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More than 30 million people in the US are out of work, a similar percentage as in the Great Depression, and for many of them that also means they’ve lost their employer-linked health insurance overnight. More than 30% of all US renters couldn’t (and therefore didn’t!) pay their rent on May 1st. Even before the pandemic, 40% of us could not have managed an unexpected $400 bill without serious personal impact.
Even before the pandemic struck, the two corporatist political parties that share power in the US were already utterly incapable of responding sensibly to the many societal and ecological crises that just keep growing every year. Now we’re already nine weeks into watching the nation falling even faster off the cliff. If our Congress and President haven’t figured out what to do by now, it’s probably time to assume not much is going to change here either. And to add insult to injury, neither of the corporate parties’ presidential candidates has anything relevant to offer in the way of real solutions. Neither favors Medicare For All. Neither favors genuine long-term protections for renters or home owners facing homelessness. Neither favors a guaranteed living wage. Neither favors the Green New Deal.
Before we all went into quarantine to protect ourselves and others, the climate emergency was already breathing down our necks. We were already experiencing an alarming rate of species extinction. We were already on track to dump so much plastic in our oceans to eventually equal the weight of all fish still alive there. (I’m glad someone else did the math on THAT one!) And on and on.
So even if it was a realistic possibility that we could start a full recovery from the pandemic a year or two from now after we’ve all been given a free or inexpensive coronavirus vaccine, would we really want to return to business as usual? A majority of us would very likely say firmly, “No thank you! We want better options.”
Huge numbers of us want to be living very differently than we do now, but the corporate elite who make virtually every key economic and development decision in the US have designed a societal and legal framework that mandates the current way of organizing our lands, our communities, our economies. The corporate elite have so much decision-making authority because the Supreme Court has granted them what is known as intangible property rights of a corporate “person.” If we truly yearn for a different way of living on our living Earth, we need to stop doing conventional single-issue emergency-response activism, and start dismantling these corporate constitutional “rights” (and the state preemption laws that defend them) that make corporate control over our lives and our living Earth inevitable. That’s how we will reclaim our ability to govern ourselves.
In the Community Rights movement trainings, we are always urging participants to think as clearly as possible about what it is folks truly want for their communities. Not just how to stop the latest corporate or government outrage being foisted upon our communities. Not just triangulating a goal or demand in terms of what we think we can get. But what it is that we truly want! And the vast majority of us have become so colonized by spending our entire lives swimming in corporate culture, that we barely even know how to imagine such things.
“Oh you can’t do that. The state won’t permit it,” our own advocacy group attorneys tell us.
“Oh you can’t stop that factory farm or that clearcut or that fracking operation or that new airport runway or that water bottling operation; the corporation has property ‘rights’ and other constitutional protections,” our own state government officials tell us.
And yet, at this extraordinary moment in time, that is exactly what we are being called upon to do. To challenge this so-called reality, or what lawyers and judges refer to as “settled law.” In fact, this may be THE moment – a once in our lifetimes crisis/opportunity moment – if We can just come together across political parties and other isms and focus in on what it is that a majority of us (or even better a super majority of us) truly yearn for, where we live.
Our skies and rivers and bays filled with industrial poisons?
No, thank you.
Poorly paid, long hours, high stress unfulfilling jobs?
Health care tied to unstable employment?
Unaffordable rent with minimal tenant protections?
The vast majority of us never asked for this sort of toxic society. We never voted for it. We never elected any candidates to support such nonsense. And yet here we are. Why? Because corporate boards of directors now literally have more decision-making authority than do the people we elect to serve us. Which perhaps helps us to understand the significance of James Madison’s comment, as our nation’s founders were writing our (second) US Constitution behind locked doors, when he said that the primary purpose of government is to “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” That pretty much sums up where we’re at, doesn’t it?!
So what is it that We The People could overwhelmingly convince ourselves that we not only truly want, but are willing to work towards? Not merely as single-issue activists, or consumers who vote with our dollars. But as public citizens, who actually see ourselves as members of The Sovereign People, which literally translates as “authority to rule, to govern.”
The Community Rights movement has been reminding all of us now for two decades that we are We The People, the Sovereign People. That ultimate governing power rests with us. That our government is our subordinate. That it is constitutionally required to serve us. That it has duties and responsibilities to us. And that when it fails to meet those requirements, it no longer governs with any legitimate authority. This is not Paul’s utopian fantasy. This is existing constitutional reality in the US of A. A reality that has been stomped on by more than a century of governance for and by the 1%.
When government is not serving The People, it is our constitutional and moral duty to withdraw our consent, and then take the steps necessary to protect our collective health, safety and welfare until such time as We are able to rebuild our government so that it can once again be trusted to serve and protect our rights. This is exactly what happened at the beginning of the American Revolution, when one small agrarian town after another first withdrew its consent from the King and his appointees across Massachusetts, and then started making their own local laws that were literally treasonous under existing law.
These folks in 1774 got tired of government not serving them, and they began to pass local laws that were not yet legal. This is exactly what is urgently needed NOW in the US. First hundreds and then thousands of cities, towns and counties passing Community Rights laws that protect our communities, whether those laws are currently legal or not. Followed rapidly by those communities putting intensive pressure on their state governments to stop blocking sensible local governing authority to better protect their community’s health and welfare.
Why local? Because at this moment in late stage capitalism here in the US, our political power has been usurped at the federal level, and to a large degree also at the state level. But at the local level, The People can still out-organize the 1%. Which is why, I believe, the Community Rights movement continues to be THE best peoples’ strategy for creating the world that we want to live in. Especially given that every one of us lives somewhere! In a particular place, that has a local name. A city, a town, a rural valley. And it’s a LOT easier to imagine what we want our home places to be like for our children and grandchildren than it is to imagine this at the state or federal levels. The scale is just too large!
And what better time for us to be organizing locally than during a pandemic, when our elected leaders aren’t leading. The public is more restless now for real solutions than they have been in my lifetime, and I’m not a young man.
• We have a climate emergency, so let’s start passing visionary commonsense local laws that place new requirements and prohibitions on our banking and fossil fuel corporations doing business or selling their products locally.
• We have a mass pollinator die-off emergency, which will soon be impacting our very ability to grow enough food for everyone, so let’s start passing visionary commonsense local laws – like a Pollinator Bill of Rights – that place new requirements and prohibitions on our agricultural and pesticide corporations doing business or selling their products locally.
• We have a fast-growing housing emergency, so let’s start passing visionary commonsense local laws – like a Housing Bill of Rights – that place new requirements and prohibitions on our house and apartment owning corporations doing business locally, and on our banking corporations that continue to fraudulently foreclose on homeowners.
• We have a low-wage worker emergency, so let’s start passing visionary commonsense local laws – like a Worker Bill of Rights – that place new requirements and prohibitions on corporate employers doing business locally.
• We have a growing health care emergency, so let’s start passing visionary commonsense local laws that place new requirements and prohibitions on our health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations doing business or selling their products locally.
• We have a water contamination emergency, so let’s start passing visionary commonsense local laws that prohibit corporations from operating factory farms, or fracking and frac sand mining operations, or any other large-scale industrial poisoners of our shared waters.
In this crisis moment in our nation’s history, what have we got to lose? Let’s be fearless. Let’s exercise our collective power. As Subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatista Revolution once famously remarked, “We’re here not to seize power but to exercise it.”
Perhaps it’s now a bit more clear why I sometimes describe the Community Rights movement as being part of The Second American Revolution. We’re serious about this. And let’s not kid ourselves. The situation we find ourselves in has not arisen overnight. It’s not something caused by our current president. It’s an institutional illness that we argue is as old as the nation itself. A nation that proclaimed that “all men people are created equal,” while enslaving millions of people from Africa, and murdering millions of Native American people. A nation that elevates property rights over all other rights.
We The People may feel trapped within a system of laws that prohibits authentic democratic decision-making structures unless they pose no threat to business corporations or the State. But solutions do exist. And the Community Rights movement is clear about the necessary path forward.
We must dismantle the structures of law that make ongoing crises inevitable (and in some cases even constitutionally protected).
If you write to me HERE, I will forward to you links to 13 essential articles to help you think about real possibilities for change via the Community Rights local law-making strategy. I hope you will take the time to read them. (It may take you a few hours, but I guarantee it will be well worth your time.) And after you finish these articles, I want to urge you to engage with us at Community Rights US as to what leadership role you can see yourself playing in your own community, as We reassert our inherent right to govern ourselves where we live, in order to protect our community’s health, safety and welfare for the next seven generations. No government, no corporation, should be able to stop us from doing this. Especially during a pandemic, when all hands need to be on deck, acting boldly and conscientiously.
Let’s take this extraordinary moment seriously. Our federal so-called leaders have utterly failed us. Neither corporate party knows what to do next. There’s utter chaos at the top.
It is time for We The People to withdraw our consent from any level of government that would dare to interfere with our community protection efforts. Again, let’s not forget: the Constitution defines our government as subordinate to We The People, with duties and responsibilities to us. That includes state legislatures. That includes the courts.
So what shall we do? We are limited only by our capacity to think clearly. Are you ready to take a deep dive? If our work is new to you, I can guarantee you, it will shake your worldview. You’ll think differently about how to best effect change in your community. We’ll help you to take steps towards decolonizing your mind – breaking the conceptual shackles that you didn’t even know were there. Please join us!
Sign up for one of our upcoming multi-week online trainings that we recently launched. We’ll alert you once the next one is scheduled.
Make a one-time or monthly tax-deductible donation HERE.
We look forward to working with you!
Paul Cienfuegos is a national leader in the Community Rights movement, which works to dismantle corporate constitutional so-called “rights” and assert the people’s inherent right to govern themselves. He has been leading workshops across the US since 1995. David Barsamian’s internationally syndicated show ‘Alternative Radio’ has broadcast five of his speeches. Launched in October 2017, Paul is the founding director of Community Rights US. He lives in Portland, Oregon. More info at CommunityRights.US.