[mgj-discuss] FIRST ordinance PASSES in U.S. that Abolishes Corporate Personhood!
patrickr at riseup.net
Tue Dec 17 18:17:19 EST 2002
In this post :
#1 Quick explanation of corporate personhood
#2 Update and Resources for Fighting Corporate Power - Paul Cienfuegos,
#3. News Flash : PA township abolishes corporate personhood! Corporations lose
#4 Quick webliography of resources to fundamentally challenge corporate power
* * * * *
#1 What the heck is corporate personhood?
To those not familiar with the language of the emerging Democracy movement in
this country "corporate personhood" may seem like somewhat boring and obscure
language. But, as more and more activists challenging the corporate take-over
have discovered, this concept is essential to understanding the origins of
American corporate power. Through the work of the activists turned
historical/legal scholars at POCLAD (Program on Corporations Law and Democracy
www.poclad.org) many of us have learned about the judicial usurpation of human
and civil rights by corporate entities through the legal concept of "corporate
personhood". This corrupt legal principle stems from the landmark 1886 Supreme
Court Ruling in "Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific Railroad" and is one of the
foundations on which modern corporate power has been built.
Legal "personhood" helped free corporations from the historic limits placed
upon them by early American legislators and allowed the corporation to become
the defining institution of the modern world. The power of legal "personhood"
has helped turn the corporate form into the preferred method for elites to
organize their wealth and rationalize their seizure of public property and
assets. It underscores the ideology of privatization which has facilitated the
corporatization of every aspect of life. International trade, health care,
schools, prisons, even the building blocks of life itself -- our genetic
material -- are all being gobbled up as corporations become the de facto tool
For a thorough discussion of the 1886 ruling and corporate personhood see
William Meyers pamphlet "Santa Clara Blues: Corporate Personhood versus
Democracy". It can be ordered from www.iiipublishing.com. See #4 below.
So how do we fight back? Will it be issue by issue? Corporation by
corporation? Without a full understanding of the roots of corporations' legal
power we often find ourselves working in the arenas that corporations control -
regulations, lawsuits, bought-and-paid-for legislatures. Worse yet our
organizing initiatives get crippled by the illicit "rights" which corporations
have claimed for themselves. We find that our efforts to regulate corporate
harms end up accepting that corporations have a right to poison us and destroy
our ecosystems and livelihoods (as long as we regulate how much.) But around
the world a real democracy movement is growing. A movement that goes beyond
regulation or negotiating with legal fictions like corporations and dares to
re-assert democratic control over our lives and future.
Porter Township, PA is leading the way by showing us how to reframe an issue in
a way that agitates for true democracy and creates a "crisis in jurisdiction"
for the corporate state. In their efforts to stop factory farming and sludge
dumping the residents of Porter Township are refusing to talk about odor
ordinances and parts per million of water pollution. They have learned that is
how the corporations frame the issues. Instead they are talking about
fundamental rights and who gets to make the rules. It's a simple question.
Are we going to let corporations decide what kind of world we live in or are we
going to take back the power to define the structures that shape our lives?
Porter residents said they didn't want corporate agriculture so they banned it,
only to learn that to democratically pass that type of law was a violation of
corporations "rights"! So they passed an even more courageous law saying in
Porter Township corporations don't have rights, only people do!
Below you will find a full report on Porter Township's small but loud shot in
the growing war of independence from corporate rule. You will also find lots
of resources for deepening your analysis and organizing around fundamentally
challenging corporate power. Of particular note is the Democracy Unlimited
organizing packet, which is an essential tool in any radicals toolbox.
The future of life on the planet - certainly the future of diversity on the
planet - may well lie in our ability to weave ecology, democracy and justice
into a common story that incites Americans to rise up against corporate rule
and the global doomsday economy. What better way than to start by exposing
corporations as undemocratic legal fictions and challenging their right to
participate in community decision making. Let's learn from the movement in
Pennsylvania and have the courage to think big and to think smart.
Rights are for living beings, not legal fictions like corporations!
Towards a democratic, just and ecological sane future,
Wake Up America Campaign/the smartMeme project
#2 From : Paul Cienfuegos <cienfuegos at igc.org> Democracy Unlimited
Please spread this BIG NEWS far and wide through each of your email lists.
There is now an escalation of events in Pennsylvania regarding the struggle to
abolish corporate personhood!
The elected officials of Porter Township, Pennsylvania, have passed a law
declaring that corporations operating in that township may not claim civil and
constitutional privileges. A unanimous vote cast on December 9, 2002, evolved
out of long-time efforts by citizens and public officials to bar corporations
from dumping toxic sludge on township lands. The new law declares that
corporations allowed to do business within Porter Township possess none of the
human rights that corporations have been wielding to overrule democratic
processes and rule over communities.
For details, contact the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) in
PA at 717.709.0457 or info at celdf.org, or contact the Program on Corporations,
Law and Democracy (POCLAD) in MA at 508.398.1145 or people at poclad.org .
(See #3 below)
In this very scary moment in our country (and the world), as our pResident and
his staff of corporate criminals are slashing the Bill of Rights, this is
something REAL to celebrate for the holidays!!
But let's not just revel in good news. Let's make some of our own!
My co-director, Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, is on the national leadership team of
the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom's (WILPF's) "Campaign to
Challenge Corporate Power and Assert the People's Rights". You may already know
that WILPF's National Action to "Abolish Corporate Personhood", which was
launched in 2001, is picking up steam, with activities now in a number of
communities in Arizona, California, Massachusetts and Minnesota.
We (Democracy Unlimited) can provide you or your local group with an Organizing
Packet that provides the information that you need to launch an 'Abolish
Corporate Personhood' resolution in your town or county. WILPF's goal is 50
cities and towns passing such resolutions. Thus far, Point Arena, CA is the
first and only, and San Francisco may be about to consider it as well.
Resolutions are simply symbolic declarations. They do NOT change the law.
Or you could choose to follow the lead of Porter Township (as below), and go
for a legally-binding ordinance that strips the corporate form of Bill of
Packets are $13, payable to Democracy Unlimited, at POB 610, Eureka, CA 95502.
Or send us a legal-size SASE, and we'll mail you our newly updated Resource
List of books, informational packets, video and audiotapes.
For more info on this topic, check out WILPF's website:
http://www.wilpf.org/cintro.html . And within one month, Democracy Unlimited's
newly redesigned website will also be available for viewing:
* * * * *
#3 (via Molly Morgan from WILPF and POCLAD)...
First Local Government in the United States Refuses to Recognize Corporate
Claims to Civil Rights: Bans Corporate Involvement in Governing
On the evening of December 9, 2002, the elected municipal officials of Porter
Township, Clarion County - a municipality of 1,500 residents an hour north of
Pittsburgh in Northwestern Pennsylvania - became the first local government in
the United States to eliminate corporate claims to civil and constitutional
privileges. The Township adopted a binding law declaring that corporations
operating in the Township may not wield legal privileges - historically used by
corporations to override democratic decision making - to stop the Township from
passing laws which protect residents from toxic sewage sludge.
The actions by Porter Township thus repudiate the history of state and federal
public officials restricting the rights of citizens while expanding the rights
of corporations and their owners.
Along with close to a dozen other municipal governments in Pennsylvania, Porter
Township officials had previously adopted a local law governing the land
application of sewage sludge in the Township. The adoption of that municipal
law was an outgrowth of the work done by residents and municipal officials to
stop sewage sludge corporations from dumping Pittsburgh-generated sludge in the
Township. To that immediate end, the municipal government adopted a "tipping
fee" law that requires corporate sludge haulers to pay a per ton "tipping fee"
to the Township to enable the municipality to verify the safety of each load of
sludge applied to land.
Sludge corporations have responded both legislatively and judicially to the
adoption of those laws by Pennsylvania municipalities - which prevent
corporations from turning to state and federal officials to override local
Judicial Response: In 2000, Synagro Corporation - one of the largest sludge
hauling corporations in the United States - sued Township officials in Centre
County, Pennsylvania in an attempt to overturn the "tipping fee" law adopted by
that Township. In their Complaint, the Corporation alleged that the law
violated a litany of civil and constitutional rights asserted by the
corporation. A ruling by the federal court is expected by 2004.
Legislative Response: Legislatively, sludge corporations drafted and vigorously
pushed Bills that would strip Pennsylvania municipalities of their authority to
make rules that would control the land application of sewage sludge and factory
farms. A unique coalition of groups that included municipal governments, the
Pennsylvania Farmers Union, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable
Agriculture, the Sierra Club, the AFL-CIO, the United Mine Workers of America,
Common Cause and others, defeated that legislation at the end of the 2002
In addition to the legislative and judicial responses to the assertion of local
democracy by communities, sludge corporations have also instructed the state
environmental regulatory agency and corporate farm lobbies to intervene with
Clarion County Townships. In late 2002, the Pennsylvania Department of
Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau met with Clarion
County Townships to convince them to repeal their local laws. The four Clarion
County Townships that have adopted the law refused. Instead, Porter Township
forged ahead with adopting the most recent law, which eliminates corporate
interference in the democratic processes of the Township.
Also in late 2002, the Alcosan Corporation, a sludge hauling corporation in
Pennsylvania, threatened to use Pennsylvania courts to overturn the sludge law
passed by the Township. Porter Township Supervisors, upon learning of the
ability of corporations to direct the courts to vindicate corporate claims to
civil and legal privileges to override local governments, decided to pass a law
to eliminate corporate claims to those rights.
The actions of Porter Township - along with the actions of other municipal
governments in Pennsylvania dealing with land applied sewage sludge and factory
farms - evidence a shift of communities away from permitting corporate harms to
asserting direct control over corporations.
The Sludge and Corporate Personhood Ordinances were developed by the Community
Environmental Legal Defense Fund in partnership with the Program on
Corporations, Law, and Democracy (POCLAD) and communities across Pennsylvania
impacted by land applied sewage sludge and corporate factory farms.
#4 MORE RESOURCES!
Check out these extraordinary organizations advancing democratic
self-governance for all people, and dismantling corporate authority to govern
and to define our future.....
** Alliance for Democracy (Point Arena, CA chapter):
** Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund - 'Corporations and Democracy
Program' (in Chambersburg, PA):
** Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (in Arcata, CA):
**Jeannette Rankin Peace Center'sDefining Democracy Workgroup(in Missoula, MT):
** Ohio Committee on Corporations, Law and Democracy (in Akron):
** Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD) (in South Yarmouth, MA):
** Reclaim Democracy! (in Boulder, CO): http://www.reclaimdemocracy.org
** Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (in Philadelphia, PA) -
'Challenging Corporate Power, Asserting the People's Rights' campaign:
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