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Thursday, September 8, 2011

ALL POLITICS IS INTERNATIONAL





Today's blog was written as an editorial for a local paper in Coos Bay, Oregon. It ties together local, state, national and international efforts to promote peace and justice with some lessons learned from our efforts so far.



Tip O’Neills’ famous dictum that all politics is local usually goes without challenge. The implication of this idea seems to be that ordinary citizens only have power to influence local politics and that when they do so, they act in their own self interest. Two events in August of which residents of Coos Bay may be aware were designed to challenge that commonly held belief. Fittingly, one was local and the other national.

Three Oregon nonprofits pooled efforts to hold the event Visioning the Future in Coos Bay on August 22. Human Rights Advocates of Coos County, Take Back America for the People and Good Grief America teamed to put on an event designed to connect the dots between local, national and international issues that Congress seems unwilling to address.

The event was originally sparked by a request by Cindy Sheehan for local organizers to put together an event that would bring together local residents throughout Oregon to discuss how all these issues are ultimately related to war. The intent was not only to educate the public about the need to generate grassroots opposition to war and other injustice but to bring citizens together to talk about how we can work at the local level to end wars now opposed by 70 percent of Americans.

Sheehan bowed out after learning that organizers had invited a popular local politician to speak. Bill Bradbury was invited to talk about global climate change and possible solutions. Sheehan knew only that he was a Democratic politician and that he was a friend of Al Gore. In private correspondence, Sheehan explained to me that she felt all politicians were so corrupt that to include them in the event would be contrary to her vision. She seemed to be arguing that a grassroots uprising would somehow result in Americans taking back their government without dirtying their hands in the messy business of American politics. Organizers and Sheehan fans expressed disappointment that she chose not to come to Coos Bay to make her case.

After learning of Sheehan’s decision not to attend her own event too late to prevent it from being widely advertised, organizers decided to proceed with the event anyway. Experts on various issues were invited to attend and a number responded. Nancie Koerber is the founder and Executive Director of Good Grief America, which was formed to inform Americans about how the banking and finance industry created the housing bubble to finance the derivatives   market that has nearly taken down the US economy and now threatens to destabilize the world economy. Subscribers to the Good Grief America mailing list are also kept aware of efforts to bring the banking and finance industries that engineered the bailout to justice. Most importantly, Good Grief America was formed to help Oregonians learn how as individuals they can fight against foreclosures.

Human Rights Advocates of Coos County was represented by Anita Coppock, who spoke to the audience about the rights enumerated in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. She focused on the manner in which they are routinely violated in various nations and in particular how they are being increasingly violated in the US at local, state and national levels of government. From torture to illegal imprisonment to denying access to health care and many other violations of the Declaration, she explained the reason that HRACC was formed and how they are fighting these injustices at a local level.

As the founder and Board President of Take Back America for the People, I was the last to speak before introducing featured speaker Bill Bradbury. Our mission statement states that Take Back America for the People was formed to educate the public of the dangers of allowing corporations to control the US government and what we can do about it. This is a task that we argue will take work at the local, state and federal levels. The group takes the position that the key task in restoring democracy to America is to overturn the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United and all prior decisions that established the principle that corporations are entitled to the same rights as living, breathing human beings.

The largest crowd at the event gathered to listen to Bill Bradbury speak and answer questions. He is the former Oregon Secretary of State and was a Democratic primary candidate for Governor in 2010. He trained under Al Gore to give hundreds of talks about the evidence of global climate change and possible solutions.

Sheehan had expressed her belief that as an associate of Al Gore Bradbury must hold the position that the solution to controlling carbon emissions was through a cap and trade system, which she and many others oppose. This creates carbon credits that are designed to be gradually lowered, encouraging corporations to reduce emissions as the credits become increasingly expensive. According to Peter DeFazio, this has the potential to lead to a speculative boom as it has in countries where carbon tax credits have become just another commodity to be bought by polluters so that they can avoid making changes in the levels of their carbon emissions.

Bradbury cited the abundant evidence to support the conclusions of the thousands of independent scientists on the international panel on global climate change. Its members overwhelmingly agreed that human-caused increases in the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide are responsible for a steep rise in average temperatures around the planet and the resulting increase in the melting of glaciers and the polar caps, droughts, severe storms and other logical consequences of the unchecked Greenhouse Effect.

Bradbury argued persuasively that the best solution would be a tax on carbon emissions that would directly impact the costs of polluting, but expressed the opinion that Congress is too corrupted by corporate money to even pass a cap and trade bill of questionable value.

On August 30 the Democracy Convention began in Madison, Wisconsin. Attendees gathered from around the nation to meet and discuss how they could work together to challenge corporate power and influence government at the local, state, national and international levels. The parallels with our local event in Coos Bay were striking. We learned about the details of the Move to Amend coalition strategy to end corporate control of the electoral process that had been greatly expanded under the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case in January of 2009.

Move to Amend holds to the position that corporations should have no “rights” under law. The argument is that since corporations exist only to limit the liability of stockholders in civil actions, stockholders have been granted a privilege and not special rights unavailable to average citizens. They argue that as a result, average citizens are increasingly disenfranchised as the CEOs of large corporations are increasingly able to influence the outcome of elections.
 

Move to Amend takes the  position that corporations having the same rights as human beings is a direct challenge to democracy in America. Accordingly, they (and Take Back America, as an endorser of their organization) advocate for a constitutional amendment that will not only strip corporations of the “free speech right” to finance the elections of their chosen candidates but that will give to local, state and national governments both the authority and the duty to regulate corporations in the public interest, which was the case at the founding of the United States.

One of the more interesting developments at the convention was the coming together of some Move to Amend advocates who want to work more closely with Public Citizen and Free Speech for People to achieve their mutual goal of passing a constitutional amendment. There has historically been a deep division between the groups over the issue of whether that amendment should only end “free speech rights” of corporations or whether Move to Amend’s position that it should end all of the corporate privileges granted them in a series of Supreme Court decisions dating back to the early 1800s should be the goal. This split has historically prevented members of the two coalitions from working together beyond the largely symbolic step of both appearing at large events like the Democracy Convention, where members of the two camps generally talk only to each other.


At least two members of Move to Amend coalition attended a seminar held by constitutional lawyers John Bonifaz and Jeffrey Clements. These are founding members and leaders of Free Speech for People. They described a new strategy to challenge corporate power in court by demanding the revocation of the charters of corporations whose actions constitute “crimes against people, communities and nature.”
 

Using the example of the Massey Corporation, they detailed a legal strategy to do so. Their argument is  that the rights of communities devastated by hilltop mining and the rights of the families of twenty-nine coal miners who died in an explosion due to the repeated and widespread violations of safety laws take precedence over the privilege of corporations to exploit with impunity both the environment and the people of the affected communities.


As was the case at Visioning the Future, the main theme of the Democracy Convention was exploring ways to help the public connect the dots between local, state, national and international problems and their solutions. The goal is to find a way of acting at all of these levels to restore democracy to America and ensure liberty and justice for all.

Activists fighting at all levels of government for environmental responsibility, economic and health care justice and the end of war through grassroots organizing are now one step closer to finding a way to work as one to build a coalition of all Americans across the political spectrum to end corporate rule in America.

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