GANE lays out many principles intended to hold corporations accountable to the local community as it seeks to become environmentally sustainable and provide full employment within an equitable system. But as we continue to see the power wielded by corporations and the financiers, it seems highly unlikely that these principles will be achieved. Fortunately a new movement to assert the rights of communities and the rights of nature provides a new path to community empowerment.
The answer lies with action that can be taken right in our own communities which, when such actions reach a critical mass, have the potential to overturn “settled” law created by the courts which has given corporations the right of personhood under the 14th Amendment intended for freed slaves.
It all began in the most unlikely of places -- rural, conservative Pennsylvania townships. This was not the result of progressives getting together. In fact, it was in reaction to a coalition made up of labor, environmentalists, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, and the Democratic governor which succeeded in getting a law passed to establish regulations that would reduce the pollution from CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations).
Trouble was farmers did not want these corporate hog farms in their communities period. They called Thomas Linzey with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) in rural Chambersburg and said they wanted him to help them keep the CAFO’s out. Well, Linzey knew from his previous legal assistance to communities that the regulatory system was not going to do it. Together they took a radically different approach. The towns passed local ordinances that banned corporate farming altogether, with an exception for local family-based corporations. Instead of focusing on the regulatory action, the ordinances focused on the corporate actor.
These towns did not get down on their knees and plead with the corporations to be “responsible” or “accountable” to the community. They asserted their local authority over the corporations in order to protect their local farms and the health and welfare of their communities.
Then two teenagers drove their all-terrain vehicles over a field freshly spread with sludge form municipal treatment plants. Within days, Daniel Pennock, one of the teenagers, was dead from inhaling toxics from the sludge. It was a wake-up call. Farmers had been sold a bill of goods. What was supposed to be a boon to farmers --free fertilizer -- was in fact laced with an unknown mix of toxins. Townships now knew how to respond. They banned corporations from spreading sludge in their towns.
The idea spread to western Pennsylvania, deep in mining country, where the coal companies were using long wall coal mining techniques to tunnel horizontally deep under homes and farms without supporting pillars. Homes cracked. Ponds disappeared. Water had to be trucked in to feed the livestock. Blaine Township, knowing that in the not too distant future the long walls would be coming to their township, has taken the incredibly brave step of passing an ordinance banning corporate mining in their town. Today over 100 communities in Pennsylvania have passed laws grounded in asserting community rights over corporate rights.
Inspired by Pennsylvania, the citizens of Barnstead NH became the first town in the country to pass an ordinance banning corporations from taking their water. The ordinance denies corporations the rights of persons in Barnstead, as well as denying them protection under the commerce clause and contracts clause of the U.S. Constitution or similar provisions in the NH Constitution. Two years later Barnstead amended their ordinance to insert the Rights of Nature.
The Alliance for Democracy’s Defending Water for Life campaign triggered local interest in taking this approach and provided strategic support. Today four towns in NH and two in Maine have passed community water rights ordinances including the rights of nature.
Resources on corporate issues
Global Dreams, by Richard J. Barnet and John Cavanagh (Simon & Schuster, New York:1994, $25.00). In the words of David Horowitz former CEO, MTV Networks, "Barnet and Cavanagh have given us an exegesis, dazzling in its scope and depth, of the emergence of global megacorporations and their role in the internationalization of popular culture, consumer markets, factory production, and finance. The book is immensely readable and endlessly interesting...."
When Corporations Rule the World, by David C. Korten (Kumarian Press & Berrett-Koehler Publishers, CN & CA:1995, $29.95). It's a steep price but well worth the money. Share it with friends. In the words of John Cavanagh, "If you can read only one book on how to address the enormous challenges of our time, this is it....Korten weaves together a devastating critique of the tyranny of the global economy with an arsenal of well-argued alternatives to offer an empowering agenda for change."
An alternative vision of globalization from below is presented in Global Visions, Beyond the New World Order edited by Jeremy Brecher, John Brown Childs and Jill Cutler (South End Press, Boston: 1993, $16.00). The book includes articles by scholars and activists from more than 20 countries in all parts of the globe including Vandana Shiva of India, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of Mexico and Elaine Bernard of Canada.