Transition Whatcom

Greetings friends,

Over the weekend I had the intriguing opportunity to take part in a Radical Democracy seminar. It was exciting, educational, and somewhat frightening - much like the experiences I usually find through Transition!

I would summarize the message of the seminar thusly:

  • Our country's foundational documents proclaim Democracy - power in the people, but our legal history has instead given the power to corporations.
  • Corporations did not originally have these rights. They were allowed to achieve profit, but would only be chartered to serve a purpose (such as building a bridge). At any point, especially when their chartered purpose was served or if the corporation violated its charge of doing no harm, the state could seize the corporate assets and revoke the charter.
  • In 1886, corporations were given personhood, and thousands of court cases since then have built upon that to the point that corporations have more claimed rights than The People.
  • We can reframe our battles not as dealing with the actions of corporations, but of dealing with the claim of rights by corporations. When the corporations are stripped of these rights - to their historic level, or something like it - then decisions will be made instead by the citizens. The actions won't happen without our request, as opposed to happening anyway against our protests.
  • Over the last decade the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has worked with over 100 communities to develop ordinances and self-rule charters, locally declaring people and nature to have rights, but not corporations.

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CELDF typically deals with corporations trying to bring unwanted activities to communities, working to protect the citizens from the remote corporations. For example, many of their client communities are trying to prevent giant hog farms, garbage incinerators, and the like. At first glance it may not seem like this is really what we in Transition are dealing with. And yet, look to the oil drilling disasters, or the pipeline proposed to bring tar sands crude through Bellingham, or the logging and "development" in the Chuckanuts.

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Let's go beyond that. The principle argument in this democracy movement is that We The People are the basis of power through our identity as humans; We give duties and responsibilities to government and corporations, but the rights are ours. Our movement - the Transition to a sustainable society - is very much democratic, based on a bottom-up effort to realize our vision for our community.

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We of Transition can gain much strength from the lessons of this Radical Democracy movement. It provides us with a legal and moral foundation upon which to build our movement. And, it reframes the issues we are working on as issues not of environmentalism, but of democracy. That is why their democracy movement is most successful in, even born out of, conservative communities - these conservative communities that strip corporations of rights and give them to nature!

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So often these days we are dealing with one issue at a time, and the debate becomes partisan. (For example, the effort to fund transit recently failed because agreement could not be made with largely conservative people out in the county.) By viewing our work through an active democracy lens we can partner with people who we don't yet think of as being on our side, and collectively take control of our destiny to achieve what we want - rather than just muddling toward what we think we can get.

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Please take some time to learn about this effort and think about how it interacts with the work of Transition. Many of the best sources are free online (see links below), or at the Alternative Library, or from 100fires.com

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If you are ready to work with All The People, even if that might not be comfortable at first, let me know. I am beginning an effort to explore possibilities for inter-citizen collaboration.

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James Madison, architect of the US Constitution:

  • "Our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation... It ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority."
  • "The states ought to be placed under the control of the general government, at least as much so as they were formerly under the king and British Parliament."

Some educational videos:

Ordinance examples developed by CELDF:

(It only worked for me in Firefox)

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Comment by Heather K on May 28, 2010 at 5:15pm
Hi Brian! I've attended one of Paul C's workshops on Democracy & understanding corporate rule in our history. If that's the one you attended at Western this past weekend, I hope Paul will connect you folks up by email with the Whatcom folks who attended the Skagit workshop sponsored by the Peace & Justice Center a few months back.

I'll listen in here, and show up when its needed, thought much of the growing season I'm outside and in the rural zones!
I am one with all of 'We The People' as we care for the land, care for the people, and share the resources & our gifts......Resisting all toxic abuse & control...Protecting life's innocent, life's beauty, life's abundance!
Comment by Tris Shirley on May 28, 2010 at 4:58pm
Brian - I'm entirely supportive of TW partnering with new and established organizations where we have common interests and approaches. I also argee with the idea of maintaining a non-partisan position on the issues we address. But I'm still having trouble seeing how the legal status of corporations affects our ability to formulate a low energy vision for Whatcom County in the future and to define the steps for getting there. Won't corporations just survive or fail according to their own merits and without any effort on our part? Or, why would we not also concern ourselves with non-corporate entities that seem to be at odds with our interests? And if we were to undertake a broad effort somehow to restrict the activities of all such entities, wouldn't that be a huge departure from our existing mission and vision? Perhaps you can clarify...

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