Notes from Community Rights Workshop Oct 23 – 25, 2015


On October 23 – 25, 2015, over 30 concerned citizens gathered to learn about our Community Rights from Paul Cienfuegos. Please pass these notes along to your community. Educate yourself on what has really happened in this country, and what we need to do about it.

Community Rights Workshop October 23,-25, 2015 Washburn, WI
Paul Cienfuegos Cienfuegos

People’s inherent rights to govern themselves.

200 communities in 9 states passed Community Rights ordinances.

The Rise of Corporate Constitutional Rights
The founding fathers actually wrote in protections for corporations. James Madison openly spoke about protecting the few from the many. Early 1% mentality.

Corporate rights written into laws are the product of the Supreme Court decisions. Supreme Courts been granting corporations constitutional rights through the past 200 years.

CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE. A corporation is the synergy of the people who make up the corporation. Each Director of a corporation already has individual rights, but the entity of a corporation is an IT.

notseizepowerWhen the IT wins more political authority and constitutional rights, We the People have a misguided relationship with the IT. We who are concerned about corporate harms, our activism responds through a regulatory approach. The way we challenge the corporations is through a regulatory agency. Regulatory or zoning law. The problem is regulatory law is a corporate creation. When we do this, we meet a revolving door in the industry that they regulate. We lose because we are on corporate turf. So few understand this. We have forgotten who we are in relation to regulatory activism.

What will it look like to step outside the playpen of allowable activism? We do not realize how deeply we are in a box when it comes to this.

Paulo Freire: father of global literacy revolution. It’s hard to be politically active when you are illiterate. It’s easier to control people who do not understand how to exercise authority.

There are two kinds of oppression: the conscious and unconscious oppressed. We in the US are actually the unconscious oppressed. Our minds are so colonized that we have no idea how oppressed we are in the structure of laws that are prevalent today.

We will learn how to reclaim our power as We the People and exercise our authority over our business and government structures. This is complicated by the indigenous genocide that is the baseline for all this. We had a true revolution in the 1700s in the US. But it was sitting on top of genocide.

What does it mean to take our power back as We the people?

We will look at activism: does the work that I do in my activism accept/assume/concede that corporations have constitutional rights?

We will learn how communities around the country have passed local laws (ordinances) that do three things:

  • Strip that sector of corporations of their illegitimately gotten constitution rights
  • Enshrine the local government to protect the constitutional rights of all creatures in the area
  • Ban corporations from doing specific things.

We will receive an ordinance that is in the process of going through the process, not yet passed in Oregon. It will be on the ballot next July and was written by and for people who are not attorneys.

What would it look like for your county to pass a law that bans CAFOs or bottling water? What will the political process look like to get the county board to pass such an ordinance?

We will be leaders moving the work forward instead of asking the deciders to do this. We will exercise our power. This is not an overthrow of the government. It is We the People exercising our authority.

The laws that we are passing are acts of civil disobedience. The law-making itself is the act of municipal disobedience. They challenge unjust state laws that fundamentally violate self-government and the right to be self-governed.

There are structures of law that make passing laws that protect of health and welfare of local communities illegal:

1. Our oppositional organizing fails to protect or communities, our rights and nature. We have 1000s of groups doing single-issue projects around the US.

2. Our oppositional organizing is predictable. We are regulated by our laws.

3. We’ve been colonized—we speak in the language of the poisoners, destroyer and judges.


What is law? What is history? Who wields history and for what purposes? How relevant are hidden histories to how we choose to organize today?

How have past people’s struggles driven their rights and values into law, into culture and in the US constitution

Knowing how the law is currently used, how can we change our organizing work so that we are more effective? [Read Sun Magazine November 1997 Noam Chomsky]

The voice of democracy should start from people and work its way out. Power now starts big and works it way down.

Saturday, October 24

Can we sing? We educated Paul C on the history of the Solidarity Sing Along, the longest running singing protest in the history of the world and our exercising of our rights. Singing since March 11, 2011.…

[Ruth Pelham wrote “zipper” songs: simple songs that allowed the singers to add or change a word to create new verses as they sang.]

Participant introductions: Why are you here?

  • To get empowered.
  • Led by intuition.
  • Solidarity of 2011 should be perpetuated.
  • Hope, first time in a long time.
  • Passionate about democracy and literacy.
  • The water.
  • Concerned about environmental issues.
  • Pro-union: wants to stand up against Walker’s union busting.
  • To figure out how to get some teeth behind local ordinances.
  • To learn.
  • Because my kids feel hopeless and scared.
  • Children are our common ground.
  • I want to know what’s going on around me so that my kid has clean water.
  • Frustrated that local government is being superseded by state and federal government. Need to find a way to take care of this.
  • Don’t want to keep fighting the same fight.
  • Want to find core ways to get into the root of the policy and system that has allowed this things to perpetrate.
  • I think I can help with this issue.
  • Here to rise up and get everyone else to rise up.
  • The State of Wisconsin was a surrogate parent.
  • To learn how I can peacefully help see the truth and lead a clean and healthy life.
  • I’ve been an activist all my life, involved in so many caused, it seems like it gets worse.
  • If not me, who and if not now, when?
  • I like civil disobedience. This idea is golden.
  • This is civil resistance, resisting the disaster as it’s happening.
  • I have done all types of activism and it’s getting worse.
  • I can’t do it all anymore, so WATER is my passion.
  • How would I feel if I weren’t here?
  • I’m here to humanize the situation and capture the stories of the people here.


Many people assume this is anti-corporation. It’s not. It’s an anti-corporate rights movement. It’s about understanding how the business structure is defined.

What if the public within the corporation (the workers) had basic majority rule? You would have control and democracy.

It’s not if it’s good or bad, it’s what we require it to do.

People say that the system isn’t working. They’re wrong: it actually is working as it was designed to work; it’s just not working for us. It is designed to work for the elite. The structures of law are designed to serve a small group of people who mostly control political and legal power because they hide behind the corporate veil. The regulatory system works beautifully, it just does not serve us.


How is it that we have 1000s of single issue organizations around the county but all these groups are underfunded, understaffed, burned out, exhausted, and the trajectory is not reversing on almost every topic?

Two options:

We aren’t working hard enough. Our signs aren’t amazing enough. We didn’t get enough people to the hearing, not enough to vote. It’s our fault.

There is something structurally wrong with our activism. What makes us to ineffective?

The problem is not that corporations are clear-cutting forests; the problem is that we are allowing the corporation writes the regulatory laws on forestry. We are allowing energy corporations to lead energy policy.

Corporations have become the most powerful entities in the history of the world. Corporations are wealthier than most countries on the planet. If you look at the top 100 economies on the planet and put corporations and countries on the list, half the top is individual corporations. We have allowed this. We’ve given an IT decision-making authorities.

History of the Corporate Rule

Most anti-corporate groups see the global corporatization problem beginning with the free trade agreements of the past decades. NAFTA, FTA, GATT, et al, the current one is Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). NAFTA free trade agreement US/Canada/ Mexico where national sovereignty gets eclipsed before an international board. All of these are agreements that created new rules for trade across international boundaries and limiting citizen power.

Within the conventional activism frame, most see this as new problem. This is, however, a 600-year-old problem. In the US it began with original federal constitution.

There were actually two constitutions: Articles of Incorporation was the first. That one was illegally change into what we consider our present Constitution. A rising merchant class facilitated a political coop in the 1780s.

But long before the Revolution, back to the 1400s, foreign monarchies started to charter crown corporations and gave them a colonial charter: a document that gave a grant of powers for the governance of land to the proprietors or settlers. The charter companies became the government and imposed legalized genocide through a corporation structure. Wars became economic wars. The claim is that God gave the monarchy the power to do this.

Beginning in the 1400s, charters have granted:

  • Monopoly privilege over certain trade routes
  • Monopoly over exports of certain manufactures
  • Spanish corporation was chartered and given special privileges to control trade in Portugal
  • East India Co. was given charter into perpetuity and given exclusive rights to trade all over the world

whyToday’s political structure is an imposed set of government structures by colonial powers. Even after the American Revolution, white male landowners wrote the constitution. They purposely wrote it to protect the few from the many and left out slaves, natives, servants, women, poor, non-property owners, anyone who was not considered white and any other living thing. So who a person was after the Revolution became a very political description. White property-owning men got defined into decision-making power. Slaves were property with no rights. Women were considered property of their husbands or their fathers. Native people were considered savages, not even property. Rape or killing a slave was a property crime; the owner of the slave was the one who was considered harmed.

When you aren’t a person, you can’t own property, vote, participate in any level of government and don’t have status as a person in court (you can’t testify, you can’t sue: you literally don’t exist).

There were more indentured servants from Europe than black slaves. Servants had masters and long terms of work structure.

We the People = white property-owning men.

American Revolution constitutionalized the crown’s corporations and placed them under a new form of republican government. State governance became courts, legislature and governor. This was a revolution taking place on the backs of the genocide of blacks and native people.

Massachusetts Bay Company was constitutionalized and became the commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Commonwealth of Virginia was originally the London Virginia Company. When New York was a crown colony it was the Dutch West Indies Company. William Penn, an ally to the royals, owned Pennsylvania. The king gave him Pennsylvania.

The purpose of these charters and other corporations of those days:

  • To buy cheap
  • To sell dear
  • To limit and prevent competition
  • To vacuum out resources
  • To display fierce violence, and to perpetuate violence to the people, species and places
  • To destroy existing culture and social relationships
  • To replace independence with dependence
  • To eradicate people’s sense of their own history
  • To get people to internalize the corporations’ values, myths and worldviews
  • To create a class of bureaucrats and civil servants to serve their need
  •  To define people as subjects, objects, property, invisible or anything else they wanted to define them as
  • To control all dispute resolution
  • To raise armies, navies and wage war
  • To write laws and doctrines which legalize and institutionalize the corporation’s destructive and dominating act
  • To enforce laws
  • To impose punishments including execution

This is the nature of corporate fiction. Corporations did not just create excessive harms, or occasionally exploited, or drove bargains. They were by their very nature oppressors.

Here are some examples of how the American people act like the oppressed:

  • We adopt corporate values
  • Aspire to be like corporate leaders
  • Model our civic, education and other institutions after corporations
  • Concede to corporations’ basic legal and cultural authority to define production
  • Pursue our grievances within institutions crafted by corporations
  • Allow corporations to educate and entertain our children
  • Fear governing ourselves and defining our own societies
  • Do not know our own history
  • Think and talk and strategize in the language of the corporate culture
  • Confuse freedom with the maintenance of the status quo.

Our First Constitution

Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union

This was a stopgap temporary constitution according to history books. It was an agreement to create a confederation of sovereign states. Authority lay in the states, not the federal government. All 13 states had to ratify it before it could be adopted, completed in 1781.

Before it was ratified, the congress of US was called United States in Congress Assembled, 13 bodies all with their own authority—Congress of the Confederation. Only the US in Congress Assemble could wage war but 9 of 13 states had to agree.

Difference between then and now:

  • No permanent standing courts. When it was needed, states would create a court, deal with the conflict and dissolve the court.
  • No executive branch: no president.
  • No senate.

This first constitution was considered too weak. It did not cover interstate trade and other powers. The second constitution was illegally and unconstitutionally created: it did not follow the first constitution’s process to amend itself.

Here is what happened:

A1786, James Madison and Virginia legislators invited representations from all the states to the Annapolis Convention. Only five states sent representatives. They did not have quorum but a small contingent called for the Articles of Confederation to be amended. Madison insisted they replace the entire document with a federal structural document. They agreed to meet in Philly in 1787. This meeting is the one that we hear about in the history books. This is where our founding fathers gathered to write the new constitution. All 13 states showed up.

They were authorized only to amend the Articles of Confederation. Instead they locked the door and took a few months to write a new constitution with strong federal power. So in 1787 they threw out the original constitution and started from scratch.

These were 39 white men of property, almost all slave owners, behind locked doors drafting a new constitution, which was a violation of the existing constitution.

hitlerAnti-federalists argued that this new constitution made continental empire property class more important than liberty and self-governance. Their fears turned out to be true. They feared the consolidated government and saw only the lust of ambitious men.

George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison all supported the new central government that would attract farmers and other property owners. “Divide and crumble” it was called.

All 13 states had to ratify it. Big conversations took place at the state level. The all-powerful courts were a big issue of concern, that the courts could become unlimited powerful oceans. From the Supreme Court there would be no appeal. They were afraid the courts would allow the country to sink back into an aristocracy and swallow the states.

The ratification process went out to the 13 states, all of which had to ratify it. The immediate response is outrage. The public said, where are our rights? The Bill of Rights was added later, as were the amendments. The original document is all about property and commerce, the federal parts of government and how powers are shared between them. The people were promised there could be amendments to satisfy their concerns. So the new constitution was ratified before those amendments were passed.

The Bill of Rights was added because the constitution needed to have human rights amendments to work with foreign trade agreements. People thought the Bill of Rights would quell concerns.

(International law is supposed to work in that internal mechanisms within the countries are supposed to uphold international law. NAFTA, for example, is suppose to be upheld in domestic courts, but often times those courts are so corrupt they won’t uphold the law.)

The founding fathers—the wealthiest white men around—still saw the crown corporations as a central source of tyranny. They committed to redesigning the corporation so it did not have a totalitarian force over the people in the new government. So the corporation as a business structure went from being in charge of everything to becoming a business corporation defined by its state legislatures, subordinate to state legislatures. The first defining authority was the monarchy; now state legislatures would define the corporation. Those who had personhood in the legal process had defining authority. They defined the non-persons into all sorts of categories. The elite didn’t need their own corporations; they are the only people who have an authority.

Corporations were subordinate legal entities after this. They did not have rights; they were given privileges. They were chartered one at a time by state legislature, had a specific purpose and had to serve the common good. Investors asked for a privilege of incorporating a business structure. Legislature had authority over them. Every state legislature created corporations one at a time.

Early business corporation charters

All corporations:

  • Were required to obey all laws, to serve the common good and do no harm.
  • Were always subordinate to We the People.
  • Were libraries, fire halls and municipal government (non-profit).
  • Produced grain, milled cotton, built roads and bridges, dug canals and ran banks (for profit).
  • Were privileged (it was not a right) to get a corporate charter.
  • Were required to have a clear purpose: to be fulfilled not exceeded.
  • Could have their charters revoked at any time and for any reason by the state legislature.
  • Had their directors and stockholders held fully liable for all harms and debts.
  • Needed unanimous votes from stockholders for major changes in corporate policy.
  • Required that stockholders live in the state where they are chartered.
  • Were revoked after 10 to 30 years unless renewed.
  • Could not merge with other corporations.
  • Could own real estate only to the extent that was necessary for them to fulfill their charter.
  • Were prohibited from donating money to candidates and elections officials (was still a felony in Wisconsin until 1953).
  • Were prohibited from donating to charitable or civic organizations.
  • Their accounting books, business records were all considered public information. No secret financials were permitted

Back then, corporations were a tool of the sovereign people. It was defined, not regulated. Directors had to follow very specific rules. Breaking the rules resulted in revoking their charter. Most of these were removed in the late 1800s.

History Marches On

In the early 1800s, state legislatures experienced a push back of these corporate charters. In 1834, the legislators in Pennsylvania declared a corporation “is just what the incorporation act makes it.

Today when our options are groveling or pitchforks, we are operating from the colonized mindset.

Constitutional Legal Structure

In this structure, We the People are the sovereign body with the authority to rule. We have inherent rights. We delegate duties and responsibilities to the federal government. What we don’t delegate remains with us or goes to the states. One of the duties we delegate to state government is the chartering of corporations. Corporate directors are accountable to us through state government. They have duties and responsibilities. Originally they had privileges now they have rights.

Reality Today

Corporate directors are now the sovereign bodies with the authority to rule. All backward.

Late 1800s

Corporations start to get richer and larger because company leaders understand they can sell products to both sides of the Civil War. The industrial revolution allowed corporations to grow in economic clout rapidly. Corporate leaders set up to transform the laws of the nature to break free all the prohibitions that restrained them. They did everything they could to avoid state courts and did everything they could to change the laws at the federal level.

How they changed the law and captured the US Supreme Court

1. US Supreme Court finds corporate rights in the Contracts Clause of the (2nd) US Constitution in the Dartmouth College vs. Woodward decision of 1819.

We use FIND because there are no corporate rights in the constitution. The judges “finding” was that a clause means corporation, even if it doesn’t say it.

In 1816, it was important to have education. Colleges were mostly private colleges chartered before the revolution. After the revolution, the government took control over those chartered and turned them into public schools that everyone, mainly all white male property owners were allowed to go to.

kellerAn Act to Amend the Charter took place in New Hampshire. The legislature, which had defining authority, redefined Dartmouth College. Passed in 1816, the law turned it into a public university open to everyone (see above). New Hampshire governor promoted the new law. The trustees of the college objected and sued the New Hampshire state legislature. The state supreme court sided with the legislature, saying they had the right to amend the charter because it was connected to the welfare of the common good.

Dartmouth trustees appealed this to the US Supreme Court. In 1819, it reversed the decision. The Supreme Court was set up to be the protector of the elite. They stated that a contract was a consensual agreement and considered the charter to be a contract. When the state created the corporation, they became a party to the contract once it brings into existence. It no longer has authority over it. This established the principle that the corporate form of doing business has constitutional protection under the Contract Clause.

The entire Contracts Clause is a phrase in a paragraph in the new Constitution—“No state shall enter into any law impairing the obligation of contracts.” A corporate charter can now no longer be amended unilaterally by a state legislature. The relationship between corporations and government was no longer subordinate.

2. The Supreme Court finds corporate “rights” in the Commerce Clause of the 2nd US constitution to create a so-called Free Trade Zone across the country that for the first time severely restricts local and state government’s ability to protect the health and welfare of the people.

The congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the several states and Indian tribes.

In 1873, a Frenchman got a US patent for olio margarine made of meat waste. Meat packing companies loved it. It solved a major waste problem. The butter industry was alarmed. State legislators started passing laws that banned the manufacture of olio. This was an overtly protectionist act that protected the public’s will to protect themselves. A few years later, when the states banned the sale, olio manufacturers protested. Pennsylvania court sided with legislators, saying that it was well within their duties.

Congress got involved in 1886 when they pass the Adulterated Butter Act. Under federal law, a definition was created for butter and olio. It also taxed and legalized the sale of olio. The state banned it, so the feds created a definition and were now going to regulate it.

Olio manufacturers sued. Olio lawyers argued that once the Feds were regulating olio, the state could no longer ban it. Federal preemption. In 1898, Supreme Court ruled on the side of olio companies.

Once the Federal Government regulates that which a state has prohibited, its now illegal for the state to prohibit the sale or transport through the state. This is the beginning of free trade.

Another: In 1917, the Supreme Court threw out a Georgia law requiring trains to slow down at certain crossing, a direct obstruction of interstate commerce.

Another: In 1978 in Wisconsin, state laws restricting the laws of double trailers and truck was struck down as unconstitutional.

This is the birthplace of global trade treaties.

3. New Jersey and Delaware state legislatures strip away most requirements and prohibitions that had been used to define and control corporations since the Revolution.

In the 1880s, the New Jersey founding fathers began to strip away all of the prohibitions to chartering corporations and invited corporations around the country to form their charters there. Now they will run forever. This was sold to voters by promising that it would massively lower their taxes. The voters bought it.

By the 1890s, most corporations had reorganized in Delaware and New Jersey. They started merging with each other and donating to political elections. 26 corporate trusts controlled 80% of industry.

4. Supreme Court finds corporate “persons” in the 14th amendment and then successfully expands those rights to the present day.

1886 brought a property tax dispute. Santa Clara county charged different tax rates for people and for corporations. It went to the Supreme Court. Before they heard the case, the court reporter wrote that the entire court had already decided that the 14th amendment applied to corporations, too.

14th amendment is about freeing slaves; 15th about turning male slaves from property to personhood; 16th is about the right to vote.

After the case, corporate attorneys used it as precedent to solidify the notion that corporations are persons. In the 20 years that follow, there are 307 cases that are about the 14th amendment. Only 19 are African Americans using it to expand rights. The rest are corporations.

Once corporations won personhood in this, attorneys looked for the word “person” in the constitution to crack the barrier of corporate personhood.

In 2010 Citizen United sealed the deal and we have the current state of affairs in the United State wherein corporations are writing laws that mostly regulate their own industries to their advantage.

Sunday, October 25

Does it make sense in some gut way that we had to go through this 210-year-old story? Defining authority has changed over time. Nothing short of us taking authority in the democratic republic—nothing short of that will do

The work is not primarily about corporations, it’s about us and who are we in relation to our institution. We are told we are consumers who vote with our dollars. We are told voting is our primary task as citizens. Activism is our primary way to be political.

“We the People” is the most powerful definition of us, so how do we get there?


“The history was enlightening. I did not know to the full extent. I want to roll up my sleeves and get on with it. What do we do next? I want to step out of the mindset that the power is above me.”

“I’m short of words.”

“Standing in front of the timeline made me feel like, what a mess, overwhelmed. My wife had a question: We have a mess. Is there a model that works, out there in another place? If there is, can we get access to it?”

“This problem took 200 years to get us to where we’re at. Many think Move to Amend will make things all better. It won’t. There is a whole range of things. We have to be patient. It will take a long time. It might not happen in my lifetime but it’s something we have to do.”

“The biggest slap in my face, wow moment was how long this country has been corrupt. I thought it happened within my lifetime. It happened in the 1800s. OMG.”

“Things written in the 1800s sound like they apply to present times.”

“The history is not totally new, but it’s eye opening. A continuation of empire. I am encouraged that there are this many people.”

“It has to do with aesthetics and how we view ourselves in the true spirit of democracy. Do we want a beautiful world or a complicated Skinner box and all conditions responses to one another and our environment? I want to define my own sense of wealth, a more qualitative idea of wealth.”

“I’m sick of playing dead. I’m going to run against Pete Russo. Get my head out of my ass.”

“I thought of the boa constrictor. The corporate machine has just gained more progress and been restricting us. I am excited to understand the roots of the challenge to develop a proactive goal. Just because it took 200 years to get here, that doesn’t matter to me. Culture shifts can happen rapidly.”

“This is profound. I’m not sure everyone was corrupt. I think there were some unintended consequences. We are seeing with new eyes. Another group of people who don’t have rights are people who have rights taken away by guardianship.”

“I’m pretty ticked about women being property. It was hard to not just want to be outside in nature.”

“I enjoyed yesterday. In fact, it could have been longer. I’ve been so eager for this conversation. Like being at the banquet table.”

“Do we need to write an entirely new constitution and start all over again?”

“The stuff you are teaching works. Washburn is the first eco-municipality in the country. If we can’t stop a CAFO, what is the use being the eco-municipality?”

“I was overwhelmed. I learned the way to beat the developer is knowing the zoning ordinances. But this government corruption has been going on so long, we obviously don’t know any better. Perhaps some of the complacency is from others not wanting to make waves.”

“My father and grandfather were Jewish communists. I have marched with my father. This is a continuum. I raised my daughters to be sensitive and aware. From the history of the Annishinaabeg, the treaty rights are a success. Success and failures will come and go but we must keep fighting.”

“My first concern is that we consider this corruption. There is from a long line of oppression. We need a goal and must be careful how we look at history. Capitalism has been extremely contradictory.”

“It’s hard to take these issues one at a time. We need to have a vision beyond an ordinance for a particular thing. We need a vision for our future 100 years from now. The vision has been from a perspective of landowning wealthy white men. It’s an unfair unjust constitution.”

“Now we will have the tools to explain to people how the system is corrupted.”

“The system was designed to serve the 1%. I’m not sure that meets the definition of corruption.”

“This is the anniversary of the death of Paul Wellstone.”

“It felt like a graduate course. “

“We need to learn how to forgive those against us, forgive ourselves. We need to show love and compassion. We need to bind a loving relationship to the people who are against us. It’s the only way we will do this.”

“It’s great to know this grass roots movement is going to take it all down!”

Linking History to Today

Notice how similar this is to today: The purpose of these charters and other corporations of those days:

  • To buy cheap
  • To sell dear
  • To limit and prevent competition
  • To vacuum out resources
  • To display fierce violence, and to perpetuate violence to the people, species and places
  • To destroy existing culture and social relationships
  • To replace independence with dependence
  • To eradicate people’s sense of their own history
  • To get people to internalize the corporations’ values, myths and worldviews
  • To create a class of bureaucrats and civil servants to serve their need
  •  To define people as subjects, objects, property, invisible or anything else they wanted to define them as
  • To control all dispute resolution
  • To raise armies, navies and wage war
  • To write laws and doctrines which legalize and institutionalize the corporation’s destructive and dominating act
  • To enforce laws
  • To impose punishments including execution

The history of propaganda: public relations

Propaganda has been effective for a long time. It is a way to oppress and conduct physical violence against them.

This is the nature of the corporation fiction. These corporations didn’t just create some excessive harms. They didn’t just occasionally exploit. They didn’t just drive bargains. They were by their very nature oppressors.

Today the oppressive vehicle of choice is still the corporation—the global corporation. We are the oppressed people.

Here are some examples of how the American people act like the oppressed:

  • We adopt corporate values
  • Aspire to be like corporate leaders
  • Model our civic, education and other institutions after corporations
  • Accept the dominance and authority of the corporation as just and appropriate or as inevitable.

We all play a part in this. We shop at corporations. They are taking advantage of our lust of material things. But corporate advertising is a very powerful tool. Maybe more than humans really know. McDonald’s UK Chairman admitted that no one would eat their food if they did not advertise. Corporations mainline power and greed. And we are stuck in history. We cannot function in the world we live in now, and to put guilt on top of that is wrong.

There is nothing evil about a corporation. The original intent of a corporation was good and necessary for commerce to occur.

We concede to corporations’ basic legal and cultural authority to define production, investment and work; to define basic values and concepts such as progress, sustainability, efficiency, productivity, justice, freedom, liberty, human rights, nature, property, peace, prosperity, public and private, and personhood.

  • Pursue our grievances within institutions crafted by corporations
  • Allow corporations to educate and entertain our children
  • Fear governing ourselves and defining our own societies
  • Do not know our own history
  • Think and talk and strategize in the language of the corporate culture
  • Confuse freedom with the maintenance of the status quo.

If we know our history, we can heal from it. We are planning for our children’s history without them at the table.

This list is about moving from the unconscious oppressed to the conscious oppressed. We must become conscious of our oppression before we can overthrow our oppression:

  • We are uncovering and examining our own histories, most of them badly distorted by corporation culture.
  • We are relearning our languages and our cultures.
  • We are no longer permitting our communities to be treated like corporate fiefdoms.
  • We are joining together and no longer regarding corporations as abstract forces created by some higher power, or allowing ourselves to be defined as mere corporate property, or as invisible subjects.
  • We are teaching ourselves through intentional dialogue and authentic action, not merely to curb the worst excesses of the corporation, but to craft resistance that is about taking power and legitimacy away from the corporation, and assuming authority to govern ourselves.
  • We are aspiring to create institutions of self-governance, which are carefully maintained by each of us acting accountably and responsibly with one another.
  • We are working together to not grovel for concessions, but to transform our world.
  • We are impatient and also patient.

This is the kind of oppressed people we need to strive to become.

Stories of Community Rights

The history of community rights

In 1996, Wells Township, PA, population 550, a rural farm community in PA, became the birthplace of the CR movement. It was a community made up of conservative family hog farmers. Word came down that a huge corporation planning to expand its hog factory farms into PA. PA Department of Agriculture was going to permit a factory of 15,000 hogs. Local farmers were not pleased. They understood the stench, loss of property values, the humane treatment of animals, and the possibility of huge shit ponds to break into a creek could do serious poisoning of environment.

They understood that as patriotic, civics-taught people, that they were the sovereign people with governance of self-authority. They asked, where do we go to say we are overwhelming opposed to this? They assumed there was a body in state government to which to tell their vision. They were directed to Department of Agriculture and met with the assistant director. Yes, they were told, the D of A had an application and they were working up a manure management plan for the application.

The farmers said they were not there to discuss the management plan, but there to say they did not want the factory to be permitted. The assistant director said they cannot prohibit the application, that these are normal activities. Once an application from a corporation is complete, the department would move forward the application. All reports were in place, administratively complete.

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) stepped in to give some free environmental support. They worked within regulatory law and helped the farmers. They monitored the permit, public hearings, pointed out deficiencies. After two or three cycles, the permit was denied. They were actually doing the work of the corporate attorneys.

The farmers realized these weren’t real wins; they were just delays. At some point, they got mad at the process and turned to CELDF attorneys with the fact that the permit was now almost complete. In 1999, they said we don’t understand, if we are the sovereign people in self-governing, why is this moving forward? The attorneys explained to them about regulatory system of law that allows permitted levels of corporate harm—“expert-proven” safe levels of harm. The permit becomes a right by the corporation that it has the constitutional right to cause a certain amount of harm. And the regulatory system of law was never designed to serve the public and protect the environment. It was instead designed by the 1% to shield corporate directors and not to protect us.

So regulations are not created to protect We the People. They are created to allow corporations to do legal harm. The original constitution set up that corporations would be chartered by the legislatures and part of the requirement of forming one was that they “do no harm” and work for the common good of the people.

During industrial revolution in the 1880s, industry was growing so quickly and so large, it was no longer tenable that corporations “did no harm.” The railroad industry executives sent their lawyer to meet with Attorney General to change law to fit the need. So it shifted from “doing no harm” to “regulating harm.” So regulating assumes that they WILL do harm, and the regulations are meant to mitigate the assumed harm, not protect us.

Thus the Interstate Commerce Commission was born, to be a barrier between the railroad corporation and the people. It was designed to look like an agency to respond directly to citizens’ concerned about railroad harm. It was meant to make it appear that lots was being done, when little actually was. The laws were to sound tough, (a wolf in sheep’s clothing) but actually had little bite. The system worked so well for the railroad industry that one industry after another demanded a regulatory agency.

USDA is a corporate-designed entity. The rules written by the USDA are co-written by the industry.

So when we enter into the political arena, we are on corporate turf. It was designed that way. Every now and again we triumph and mistakenly making us believe the system then works. So we put more energy into the system.

CELDF explained this to the farmers and they were stunned. They asked if they could write a law to ban factory farms. It would be illegal, they were told. There are structures that prevent it: Corporation constitutional rights, state pre-emption (the state allows corporations to harm by permit. Anything that the state regulates, a local community may not prohibit), and Dillion’s Rule (John Forrest Dillion, a judge in the late 1800s Iowa, had an idea that the Supreme Court took on a few years later stating that proper relationship between state and local government is like parent and child. Local government is a mere tenant of the state. State legislature has the authority to dissolve a local government. Local government serves state government. Local governments are given limited authorities like nuisance authority, zoning authority, authority to enforce state regulations, which is about allowing less harm, not prohibiting).

Farmers had no idea this was the reality. They asked what would happen if a town ordinance was written to ban factory farms. CELDF said they can, but it would be illegal. And instead of stating that “it will violate corporate rights,” state attorneys will says, “it’s unconstitutional.”

The farmers said, write us the law. We are less afraid of being sued than we are losing the health and welfare of our community. In 1999, the CELDF attorney drafted the first-ever community rights ordinance, which were simply corporate prohibitions. It banned non-family corporations from owning farmland and defined what non-family corporations were.

The township passed it unanimously. 20 more townships have replicated and passed it.

Then there were other farm communities battling urban sewage sludge being dumped on their lands. 80 more communities banned dumping of sewage sludge. In Maine, several communities were being threatened by Nestle with water bottling. In every one of these situations, the corporations pulled their permits.

Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh was the first major city to put forth a local ordinance. A fracking company was going to put many fracking sites in the city. CELDF was called in and within 4 months, the Pittsburgh city council passed 7-0 a ban on fracking corporations. It wasn’t just a fracking ban, it banned corporations that did the business of fracking.

People were starting to understand that its not just about this particular corporate harm, it’s a much more expansive goal. The movement changed to asking “what do we actually want,” not “what we are trying to stop” and “what do we think we can get?” Communities were asking themselves, “what is our vision for our community’s future?

Because we are so disempowered, we rarely have that conversation in public meetings, to ask what is our vision. We actually don’t have the authority under the structures of law that we have now to enforce them.

Pittsburgh was about what they wanted: The Right to Water and Self-government ordinance. The framing was that We the People have the right to water. We acknowledge that the rivers have the right to water as well. The creatures living in the river and in the woods have the rights of water, so the ordinance included a Rights of Nature clause.

Property owner have three basic rights:

  • To keep people off the property;
  • That the owner can do whatever they want with it;
  • That they can destroy the nature that is on their property.

Fracking limits the rights of water, therefore the community right can ban fracking.

Sugar Hill, NH

The Right to a Sustainable Energy Future and Self-Governance Ordinance. They were trying to stop a high power line from being constructed through their town. They gave themselves defining authority over the definition for unsustainable energy. It said wind turbines (industrial wind) have to be locally democratically controlled. In fact, any energy system in or through their town that isn’t locally democratically authorized does not meet the definition of sustainable.

They were trying to stop a project called Northern Pass from Canada. Hydro Quebec was planning to dam and fill out wild valleys that currently have native village in them.

But their current mix of energy was more coal and nuclear than sustainable. They realized that they could not be hypocritical so they created a sustainable energy committee on the town council to figure out how to not be hypocritical in their energy mix. They had to hold themselves accountable.

We give a lot of our power away to corporations and government leaders. Constitutionally, they should be subordinate to us. When we decolonize our minds, we can understand how and why this is the relationship has to exist.

Spokane, WA

Spokane has taken a different approach. Originally 24 organizations met for several years—church groups, environmental groups, unions, etc—and collectively wrote a Community Bill of Rights. They took it to the ballot box and all elected officials ran away from it. Business associations spent lots of money to defeat it. It got 25% of the vote, a major victory.

They shrank it and ran it again and got 49.7% of the vote. They ran it again unchanged, and the powers-that-be that were against it sued to keep it off the ballot. So it was not on the ballot, and now they are stuck in court. This demobilizes a community rights movement.

But rather than demobilize, they wrote a brand new ordinance, a Workers Bill of Rights. It has been filed for passage this November and will be on the ballot in a week or two. It already got through a series of legal hurdles.

A ballot initiative campaign is about convincing elected officials to pass illegal ordinances that challenge the corporate rule. Find a 501 (C) 3 and start taking donations for education.

The local ordinances don’t argue that the state has the right to set a floor for levels of harm, just that they can’t stand in the way of local ordinances that want to set the floor higher. Some of the latest ordinances are nullifying global trade treaties when those treaties violate the local ordinance.

Other examples

In PA, the legislature passed a law that banned laws that banned corporate activity. This was a push back to community rights, a big “screw you” to the townships. So they amended their ordinances that said, “if you dare to enforce the ordinance that bans ordinances that ban corporate activity, we will secede as a township.” We need to be more afraid of the damage to the community than a lawsuit.

In the last year, a whole bunch of corporation lawsuits have happened. In New Mexico, they passed a ban of all fossil fuel extractions from the ground. They had to elect someone in the town board to pass it. Two fossil fuel industry corporations sued the Board. They got one of them thrown out and they have since rescinded the other ordinance.

In Colorado, two communities passed an anti-fracking ordinance. They were immediately sued by the fossil fuel industry. They filed a state constitutional amendment that would ban corporations that sue local units of governments who are trying to protect themselves from damage from corporations.

There are lawsuits in Grants Township, PA, where a natural gas association is suing the township that placed the Rights of Nature into law. CELDF will be defending the Rights of the local river, Little Mahonig.

Example to follow: Columbia County Sustainable Energy Future Ordinance

Look at what was include in this ordinance:

Purpose: “Whereas”

A “whereas” is a statement of fact according to our community. It gives the reasoning behind where we are going. It is the intent of the law. We will not get sued over our vision section.


The powers of defining authority are not dictionary definitions. They are designed to exclude certain obvious exclusions that would make the ordinance unenforceable. We become the experts to the point where we can argue with our elected officials.

Statements of Law-Community Bill of Rights

What are we defining as our new enforceable rights?

Statement of Law-Prohibition Necessary to Secure the Community Bill of Rights

Based on those rights, to make those rights real, what do we need to prohibit? This is the scariest to the powers that be, as well as what enforcement looks like.


In the Josephine County ordinance, it states that if you pass the law and the corporation comes in anyway, citizens can do civil disobedience legally as a way to enforce the ordinance. The county sheriffs can’t arrest people, for example, for blocking the gates, although state patrol can.

Relationship Building

This is about building high-trust relationships with neighbors to get people on board with the movement. Since it is not liberal vs. conservative, dem vs. rep, it is about people who all have the same needs.

Our own activism can appear to be a top-down model. But we will only succeed by prioritizing relationships as equals and listening well to all our neighbors. This work needs humbleness.

Perhaps open with a question: “Did you know its illegal for a municipality or county to pass an ordinance to protect the health and welfare of the community from corporation harm?”


What is a possibility of a resolution that could be passed by the supervisors that could be a yes/no vote to show the supervisors what the county feels about CAFOs?

Private House Parties

We can organize via house party. It is a conversation, with a guest presenter who will talk for no more than 15 – 20 minutes to lay out the basic framework about what this work is about. We will ask if this resonates with the people attending and get their support for when it goes public.

Ideally at least two people say they will host a house party.

You want to know whom at a gut level supports what they heard and would support this ordinance, and who would be ready to volunteer to get this out into the larger community. You need one person who can keep data: set up a spreadsheet to collect the data. Collecting the names and information of who are, in principle, with you who will support the movement. Also information of contacts who might support the movement.

Do a brainstorm and find the salient points. Get the discussion going. Get it to be of interest in the community. Make it s political buzz. Once you get to a certain point, based on numbers, go public. Start with 10% of the population, then 10% of that.

Of a county of 16,000, you want 1600 in a database that we can reach who can get behind it. Semi-private building process. 10% of that (160) would be volunteers who are willing to volunteer when the time comes. 10% of that (16) is how many people who would be willing to work really hard.

Before a house party, have a draft ordinance ready and ask for feedback.

Going Public

Now you might hold public town hall meetings. Educate, letters to the editors, going to elected officials, after there are dozens of us who can talk about this work for 15 minutes.

The goal is not just to pass an ordinance banning CAFOs; it’s structural shifting. Next time you do this it will be easier.

Below is a timeline of how the United States became a corporate-controlled entity:

IMG_1381 IMG_1382 IMG_1383 IMG_1384 IMG_1385

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