December 1, 2003


Rachel's summary:  In communities across the country a revolt is under
way that has corporations reeling. In Pennsylvania, citizens are
developing new tactics, aiming to take back control of their communities
from corporations.

The autonomy of state and local governments continues to wane as
corporations grow larger and gain more extensive rights under the U.S.

An increasing number of Americans have begun to consider a whole range
of single-issue cases as examples of "corporate rule," with government
merely enforcing rules defined by corporations for profit.

But in communities across the country a revolt is underfoot that has
corporations reeling.

By Jeffrey Kaplan

Describing the United States of the 1830s in his now-famous work,
Democracy in America, the young French aristocrat Alexis de
Tocqueville depicted a country passionate about self-governance. In
the fifty years since sovereignty had passed from the crown to the
people, citizens of the new republic had seized upon every opportunity
"to take a hand in the government of society and to talk about
it.... If an American should be reduced to occupying himself with his
own affairs," wrote de Tocqueville, "half his existence would be
snatched from him; he would feel it as a vast void in his life."

At the center of this vibrant society was the town or county
government. "Without local institutions," de Tocqueville believed, "a
nation has not got the spirit of liberty," and might easily fall
victim to "despotic tendencies."

In the era's burgeoning textile and nascent railroad industries, and
in its rising commercial class, de Tocqueville had already detected a
threat to the "equality of conditions" he so admired in America. "The
friends of democracy should keep their eyes anxiously fixed," he
warned, on an "industrial aristocracy.... For if ever again permanent
inequality of conditions and aristocracy make their way into the world
it will have been by that door that they entered." Under those
conditions, he thought, life might very well be worse than it had been
under the old regimes of Europe. The old land-based aristocracy of
Europe at least felt obliged "to come to the help of its servants and
relieve their distress. But the industrial aristocracy... when it has
impoverished and brutalized the men it uses, abandons them in a time
of crisis."

As de Tocqueville predicted, the industrial aristocrats have prevailed
in America. They have garnered enormous power over the past 150 years
through the inexorable development of the modern corporation. Having
achieved extensive control over so many facets of our lives -- from
food and clothing production to information, transportation, and other
necessities -- corporate institutions have become more powerful than
the sovereign people who originally granted them existence.

As late as 1840, state legislators closely supervised the operation of
corporations, allowing them to be created only for very specific
public benefits, such as the building of a highway or a canal.
Corporations were subject to a variety of limitations: a finite period
of existence, limits to the amount of property they could own, and
prohibitions against one corporation owning another. After a period of
time deemed sufficient for investors to recoup a fair profit, the
assets of a business would often revert to public ownership. In some
states, it was even a felony for a corporation to donate to a
political campaign.

But in the headlong rush into the Industrial Age, legislators and the
courts stripped away almost all of those limitations. By the 1860s,
most states had granted owners limited liability, waiving virtually
all personal accountability for an institution's cumulative actions.
In 1886, without comment, the United States Supreme Court ruled for
corporate owners in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad,
allowing corporations to be considered "persons," thereby opening the
door to free speech and other civil rights under the Bill of Rights;
and by the early 1890s, states had largely eliminated restrictions on
corporations owning each other. By 1904, 318 corporations owned forty
percent of all manufacturing assets. Corporate owners were replacing
de Tocqueville's "equality of conditions" with what one writer of the
time, W. J. Ghent, called "the new feudalism... characterized by a
class dependence rather than by a personal dependence."

Throughout the twentieth century, federal courts have granted U.S.
corporations additional rights that once applied only to human beings
-- including those of "due process" and "equal protection."
Corporations, in turn, have used those rights to thwart democratic
efforts to check their growth and influence.

Corporate power, largely unimpeded by democratic processes, today
affects municipalities across the country. But in the conservative
farming communities of western Pennsylvania, where agribusiness
corporations have obstructed local efforts to ban noxious corporate
farming practices, the commercial feudalism de Tocqueville warned
against has evoked a response that echoes the defiant spirit of the
Declaration of Independence.

In late 2002 and early 2003, two of the county's townships did
something that no municipal government had ever dared: They decreed
that a corporation's rights do not apply within their jurisdictions.

The author of the ordinances, Thomas Linzey, an Alabama-born lawyer
who attended law school in nearby Harrisburg, did not start out trying
to convince the citizens of the heavily Republican county to attack
the legal framework of corporate power. But over the past five years,
Linzey has seen township supervisors begin to take a stand against
expanding corporate influence -- and not just in Clarion County.
Throughout rural Pennsylvania, supervisors have held at bay some of
the most well-connected agribusiness executives in the state, along
with their lawyers, lobbyists, and representatives in the Pennsylvania

Linzey anticipated none of this when he cofounded the Community
Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a grassroots legal support
group, in 1995. Initially, CELDF worked with activists according to a
conventional formula. "We were launched to provide free legal services
to community groups, specifically grassroots community environmental
organizations," Linzey says. "That involved us in permit appeals and
other typical regulatory stuff." But all that soon changed.

In 1997, the state of Pennsylvania began enforcing a weak waste-
disposal law, passed at the urging of agribusiness lobbyists several
years earlier, which explicitly barred townships from passing any more
stringent law. It had the effect of repealing the waste-disposal
regulations of more than one hundred townships, regulations that had
prevented corporations from establishing factory farms in their
communities. The supervisors, who had seen massive hog farms despoil
the ecosystems and destroy the social and economic fabric of
communities in nearby states, were desperate to find a way to protect
their townships. Within a year, CELDF "started getting calls from
municipal governments in Pennsylvania, as many as sixty to seventy a
week," Linzey says. "Of 1,400 rural governments in the state we were
interacting with perhaps ten percent of them. We still are."

But factory hog farms weren't the only threat introduced by the
state's industry-backed regulation. The law also served to preempt
local control over the spreading of municipal sewage sludge on rural
farmland. In Pittsburgh and other large cities, powerful municipal
treatment agencies, seeking to avoid costly payments to landfills,
began contracting with corporate sewage haulers. Haulers, in turn,
relied on rural farmers willing to use the sludge as fertilizer -- a
practice deemed "safe" by corporate-friendly government environmental

Pennsylvania required the sewage sludge leaving treatment plants,
which contains numerous dangerous microorganisms, to be tested only at
three-month intervals, and only for E. coli and heavy metals. Most
individual batches arriving at farms were not tested at all. It was
clear, from the local vantage, that the state Department of
Environmental Protection had failed to protect the townships, turning
many rural communities into toxic dumping grounds -- with fatal
results. In 1995, two local youths, Tony Behun and Danny Pennock, died
after being exposed to the material -- Behun while riding an all-
terrain vehicle, Pennock while hunting.

"People are up in arms all over the place," said Russell Pennock,
Danny's father, a millwright from Centre County. "They're considering
this a normal agricultural operation. I'll tell you something right
now: If anyone would have seen the way my son suffered and died, they
would not even get near this stuff." After a U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency scientist linked the two deaths to a pathogen in the
sludge, county supervisors tried to pass ordinances to stop the
practice, but found that the state had preempted such local control
with its less restrictive law.

The state's apparent complicity with the corporations outraged local
elected officials. People began to understand, Linzey recalls, "that
the state was being used by corporations to strip away democratic
authority from local governments."

Many small farmers in rural Pennsylvania were already feeling the
devastating effects of increasing corporate control over the market.
They often had no choice but to sign contracts with large agribusiness
corporations -- resulting in a modern form of peonage. By the
corporate formula, a farmer must agree to raise hogs exclusively for
the corporation, and to borrow $250,000 or more to build specialized
factory-farm barns. Yet the corporation could cancel the contract at
any time. The farmer doesn't even own the animals -- except the dead
ones, which pile up in mortality bins as infectious diseases ravage
the crowded pens. The agribusiness company takes the lion's share of
the profits while externalizing the costs and liabilities; the farmer
left financially and legally responsible for all environmental harms,
including groundwater contamination from manure lagoons.

Even if farmers could find a way to market their hogs on their own,
loan officers often deny applications from farmers unless they are
locked into a corporate livestock contract. "The once-proud occupation
of 'independent family farmer' has become a black mark on loan
papers," Linzey writes on the CELDF website.

A bespectacled thirty-four-year-old, Linzey speaks with a tinge of
southern drawl. Under the tutelage of historian Richard Grossman of
the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy, he has become an
eloquent speaker on organizing tactics, constitutional theory, and the
history of corporations in this country. But he is also an excellent
listener. He heard the indignation as incredulous supervisors came to
understand their lack of authority in the regulatory arena. The rights
and privileges that corporations were able to assert seemed
incomprehensible to them. "There's disbelief," he says. "Then the
clients attack you, and then you have to explain it to them, giving
prior examples of how this works."

Township supervisors were quick to see that the problem was not simply
factory farms or sludge, "but the corporations that were pushing
them," Linzey says. Enormously wealthy corporations were able to
secure rulings that channeled citizen energies into futile battles.
The supervisors started to realize, according to Linzey, "that the
only thing environmental law regulates is environmentalists."

By 1999, with CELDF's help, five townships in two counties had adopted
a straightforward ordinance that challenged state law by prohibiting
corporations from farming or owning farmland. Five more townships in
three more counties followed suit. Also in 1999, Rush Township of
Centre County became the first in the nation to pass an ordinance to
control sludge spreading. Haulers who wanted to apply sewage sludge to
farmland would have to test every load at their own expense -- and for
a wider array of toxic substances than required by the weaker state
law. Three dozen townships in seven counties have unanimously passed
similar sludge ordinances to date. Citing a township's mandate to
protect its citizens, Licking Township Supervisor Mik Robertson
declares, "If the state isn't going to do the job, we'll do it for

So far, the spate of unanimous votes at the municipal level has halted
both new hog farms and the spreading of additional sludge in these

Iin De Tocqueville's time, local communities like those in Clarion
County had enormous strength and autonomy. The large corporation was
nonexistent, and the federal government had little say over local
affairs. Americans by and large reserved patriotic feelings for their
state. People, at least those of European descent, played a more
active role in local governance than they do today. Their only direct
experience with the federal government was through the post office. As
de Tocqueville pointed out, "real political life" was not concentrated
in what was called "the Union," itself a telling term; before the
Civil War the "United States" was a plural noun, as in, "The United
States are a large country."

Since the consolidation of the Union and throughout the twentieth
century, the autonomy of state and local governments has continued to
wane as corporations have grown larger and gained more extensive
rights under the U.S. Constitution. In two decisions in the mid-1970s,
the Supreme Court affirmed a corporation's right to make contributions
to political campaigns, considering money to be a form of "free
speech." And over the past few decades, corporations have won
increasingly generous interpretations of the Interstate Commerce
Clause of the Constitution. Originally intended to prevent individual
states from obstructing the flow of goods and people across their
borders, the clause has been used by corporations to challenge almost
any state law that might affect activity across state lines. In 2002,
for example, the federal courts ruled that a Virginia law prohibiting
the dumping of trash from other states violated a waste hauler's
rights. In early 2003, Smithfield Foods, one of the nation's largest
factory-farm conglomerates, sued on similar grounds to overturn Iowa's
citizen initiative banning meatpacking companies from owning
livestock, a practice the citizens believed undercut family farms.

Elsewhere, corporate rights have posed increasingly absurd threats to
sovereignty. In 1994, for example, Vermont passed a law requiring the
labeling of milk from cows that had received a bioengineered bovine
growth hormone; in 1996 the federal courts overthrew that law, saying
that the mandated disclosure violated a corporation's First Amendment
right "not to speak." Four years later, a Pennsylvania township tried
to use zoning laws to control the placement of a cell-phone tower; the
telecommunications company sued the township and won, citing a
nineteenth-century civil rights law designed to protect newly freed

Until recently, these incidents might have been seen simply as
aberrations or "corporate abuse." But an increasing number of
Americans have begun to consider a whole range of single-issue cases
as examples of "corporate rule." The role that government has played,
in their view, is merely that of a referee who enforces the rules
defined by corporations for their own benefit rather than the

It was this perception that motivated the townships to take their
revolutionary stand. But their successes in halting factory farming
and sludge applications within their borders didn't prohibit
corporations from attempting to press their case in the courtroom.

In 2000, the transnational hauler Synagro-WWT, Inc. sued Rush
Township, claiming its antisludge ordinance illegally preempted the
weaker state law and violated the company's constitutional right of
due process. It also sued each supervisor personally for one million
dollars. In response, Linzey recalls, one township supervisor asked,
"What the hell are the constitutional rights of corporations?" A year
later, PennAg Industries Association, a statewide agribusiness trade
group, funded its own suit against the factory farm ordinance in
Fulton County's Belfast Township on similar constitutional grounds.
Rulings on both suits are expected as early as mid-2004.

It was only after those suits had been filed that the two Clarion
County townships, Licking and Porter, took the historic step of
passing ordinances to decree that within their townships,
"Corporations shall not be considered to be 'persons' protected by the
Constitution of the United States," a measure that effectively
declared their independence from corporate rule. For Mik Robertson,
the issue is simple: "Those rights are meant for individuals." He and
his two fellow supervisors later revised their ordinance to also deny
corporations the right to invoke the Constitution's Interstate
Commerce Clause; Porter Township is considering a similar amendment.
Several other townships are preparing their own versions of the
corporate rights ordinance, according to Linzey.

Now, when a corporation claims that an antisludge ordinance violates
its rights, the townships can simply say those rights don't apply
here. The corporation would then be forced to defend corporate
personhood in a legal battle. That hasn't happened yet, but Linzey and
his allies have energized a statewide coalition that has vowed to
fight the issue all the way to the Supreme Court, raising awareness
along the way about a basic question of sovereignty: By what authority
can a conglomeration of capital and property, whose existence is
granted by the public, deny the right of a sovereign people to govern
itself democratically? Linzey predicts that such a suit could happen
within a decade. That battle, he says, could ignite populist sentiment
across the country -- even around the world.

Growing support for these issues was put to the test in 2002, when
agribusiness interests, displeased by the spread of ordinances
prohibiting factory farming, began prodding the Pennsylvania state
legislature to pass an even more severe bill than the 1997 directive.
This time there was no disguising it as waste-disposal regulation. The
2002 bill had one explicitly stated purpose: To strip away a
township's right to control agriculture -- including sludge
applications -- within its borders. When it stalled in a senate
committee, the Pennsylvania legislators renumbered the bill and rammed
it through before their constituents noticed. By the time CELDF found
out about the bill, it was up for a vote in the house.

"We ignited opposition almost overnight," Linzey recalls. "We were
working with 100-plus townships already. All we had to do was notify

Within two weeks, the coalition included four hundred local townships,
five countywide associations of township officials, the Sierra Club,
two small-farmers groups, the citizens' rights group Common Cause --
even the United Mine Workers (whose members had been sickened by
sewage sludge applied on mine reclamation sites), which invited in the
formidable AFL-CIO.

"It was like Sam Adams in 1766, when the Townsend Acts were passed,"
says Linzey. "He had already built the mob, the rabble, and just had
to alert the people that this was happening as an act of oppression."

Because the issue had been defined as protection of a community's
right to self-determination, the bill became unpopular and was tabled
indefinitely. On Thanksgiving Eve 2002, it met its end when a mandated
voting period elapsed. Astonishingly, the coalition had won.

In so defining the issue, the deliberations in Clarion County resonate
far beyond its borders. In recent years, judges, mayors, and a host of
local and state legislators nationwide, whose authority as
democratically elected representatives is similarly threatened by the
increasing legal dominance of corporations, have begun to take action:

* In Minnesota, State Representative Bill Hilty has introduced a
state constitutional amendment eliminating corporate personhood.

* The Arizona Green Party is campaigning for the passage of a
similar amendment in their state.

* In the northern California town of Point Arena, legislators passed
nonbinding resolutions in opposition to corporate personhood.

* Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, North
Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin have all passed laws outlawing
corporate ownership of farms.

But in the age of globalization, questions of sovereignty can no
longer be addressed strictly within U.S. borders. Clarion County's
townships may pass an ordinance saying that a sludge hauler's
constitutional rights don't apply. "But if there is foreign
participation, say if they are partially German-owned or Canadian,"
says Victor Menotti of the International Forum on Globalization, "you
run up against another set of corporate rights under [international]
trade agreements."

It was this other set of rights, the understanding of global
"corporate rule," that brought many of the forty thousand
demonstrators to the streets of Seattle in December 1999 to shut down
the meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It is also what
incited subsequent demonstrations at the meeting of the World Bank in
Prague in 2000, the meeting of the G-8 (the eight most economically
powerful countries) in Genoa in 2001, the Free Trade Area of the
Americas meeting in Quebec in 2001, and most recently, the WTO meeting
in Cancun. Through it all, protesters have held fast to one principle:
the right of a people to govern themselves, through their
representatives, without obstruction by corporations.

One of the increasing number of public officials in the U.S. who face
challenges to their sovereignty similar to those faced by their
counterparts in the Pennsylvania townships is Velma Veloria, chair of
the Washington State legislature's Joint Committee on Trade Policy.
For fifty-three-year-old Veloria, the 1999 Seattle demonstration
against the WTO was a defining event. Veloria realized that behind the
tumult in the streets, "there was a whole movement that was asking for
accountability and transparency." She imagined what might happen if a
tanker that was not double-hulled spilled oil in Puget Sound. She and
her colleagues could pass a law requiring double hulls in Seattle
harbor, but under the emerging rules of the WTO, such a law could meet
the same fate as a Clarion County antisludge ordinance: It could be
attacked as interfering with the rights of corporations, as a barrier
to trade. "It opened a whole new field for me about the sovereignty of
the state," Veloria says.

California State Senator Liz Figueroa, chair of the Senate Select
Committee on International Trade Policy and State Legislation, has
faced similar quandaries. In 2000, Figueroa authored a bill that made
it illegal for the state to do business with companies that employed
slave or forced labor. Figueroa explained to the city councils and
constituents in her district that foreign trade imports produced by
slave labor could undercut the local economy. But as pragmatic and
ethically incontestable as the bill sounds, it could potentially be
challenged under the WTO's rules.

"Our job is monumental," she says, referring to her efforts to explain
how trade agreements can usurp democracy. "We have to make sure our
own legislative offices even know of the conflict... we have to
explain the reality of the situation."

Figueroa and Veloria are not alone. International trade agreements
such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the WTO's
General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), and the pending Free
Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) threaten the jurisdiction of any
elected or appointed representative of a sovereign people at any level
of government. A National League of Cities resolution declared that
the trade agreements could "undermine the scope of local governmental
authority under the Constitution." Last year, the Conference of Chief
Justices, consisting of the top judges from each state, wrote a letter
to the U.S. Senate stating that the proposed FTAA "does not protect
adequately the traditional values of constitutional federalism" and
"threatens the integrity of the courts of this country." In
California, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, and New
Hampshire, state legislatures have expressed concern over trade
agreements, as has the National Council of State Legislators. Their
statements, however more discreet, nonetheless echo the chants from
the streets of Seattle: "This isn't about trade, this isn't about
business; this is about democracy."

Despite their enormous ramifications, most international trade
agreements remain a mystery to the average American. At the core, they
are simple.

GATT and NAFTA cover the trade of physical goods between countries.
They can be used to override any country's protection of the
environment, for example, or of workers' rights, by defining relevant
laws and regulations as illegal "barriers to trade." They provide for
a "dispute resolution" process, but the process routinely determines
such laws to be in violation of the agreements.

In the case of GATT, a WTO member country can sue another member
country on behalf of one of its corporations, on the grounds that a
country's law has violated GATT trade rules. The case is heard by a
secret tribunal appointed by the WTO. State and local officials are
denied legal representation. If the tribunal finds that a law or
regulation of a country -- or state or township -- is a "barrier to
trade," the offending country must either rescind that law or pay the
accusing country whatever amount the WTO decides the company had to
forgo because of the barrier, a sum that can amount to billions of
dollars. In short, practitioners of democracy at any level can be
penalized for interfering with international profit-making.

Through this process, WTO tribunals have overturned such U.S. laws as
EPA standards for clean-burning gasoline and regulations banning fish
caught by methods that endanger dolphins and sea turtles. The WTO has
also effectively undermined the use of the precautionary principle, by
which practices can be banned until proven safe -- in one recent
instance superseding European laws forbidding the use of growth
hormones in beef cattle. A WTO tribunal dismissed laboratory evidence
that such hormones may cause cancer because it lacked "scientific
certainty." On similar grounds, the U.S., on behalf of Monsanto and
other American agribusiness giants, recently initiated an action under
GATT challenging the European Union's ban on genetically modified

Under NAFTA, which covers Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., a corporation
can sue a government directly. The case would also be heard by a
secret tribunal, such as when Vancouver-based Methanex sued the U.S.
over California's ban on a cancer-causing gas additive, MTBE. The
company, which manufactures the additive's key ingredient, claimed
that the ban failed to consider its financial interests. Since July
2001, three men -- one former U.S. official and two corporate lawyers
-- have held closed hearings on the thirteenth floor of World Bank
headquarters in Washington, D.C., to decide whether, in this instance,
a democratically elected governor's executive order to protect the
public should cost the U.S. $970 million in fines. The FTAA, recently
fast-tracked for negotiations to put it into effect by 2005, would
extend NAFTA's provisions to all of Latin America.

GATS, the General Agreement on Trade in Services, a recent trade
agreement under the WTO, takes the usurpation of democracy one step
further. While GATT deals with the exchange of goods across
international borders, GATS establishes certain privileges for
transnational companies operating within a country. It covers
"services," meaning almost anything from telecommunications to
construction to mining to supplying drinking water. It even includes
functions that traditionally have been carried out or closely
controlled by government, like postal services and social services
such as welfare -- even libraries. Activists point out that the
primary focus of the GATS is to limit government involvement, "whether
in the form of a law, regulation, rule, procedure, decision,
administrative action or any other form," to quote the treaty itself.
Public Citizen's Lori Wallach has called GATS a "massive attack on the
most basic functions of local and state government."

Under GATS, any activity the federal government agrees to declare a
"service" would be thrown open to privatization. The supply and
treatment of water is a timely example, since the European Union is
currently pressing the United States to make water among the first of
the services it places under GATS. If clean drinking water is so
declared, no government body in the U.S. could insist that it remain
publicly managed. If any government wanted to create a publicly owned
water district, foreign corporate "competitors" would have the right
to underbid the government for control of the service. Just as
important, a transnational company could challenge any rules --
including environmental and health regulations -- that would hamper
its ability to profit from a business that is related to a service
under GATS.

On March 28, 2003, twenty-nine California state legislators signed a
letter of concern to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick about
the provisions contained in GATS. The letter states that GATS could
usurp any government regulation, including nurse-to-patient staffing
levels, laws against racial discrimination, worker health and safety
laws, regulatory limits to oil drilling, and standards for everything
from waste incineration to trace toxins in drinking water. As a
result, the letter states, GATS would "jeopardize the public welfare
and pose grave consequences for democratic governance throughout the

Veloria and Figueroa both believe that if state legislators are to
challenge this "power grab," in Veloria's words, they will have to
organize among themselves. "One state cannot do it alone. We need to
do it on a national scale." Otherwise U.S. citizens may find
themselves under the thumb of NAFTA and WTO trade tribunals,
"unelected bodies that have no accountability to the people." At that
point, Veloria asks, "Why have state legislators, why have elected

In his work with the rural Pennsylvania supervisors, Thomas Linzey's
approach to domestic corporate rights may well illuminate how
individuals, states, and nations can deal with international trade

"Clarion County is one of many emerging examples of local communities
reasserting their own authority to define how they want land managed
and what sort of protections they want for their community," says
antiglobalization organizer Victor Menotti. "It's when things like
this come to light that people question what the hell we've gotten
ourselves into. These local communities stand up, and others say, 'if
they can do that, we can do that.""

On many issues of local governance, Linzey believes, a state or local
legislature "could declare null and void the federal government's
signature on GATT." To him it would be the "ultimate act of
insurrection: saying governments have no constitutional authority to
give away sovereign and democratic rights to international trade
tribunals that operate in secrecy."

For now, Velma Veloria is still working through traditional channels.
In an attempt to remove the antidemocratic provisions of the trade
treaties, her committee will take up the issue with the state's
delegation to Congress. But she is well aware that her colleagues, and
the people of Washington State, may find that traditional route closed
to them, as the Pennsylvania townships did in 1997.

If that happens, the practice of democracy at the local level would
require legislators to defy the trade agreements. "At some point we
might get to where the people working with Linzey are," she says. "We
may end up saying we don't recognize parts of the international trade
agreements that impact us. But that depends on the grassroots, on
people demanding it."

There, too, the Pennsylvania coalition may offer some inspiration.
"When the agribusiness folks filed suit over our anti-corporate
farming laws," Linzey recalls, "page one of the lawsuit said 'we the
corporations are people and this ordinance violates our personhood
rights." When we photocopied that, people immediately understood how
they're ruled by these constitutional rights and privileges. It sparks
a conversation."

The Pennsylvania township supervisors are backed by a determined
grassroots movement, with a constituency "ready to go to the mat for
their binding law to establish a sustainable vision that doesn't
include corporate rights and privileges," says Linzey. "The product is
not the ordinance," he adds. "The product is the people."

The Pennsylvania ordinances express the will of a sovereign people who
are exercising their right to create institutions that support their
vision of how they wish to live. And, as one would expect in a
democratic society, the people of Pennsylvania wish to be the ones who
define the rules under which those institutions may operate, be they
governments or corporations.

History repeats itself. In the course of asserting their sovereign
rights, the citizens of rural Pennsylvania have undergone a profound
change in personal identity and political consciousness not unlike
that of their forebears. As historian Lawrence Henry Gipson noted,
"The period from 1760 to 1775 is really the history of the
transformation of the attitude of the great body of colonials from
acquiescence in the traditional order of things to a demand for a new
order." People who for generations had considered themselves loyal
Englishmen suddenly declared themselves to be citizens of a new
nation, one based on the sovereignty of its citizens.

Veloria believes we are at a similar juncture today. "I have faith
that the American people will stand up for themselves and for
democracy. They can only be pushed so far."

Jeffrey Kaplan's essays and articles have appeared in many regional
and national newspapers and periodicals. He lives and works in
Berkeley, California.

Copyright 2003 The Orion Society