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August 28, 2005

Upcoming Democracy School

Three of the writers of this blog have attended Democracy School here in Seattle and it’s been a powerful experience for all of us.  Democracy School was created by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and Richard Grossman, co-founder of the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy (POCLAD).

Jeff Reifman, one of those writers and one of the original sponsors of the School here in Seattle says,

At the most fundamental level, our weekend-long Democracy School addresses why democratic self-governance is impossible when corporations wield constitutional rights to deny people's rights, and how we are able to rectify these wrongs.

The next Seattle Democracy School will be September 30 – October 2nd. To learn more or register, click here.  Cost is $275. Scholarships for tuition are available to those with significant need.

Here’s an excerpt from a post I wrote on this blog after I attended Democracy School in June:

Richard and his early collaborators, all of whom were involved for years doing various environmental, labor and/or community activism, came to understand that they were getting badly beaten time and again. Their organizing failed to protect their communities or the natural world. They came to realize that the power of law was on the side of the corporations and that the State was doing the heavy lifting of enforcing these laws that favored corporations. The regulatory agencies that have been set in place, presumably to safeguard the people in issues related to air, water, toxic chemicals, etc., had the effect of making people assume that these issues were being taken care of and that the system was working.

In fact all the environmental and community organizing was only modifying slightly the behaviors of the corporations. Occasionally an issue would break through and become what looked like a publicly supported winner for the organizers. We discussed the abolition of slavery, the Clean Air and Clean Water bills of the early 1970’s and the health and safety concerns that led to the curtailing of cigarette smoking in the 1990’s as examples. These issues, however, were few and far between and often wound up being watered down under the persistent nibbling away at laws and regulations by the ever-vigilant corporate attorneys (not to mention the wholesale giveaways of the past four and a half years).

To add insult to injury, taxpayers were subsidizing the corporate response to legal challenges. All expenses related to addressing regulatory lawsuits brought up by citizen groups were tax deductible. It was time to reframe the understanding of the problem. Richard and gang went back to look at the Constitution and then at the laws put in place since then.

Knute Berger, editor of the Seattle Weekly, wrote this article after taking the June school:

At the national level, corporate power is driving a massive restructuring of our society by dismantling public programs that are purely for the benefit of individuals. They've made declaring personal bankruptcies more difficult while failing to rein in corporate misbehavior or usurious interest rates. They've blocked real health care reform to protect the private lack-of-health-care system. They've permitted pharmaceutical companies to come to market with drugs that aren't fully tested, treating people like guinea pigs. They're requiring taxpayers to pick up the tab for mismanaged companies that won't fulfill their pension promises to employees, while, in the meantime, seeking to gut Social Security.

Democrats and Republicans alike have embraced the idea that America has a destiny to dominate the world through free enterprise and unfettered trade, regardless of the consequences to the American people, let alone anyone else. The official agenda is endless growth and expansion. These ideas are not simply ascendent, they are in our nation's legal DNA. Once upon a time, America had slavery, and the courts considered it constitutional. A social and political revolution led by reformers changed that, and most of us today would never think of going back. But that revolution planted the seeds of a new transformation. Starting not long after the Civil War, American corporations began to accumulate power, not only as separate entities but as individuals. The courts have seen fit to grant corporations all the constitutional rights that people have. Many of the civil-rights laws that were implemented to protect African Americans and other minorities have been used by corporate America to expand their rights. People were once property, now property is people. Individuals today have fewer rights than corporations.

Individuals are protected by the Bill of Rights, but an American corporation gets that and more. It can exist in perpetuity; it has limited liability; it receives enormous tax breaks and government subsidies we mere people can only dream of; it has a regulatory system designed to protect and enable it. (Clear skies! Healthy forests!) To top it off, corporations avoid the responsibilities of citizenship: It is their right to behave as selfishly as possible. They can betray the public that ostensibly sanctions their existence. The rights of man? They're nothing compared to the rights of corporate man, a Frankenstein of increasing power."

Register here.

Posted by Lynn Allen on August 28, 2005 at 11:10 AM in Miscellany | Permalink


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