Saturday, October 22, 2016

#160 Inalienable rights

Dear all,

I'm feeling filled up with the possibility of change, after a whirlwind weekend learning about a Nicaragua micro-credit lending group, a Democracy School on local communities standing up to corporate predation, the launch of a video I was part of on the links between climate/race/justice issues and the economic system, a mind-expanding afternoon with four seven year olds and their parents playing and problem solving together, participation from afar in a native full moon ceremony, and finding an unlikely new friend and ally in challenging the monetary system--oh my! 

It's just as well that all my weekends aren't this full, but what a gift to have such opportunities available.  My contribution below is one effort at sharing some of what I took in.


Inalienable rights

How did a school nurse in a little coal mining town in Pennsylvania stand up against a big corporation--and influence the Constitution of Ecuador in the process?  Well, first she had to see something that had been invisible to her, and remains invisible to most of us.

Though she joined her local borough council mostly to challenge an “old boys” network, she became increasingly concerned about plans for the dumping of toxic sludge and coal fly ash in abandoned mines on the edge of town.  It was shocking to discover how little power her town had to protect its people.  How could a faceless corporation, with no ties to the area, have the right to come in and endanger a whole community’s air and water supply?

She learned the answer to that question at a Democracy School, where the curriculum begins in 1773.  Towns all over the colonies were fed up with England writing all the laws to benefit the king and protect the profits of the East India Company.  They wanted the right to make their own laws, for the benefit of their own communities.  Dozens of them wrote up resolutions that were the inspiration for our Declaration of Independence, a bold (and wholly illegal) challenge to the laws of empire.

It turned out, however, that moneyed interests in the colonies were not ready to abandon a system based on the rule of property, or to embrace popular democracy, and the 1787 Constitution brought back many elements of the British system.  The rights of property over people were reintroduced and became more and more entrenched in law as the decades went by—until by the late 1800’s corporations had gained the status of personhood, and keeping them from their profits became a violation of their rights.   Over the same period of time, more and more local laws were pre-empted by state and federal bodies, and structures of community self-government were steadily eroded away.

Many communities now facing outside corporate harm turn to regulatory agencies as their only hope for protection.  While these agencies theoretically curb harmful practices, they tend to be staffed by industry leaders, who set up the systems and write the rules, with a not-too-hidden goal of buffering the industry from the public.  Furthermore, their function is to manage harms, not to stand against them, and public input at hearings has no legal status.

So, what’s a school nurse faced with a big corporation that’s threatening her community going to do?  Propose a Community Bill of Rights, saying that we have a right to act to protect our community from external harm.  That our human rights are inalienable and take precedence over property rights.  And while we’re at it, let’s say that nature has rights too.

But is this legal?  It’s certainly as legal as the Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate so happily every 4th of July.  In any case, the Community Bill of Rights passed a borough council vote (narrowly), the toxic sludge and fly ash corporations were told to stay away, and the world had its first example of legislation declaring that nature has rights.  This inspired other municipalities—including Pittsburgh—to adopt similar community rights ordinances, and some folks in Ecuador, then in the process of rewriting its Constitution, took notice.  Ecuador now has language in its Constitution saying that nature has the right to “integral respect for its existence”.

What is the moral of this story?  Small acts can have big ripples.  Corporate creation of “sacrifice zones” can be stopped, if those targeted communities are willing to be bold.  And standing up for the inalienable rights of humans and ecosystems may create the rights movement that will save the planet.

For more detail on Tamaqua’s struggle:  For more on how it fits with a larger rights to nature movement:  For more on the group that is spearheading this movement:

Work machine

Front loader coming down the street
Last time I saw one here
a three year old was captivated.
We waved at the man
and he waved back.

So I look this time.
It's a different man--
an individual
not just a work machine
in motion.

Imagine:  A new economy is possible (it may already be here)

Unbeknownst to many, literally thousands of on-the-ground efforts at building a new economy have been developing. These include cooperatives, worker-owned companies,neighborhood corporations, and many little known municipal, state, and regional efforts. These emerging economic alternatives suggest different ways in which capital can be held in common by small and large publics. They include nonprofit community corporations and land trusts that develop low-income housing, as well as community development financial institutions (CDFIs) that have over $108 billion in assets under their management. Employee ownership is also on the rise, involving three million more workers than are members of private sector unions. A third of Americans belong to cooperatives, including credit unions that serve 107 million people and manage $1.3 trillion in assets.

In the public sector, local government economic development programs invest in local businesses, while municipal enterprises build infrastructure and provide services, raising revenue and creating employment, diversifying the base of locally controlled capital. Public utilities, together with co-ops, make up nearly 90 percent of all electricity providers and generate over 20 percent of America’s electricity. From California to Alabama, public pension assets are being channeled into job creation and community development. Cities and states are looking to the creation of public banking systems like that of North Dakota…

Some things that have made me hopeful recently

Two more Brazilian cities have prohibited fracking, reaching a total number of 72, and joining bans in Germany, Scotland, France, Northern Ireland and Bulgaria.

All plastic cups, cutlery and plates must be designed to be compostable in France, according to a new law which comes into effect in 2020.

Civilian monitors from Mon State in Myanmar have traveled to the Philippines to learn lessons about civilian ceasefire monitoring in Mindanao.

The General Council of the Ho-Chunk Nation has voted overwhelmingly to amend their tribal constitution to enshrine the Rights of Nature, becoming the first tribal nation in the United States to take this critical step.

Toward a Right Relationship with Finance. 
Check out this new book that I co-authored on Debt, Interest, Growth and Security.

The growth economy is failing to provide equitable well-being for humanity and a life-sustaining future for Earth.  However our institutional endowments and individual retirement are dependent on that same growth economy.  This book:
    • offers background on our current economic system--how it is based on unearned income on the one hand and debt on the other, with a built-in momentum toward economy inequality and ecological overshoot;
    • frames the conversation within the context of our deepest values and beliefs;
    • suggests plausible and historically grounded alternatives to the current system, particularly with regard to financing retirement; and
    • invites everyone to imagine new forms of durable economic and social security, and to help create the relationships and institutions that will make them a reality.
With many people now counting as never before on the performance of Wall Street for retirement security, how can this system be challenged with integrity and effectiveness?  Can we break with our dependence on financial speculation and build up new structures of security in a transformed, life-centered economy?

To order the book, or read it on line, go to and scroll down.

More resources

Resource from my friend Daniel Hunter, Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow; An Organizing Guide.

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years: (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at

Pamela Haines

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.

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