Feature photo by Kyle Pattison of Public Herald
It took ten years of bold resistance against legalized tyranny for the people of Grant Township to prevail. PGE corporation has thrown in the towel. They’ve permanently capped the methane well they’d intended to use to pipe millions of gallons of carcinogenic, radioactive, toxic frack waste into the same ground from which the community draws and consumes life-sustaining water. It is a victory for common sense over the balderdash of precedent-protected legalized injustice that masquerades as American Law. Oh, and happy Independence Day.
Ten years in the state and federal courts resisting invasion and occupation by a poison-pushing corporation – and this is what the people of Grant Township learned: the courts serve corporations, not people. The country’s first vice president, John Adams, grandiosely called the new United States a nation of laws, not men, But it was men, white propertied men like him who made the laws that mere mortals like you, me, and the good people of Grant Township are compelled to obey. In Grant Township they found out just how biased the law is in favor of the powerful.
The judges sanctioned attorneys who dared plainly call PGE’s plans to poison a township of less than a thousand human souls an affront to the rights of the community, and their attack on the municipality’s home rule charter an assault on democracy.
Grant Township was sued by their own state’s hollowed-out Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for passing a law that made its agents liable for failing to protect the water. They sued the township for trying to protect their water more effectively than the environmental agency allowed. Meanwhile, the corporation begged state and federal courts to overturn local laws and a home rule charter that subordinated PGE’s corporate personhood rights to Grant Township’s authority to democratically protect its people and environment. The courts obliged. What was learned? That the law protects wealth and privilege, and the people are on their own.
At every smack-down from on high, the people of Grant Township rejected the court rulings, rooted as they always were in corrupt law laid down by the men who legalized slavery, making people into property. Those same men who believed in the supremacy of the white race, made their corporate property into Bill of Rights protected “persons” because, as James Madison, who wrote the first draft of the Constitution said, during the editing and finalizing of that Constitution, that law should “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” Madison’s wish was fulfilled.
Against the long-held-sacred legal precedent devised by the Federalist party in Philadelphia that favored the privileged, the people of Grant Township insisted that justice, and the unalienable right of every American to participate in self-governance in local affairs, must override commercial priorities that do harm to those rights. But the judges consistently doubled down to vindicate elitist laws that protect the authority of state-chartered corporations to terrorize communities and environments. Why? To ensure continued legal deference to the long-running Ponzi scheme that we all call “the economy” – that system of community and environmental exploitation that has to be bailed out periodically by creating more debt for the majority.
It wasn’t that tradition of law that saved Grant Township’s water, but the men and women who persisted and demanded that their rights and their local environment were more important than feeding the national slot machine.
We need to get straight about what we’re supposed to be celebrating on Independence Day. It’s the people, not the laws and wars waged to enforce them. Wouldn’t you say?
Once again the flags will wave and the politicians will bloviate about how serving the priorities of their constituents follows the patriotic aspirations of those who demanded independence from the British Empire. Public naivete continues to assume that by “constituent” they mean you and me. It’s a level of gullibility that infects American society to its core, with a long taproot back to another day in history that is NOT celebrated on July 4: ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Its opening line, “We the People,” is mistakenly believed to refer to all of us, even though the Bill of Rights wasn’t tacked onto the document until two years later. It recognized no legal rights for anyone but white men of means. It didn’t mean women, LGBTQ, African Americans, Indigenous Americans, or any other marginalized group that’s had to struggle for equal rights ever since.
But on the 4th of July, Americans don’t celebrate the U.S. Constitution. It’s supposed to be all about the Declaration of Independence, that illegal, revolutionary document that was demanded by the activists and resistors and radicals in towns and counties across the thirteen colonies. The people’s assemblies that sent delegates to the Continental Congress insisting that a Declaration be drafted and adopted were local governments, not state governments. The demands for secession from the empire came from the grassroots, not the patriarchs who took it upon themselves after the revolution to create the first North American free trade zone that today we call the U.S. Constitution. Unlike that Constitution, the Declaration insisted that “all men are created equal.” If by “all men” we are to understand they meant “all people,” then that interpretation has yet to be normalized.
Thomas Paine, an English working-class man who knew how to inspire common farmers, day workers, and shopkeepers with his fiery words was enlisted to do just that by the colonial gentry who desired economic independence from England. His best-selling Common Sense was a sensation everywhere in the colonies. It catalyzed the revolt. But after the war was won, the Federalists jettisoned Tom Paine and the ideas he espoused that, if enacted, would have ended governing by the wealthy. Talk about cancel culture! Paine, author of the book that sparked the American Revolution, was ostracized.
There are no monuments to this commoner’s contribution to America’s founding as a nation. Not so much as a statue in Washington D.C. Not even a bust in the Capitol Rotunda. He isn’t included in the pantheon of white men revered as “founding fathers.” In fact, in 1949, as conservative fantasists whipped-up hysteria over supposed communist infiltration of American politics, “the FBI ordered the removal from public libraries of Howard Fast’s influential wartime biographical novel, Citizen Tom Paine, as well as his one-volume selection of Paine’s works.” [Peter Linebaugh, “Stop, Thief! The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance”] Book banning, like law, serves the priorities of the 1%, by keeping the facts from the majority.
If the persistence of the people of Grant Township in pursuit of justice took ten years for them to prevail, it is because they insisted on the primacy of justice over law that serves the interests of an opulent minority. On this two-hundred and forty-seventh anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, we might pause a moment to ask ourselves just when we will become impatient with the lie that making money is more important than protecting people and our communities’ natural habitats. Perhaps our mistake has been in believing that the law will see to it that justice prevails. But the law which insulates the so-called “private sector” from public governance is incapable of doing any such thing.
There is a two-tiered legal system in the United States and everyone knows it. People, not dead patriarchs, govern in a democracy. We’re not there yet. The revolution is taking longer than Tom Paine or anyone could have expected. It turns out that Jefferson was right about at least one important thing: each generation must declare its independence from tyranny for the revolution to succeed. Given our nation’s nightmarish history of violence, war, deprivation, and the ongoing destruction of the natural world, he may have been right. Wouldn’t you say?
While Progressives Dabble and Dither, Real People are Being Brutalized
Once again, the heirs of the founding patriarchs turn to the uninformed working people, conjuring inspirational lies, to have them fight their battles to preserve their power. Donald Trump’s appeal to the forgotten working class confounds the best educated among us, who are unconscious of their own complicity in the denial of equal justice as they insist on working “within the law” for law’s reform. The “grass tops,” the bourgeoisie who occupy moderately well-paid jobs as lawyers, NGO bosses, and those holding positions they aspire to fill, the CEOs, politicians, and law partners, all of them comfortably mouth support for social justice while ensuring the rock-solid constancy of the status quo. And for the same reason that their betters pay and fund them to keep a lid on the roiling masses: self-interest. By insisting on incremental reforms and standing firmly against “radical” change toward justice, they guarantee that justice for all remains aspirational but never real.
In 1825, thirty-six years after the Federalists had their self-serving frame of government ratified, Thomas Jefferson, the progressive “anti-Federalist,” mused in a letter to William Branch Giles that,
“This will contain matters not intended for the public eye . . . the federal branch of our government is advancing towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the states. Under the power to regulate Commerce. . . .and aided by a little sophistry on the words ‘general welfare’ a right to do, not only the acts to effect that which are specifically enumerated and permitted, but whatsoever they shall think, or pretend will be for the general welfare.”Thomas Jefferson
That same letter went into more detail, accusing the Supreme Court, the president, and Congress of conspiring to “strip the states authorities of the powers reserved to them,” to favor the largest of industries over the smallest and to cut down mountains for the construction of roads and building canals for private interests. Then he asked, “Are we then to stand to our arms?” He decided the time would be right “only when the sole alternatives left are the dissolution of our union with them, or submission to a government without limitation of powers. Between these two evils when we must make a choice, there can be no hesitation.” But knowing the injustices perpetrated by making the Constitution into a commercial arrangement that further advantaged the already advantaged, he did nothing.
Independence Day honors the grass tops and their masters rather than the hard-working common folk who fought and won the Revolution. The deified white supremacists who created this nation of privilege-privileging laws ignore the needs and rights of their own communities. Today, their progeny continue that project, following sacred precedent, in remembrance of the privilege-seeking designs of the founding patriarchs. The advantages they reap are shameful. Therefore, this Independence Day, let’s celebrate the people of Grant Township, and the people of every community that stands strong against the tyranny of class and privilege. That’s what real patriotism demands. Wouldn’t you say?