Not The Item


Democracy School

March 19th, 2014

No Show from Politicians

Some of us were lucky enough to attend the Democracy School, held February 21/22 at Apfelbaum Hall, the Business and Communications Center for Susquehanna University, and sponsored by our friends at Shale Justice. Presented by Chad Nicholson and Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF)  the course began on a Friday evening and then ran for 7 hours on Saturday, including a break for a delicious lunch.

Apfelbaum Hall, Susquehanna University

Apfelbaum Hall, Susquehanna University

Over 20 people came along and they certainly comprised an eclectic bunch, ranging from college professors to senior citizens and from farmers to journalists to environmentalists. All were eager to learn about the democratic background and history of our country.

Business and Communications Center Classroom

Business and Communications Center Classroom

One section of society whose absence was noticeable was that of local politicians. Many, from both a local and state level, had been invited. Not one of them bothered to attend or even acknowledge. The information presented would certainly have reminded them of their responsibilities in the grander scheme of things, but it may also have been more than a little embarrassing to them when it came to the subject of their legislative records and the fundamental lesson of this course – namely that corporate “rights” preempt community rights, and that there’s no better friend to corporate interests than a sponsored elected representative — and also no greater threat to community integrity and welfare

Meet the New Boss – Same as the Old Boss!

The course presenters offered a perspective supported by a wealth of historical evidence contained in a 700 page manual, and traced a path, starting from British colonial oppression, and the ideals of the revolution to which this gave birth, only to be followed 13 years later by the counter-revolution as members of the elite reclaimed their power. Rule by the people was no more, replaced by increasing centralization based on a British system of government. More and more of their new found liberties and freedoms, for which so many had laid down their lives, were taken from them, reserved for government at federal and state level.

700 page Democracy Manual

700 page Democracy Manual

There followed an inexorable rise of the bankers and industrialists, much to the detriment of personal liberties and freedoms, as constitutional rights were trampled on in the mad stampede for personal agrandisement, culminating in the present day where the focus for government at all levels is on the golden calf of corporatism, and where laws and legislatures are designed to further the power of the mighty dollar rather than the welfare of the people.

Ben and Chad explained how communities everywhere across our nation have been systematically disenfranchised by those elected to serve them, and their fundamental rights to self determination weakened, as the very fabric of democracy has been eroded. Regulatory bodies exist to aid corporate interests – indeed their charters have been largely drawn up in consultation with those whom they are meant to control.

At best, agencies such as the DEP will go through the motions of public inquiries, but there is an inevitability to many of their decisions. Further regulation plays into the hands of the major corporations. Nobody else has the resources to navigate the labyrinthine nature of increasingly complex legal rules, and to take advantage of the many loopholes hidden away within their depths.

Today the US is ruled by big business. The federal government  long ago banished the pretense of being there to serve the people. Their new paymasters include Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Ag and the Military-Industrial Complex. The US has become a country of unequals where even the taxation system has been skewed to favor the rich and to penalize the poor.

At a local level, people are at the mercy of the elite. Local laws which challenge the right of industry to pollute our air, our water and our land are quickly trampled on by what is known as preemption. Let a municipality try to pass laws to stop fracking, dumping of waste, spreading of sewage sludge on fields or intensive farming operations and they could face a lawsuit raised by the Attorney General.

We can Reclaim our Rights

Many would think that the situation is hopeless; that Americans are so tied up in legal red tape that there is place left to turn. However, this is not strictly true. What folk have been doing wrong all these years is to play the game of the industrialists. Try to challenge them directly and they will always be victorious.

The answer proposed by Chad and Ben is as simple as it is effective. Don’t challenge the polluters on their home turf – use something which is mightier even then them – the Constitution.

Every American is familiar with these famous words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Communities across the United States have begun to reclaim these rights. They have, or are in the process of, legally adopting bills of rights, tailored to their specific needs and covering those issue felt to be important by their local populaces.

Lafayette Colorado adopted a community bill of rights to secure the right to local self-government, and to protect the right to clean air, pure water and the rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish. By a margin of over 60%, and notwithstanding a barrage of attack ads from the bill’s industrial opponents, voters approved this citizen-initiated effort that bans fracking as a violation of these rights. Despite attempts by the Governor to overturn this bill, it would seem that rights held by the people and recognized by the constitution can preempt statutes enacted and enforced by friends of corporate power.

Communities across the state of Ohio are saying “Enough!” having been repeatedly preempted by the state when they acted to protect their health, safety and welfare. From factory farming to shale gas drilling and fracking, local decision making authority has been blocked by the state – while the state simultaneously aids and abets the corporations promoting these harmful practices.

In response, Ohio residents in partnership with CELDF launched the Ohio Community Rights Network, to serve as an information and resource center for communities determined to exercise their rights to local self-government and to protect their communities and ecosystems.

In Pennsylvania, despite the recent overturning by the state supreme court of the Act 13 provisions which would have  effectively disenfranchised them with respect to decisions controlling natural gas operations, communities across the state are still subject to decisions, at their direct and long term expense, which benefit the natural gas industry – decisions supported by their own elected senate and house members, gubernatorial candidates, county commissioners, township supervisors, and community leaders.

Bill of Rights – Countering the Moran Menace

North Sunbury Bulk Transfer - Former Celotex Site

North Sunbury Bulk Transfer – Former Celotex Site

Here in Sunbury, the future of our community remains threatened by the plans of Moran Industries to turn the former Celotex site into a huge fracking waste dump and transshipment center. Last summer the health of local residents was threatened by huge clouds of toxic dust, raised by the constant movements of heavy trucks within the site.

Up until now the City has been unwilling to intervene, even at the basic level of enforcing its own codes and taking action against the many reported violations occurring within the site. A properly formulated bill of rights could be used to control these unwelcome activities, and protect the interests of the citizens rather than those of the polluters.

CELDF are encouraging and will actively support the establishment of organizations at a county level to begin the task of formulating bills of rights tailored to the unique needs of their own local communities. Not The Item would like to help facilitate this for Northumberland County. Everyone who is interested in learning more, or in possibly participating in such an organization, is asked to let us know using our “Contact Us” link. An exploratory meeting can then be convened at an early date.

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