“I think it was seeing firsthand while working within the Pennsylvania legislature how corporate interests craft our laws, while also framing the conversation around important issues – that we don’t just have a legal problem, but that we all live within a corporate culture, designed to make us think that there is no alternative to the corporate system that has arisen around us.”
Do you feel that there is a fundamental contradiction between the democratic notions as expressed in the Bill of Rights and the day-to-day functioning of the system of government in the U.S.?
While the bill of rights certainly matters to limit and constrain the actions of our federal, state, and local governments; it’s not governments that have the most intimate effects on the lives we live – it is private power, mostly in the corporate form. And under the current system of law that we have, the bill of rights is not enforceable against those corporate actors, so they can violate those rights of ours at will. It’s called the “state actor” doctrine, and only holds governments accountable and liable for the violation of our rights, but not corporations.
On the eve of leaving office, former president Dwight Eisenhower warned about what he called "The Industrial-military complex." Since then there has been an enormous concentration of power in the hands of giant corporations. What does this mean for the concept of democracy?
I think democracy is dead, because it can’t be realized under the current structure of law that we have. While many people say we need to “reclaim” democracy, I don’t believe that the U.S. Constitution established a democratic government in the first place – so we really need to “create” one, rather than “reclaim” what the Washingtons, Hamiltons, and Dickensons delivered to us.
Democracy and freedom are the most used (and perhaps abused) notions put forth to promote the "special" U.S. form of government at home and abroad. What do those terms refer to in your opinion and to what extent have they been swallowed up by the corporate society?
Democracy should mean that people within communities, whether that’s the state, local, or national communities, should be able to make decisions to protect their health, safety, and welfare, and not be overridden by corporations or other layers of government when they do so. I think that system is pretty non-existent now. In essence, when we adopt laws today, that’s merely the first step before they’re forced to be squeezed through a filter of law that’s designed to subordinate those laws to corporate interests, and governments controlled by those corporate interests.
Could you explain in as simple terms as possible how the people have lost power and how the corporations have managed to use "legal" means to dislodge them whenever their interests collide with those of a community?
Over the past hundred years, corporations (and the small number of people who control them), have manufactured a system of law that includes things like corporations being “persons” under the Constitution, preemption (so local and state laws can be overridden by the federal government, and local laws can be overridden by state governments, which are, in turn, controlled by the same corporate interests), and Dillon’s Rule (local communities can only adopt laws that the state specifically tells them that they can). When people attempt to make their own laws, they can be overridden by those doctrines by corporations who use corporate resources to sue in court. They have also created a system where they can sue our governments for damages caused by the loss of profits.
Is it possible to reverse the present process--which apparently poses a great threat not only to the democratic system but to the environment and to the possibility of greater respect for the rights of people in the U.S. and in the world in general?
Yes, but it means breaking free from the “progressive” activism that we’ve been doing – which is essentially about trying to build influence with elected and other officials so that they do the right thing. Instead of relying on others, people need to begin to govern themselves by seizing their municipal governments first, to begin building a structure of law that supports and recognizes economic and environmental sustainability. Until we actually seize our own levers of governance, we’re always going to end up hoping that someone, somewhere, is going to help us; when, in reality, there’s no one out there that is going to assist us to do what we need to do.
What are the goals of CELDF and yours as a defender of people's rights?
Help people to realize their own democratic aspirations, and begin to restructure the law so that they can make decisions within their own communities to instate democratic self-governance in the name of sustainability.