physicians and publicized their recommendation that people should eat heavy breakfasts. He sent his research findings to 5,000 physicians, along with publicity touting bacon and eggs as a heavy breakfast. Pork consumption spiked.

In his 1928 book, Propaganda, Bernays argued that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

CELDF’s Democracy School is, in part, a valiant attempt to undo the dumbing-down cultural indoctrination of “growing up corporate” in a wireless, diversionary world of endless infotainment.

4. Thomas Linzey on how corporations use doublespeak to disguise the truth

Referring to handouts in the manual distributed to Seattle’s Democracy School’s participants, Linzey illustrated how euphemisms are used to sanitize terms such as “sewage sludge” and “factory farm” to make them more palatable to the sensitivities of the general public and to project a positive business image. Sewage treatment plants, for instance, send waste sludge to farms for land fill and to be deposited on land where crops are grown for human and animal consumption — only they don’t call it “sewage sludge”, they call it “cake”. Regardless, sludge by any other name is still harmful. Cake can contain up to 100,000 different toxic components. EPA tests for 9. Two New Hampshire children died after driving their ATVs through a sludge-laden field. Incidentally, the term “biosolids” was coined in 1991 ostensibly to differentiate raw, untreated “sewage sludge” from treated and tested sludge that can legally be spread on farm fields. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that the name change came hard on the heels of an environmental crisis caused by dumping sewage sludge at sea off the New Jersey coast. Linzey points out that when activists and environmentalists use the euphemism “biosolids” they are unwittingly committing acts of self-censorship.

Linzey turns to another article that talks about “factory farm” operations. He notes, we no longer have “factory farms”, we now have “advanced and modern farms“, doublespeak to connote improved efficiency. To further obfuscate the reality of the transformation in farming practices, university agriculture departments adopted “Advanced and Modern Farms Department“, giving it a cultural legitimacy that its doesn’t deserve.

The real problem with factory farms is not just the volume of water usage, or the odor. It’s the level of concentrated corporate ownership of farming, controlling an increasing proportion of the food that Americans eat. Four corporations control 65% of pork production; another four control 70% of chicken production; and one, Kraft, controls 60% of all cheese production. This consolidation reduces competition, increases prices, and eliminates the small family farm. All in the name of efficiency. Seldom mentioned at all in the corporate controlled mainstream media is the way animals are treated on factory farms — no reference to the crowded conditions and the use of hormones and antibiotics.

5. Mari Margil returns to explain how the U.S. “regulatory triangle” gives corporations an unjust advantage in dispute settlements

First — Communities broadly define the problem with factory farms.

Thomas Linzey talks about the "regulatory triangle"

Mari begins this section by asking the class: “Why don’t communities want factory farms?” The rapid-fire answers include: don’t want toxic sludge; foul odor; reduces value of neighboring properties; water and other environmental contamination; wipes out small farms; increased truck traffic; and rise in farmer suicides. So the community defines the problem of factory farms very broadly in terms of negative impacts on the community — environmental, economic, agricultural, cultural, and impact on the food system. The Community’s Broad Problem Statement is graphically represented along the broad base of the “regulatory triangle”, which, as you can see from the image on the right, is actually an inverted triangle.

Second — In contrast, when states issue permits to factory farms, the permit narrowly defines how the farm will conduct its business, in terms of “manure management”.

On the corporate side of the equation, the state’s Nutrient Management Act (NMA) is a planning law that requires the factory farm owner to apply for a state permit. The application must outline how the farm will manage manure. Manure management, in other words, becomes the primary constraint that determines how the farm will conduct its business. It is not irrelevant that the NMA was adopted in response to a powerful agricultural lobbying effort, and that agribusiness representatives helped to write the law. The factory farm’s position on the inverted regulatory triangle is graphically represented by the large black dot at the inverted apex point.

Third — The result — as Margil and Linzey reveal in considerable detail — litigations and disputes between factory farm owners and the local community inevitably end up in a dead end “regulatory triangle” that gives corporations an unjust advantage.

According to Margil and Linzey, here’s what typically happens in a dispute. By virtue of the rules and regulations of the Nutrient Management Act, the state has effectively defined any legal dispute in very narrow terms as a manure management issue, thus driving the community argument down to this sole “regulatory point”. The only thing the community is allowed to talk about is, in this particular case, manure management. None of the community’s broad concerns count — not toxic waste, foul odor, depressed real estate values, etc. All these concerns and more end up being dismissed  as irrelevant.

6. Margil on how CELDF itself and other environmental organizations unwittingly helped to drive communities down to this regulatory point

When a community came to us and said ‘Hey, we want to stop a factory farm from coming in‘. We said, ‘Oh, all right. Well there’s a Nutrient Management Act, and there’s a permit system and you get to talk about manure and if you want to do this we will help you to appeal that permit.‘ So we drove them down to this point too. We also defined this very broad problem very narrowly because the state did it for us. We did this work for a number of years and we figured out that we weren’t helping communities to do anything. We certainly weren’t stopping factory farms from being able to come in. And any number of environmental organizations help communities through this process and all that happens is that, at best, it delays the thing from coming in. Ultimately, the thing gets sited.

So what did we do? Well, figuring out that this doesn’t work – this regulatory system – we couldn’t run other issues through the regulatory triangle. For example, if the community is facing a Wal-Mart from coming in. But the state now defines that problem of Wal-Mart very narrowly so that basically you’re left to talk about traffic. So the community’s activism is focused on traffic. The problem is you have all these forces sending the problem down to a very narrowly defined problem so that the solution that they find is very narrow.”

The communities were asking us ‘Why is this system the way it is?‘ And that’s when we took a big step back and looked at how does the system work? And our work now turns this thing upside down. Now communities ask: ‘Tell us what else we can do.’ And that’s when our work started to change.

7. Thomas Linzey on how environmental organizations have become “more of an obstacle than the actual corporations that the community’s attempting to fight”

It’s very difficult, almost impossible, to have conversations with these folks [NGOs, especially environmental organizations]. I have friends on all the major environmental groups – NRDC, Sierra Club, etc, — who say privately, “It’s very good stuff you’re doing Linzey but we’ll never do it.” It’s very tough because there are careers built on this [regulatory process]. You’ll find large law firms, huge law firms, international law firms, with environmental lawyers who litigate only section 301A2ia of the Clean Water Act. That’s their life. That’s the only litigation they do. They built a career out of this. . . . There are literally hundreds of millions of dollars that get shovelled into this process every year. And there are places where it gets reinforced. This is the glue that holds the shit together in a very dependent cycle within the United States. I had to learn the hard way because the Sierra Club and the major environmental groups in Pennsylvania came to us privately to urge us to stop doing the work that we were doing in Pennsylvania because they said if you actually liberate community self-government to build new bill of rights structures that actually prohibit corporate farming it’s going to lose, number 1, and number 2, you’re going to piss off all the legislators and they’re going to take away our regulatory window. They’re going to take away our regulatory options. That was one of our awakenings. The groups that we thought would be allies, that they would be interested in helping – they have not. It’s not long-time activists [who are moving this work]. It’s not progressives. It’s not liberals. It’s first-time activists who are coming into this stuff.  We found them [long-time activists] to be a problem, to be an obstacle. And in some places they’re more of an obstacle than the actual corporations that the community’s attempting to fight.

It’s like the city of Pittsburgh, the city council we were working with as a municipal client — who, for the first time, a major municipality bringing up an ordinance that strips natural gas corporations of constitutional rights in the municipality — and the largest environmental groups in Pennsylvania got together to send a coordinated letter to the city council saying “You can’t do it. It’s illegal and unconstitutional and you can’t do it and you’re going to get sued and we don’t support it.”

8. Linzey: “The regulatory system is about regulating us

It’s about building a new constituency of people who can actually see what’s happening and take action. The bigger structural problem is that we don’t decide what happens in our own communities. ”It’s a democracy issue. . . . It’s about the structure itself that we’re stuck in. . . .The regulatory system is about regulating us, regulating what we do and how we come at these problems . . .The boys have written a script for us. And there’s an even bigger script, which deals with corporate rights, and preemption and all this other stuff.


Oh, yes, in case you’re interested, Ontario has it very own Nutrient Management Act. The Act is referenced in an article titled: Regulation of Factory Farm Manure Disposal. Now ain’t that the damnedest coincidence!

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