Opinions & Editorial What is Self-governance?
that those governments will ever act against the economic forces that put them there.
And there’s something else these communities have in common.
When they began to confront the corporations that were affecting them, both corporate and governmental officials told them that they couldn’t do anything – that they were helpless to protect their communities from being fracked, drilled, drained and destroyed.
Those officials informed them that only the state and federal government had the right to adopt laws governing those industries, and that, if a community did pass a law, that they would be sued for violating the corporation’s “constitutional rights.” Further, they explained that the community could then be held liable not just for the cost of the corporation’s lawyers, but also for potential future corporate profits lost as a result of the law’s adoption.
Historically, in the face of such financial threats, cities and towns across the country have simply thrown in the towel, abandoning any hope of elevating their own vision for their community’s future over the interests of those corporations. Thus, local laws are thrown into the shredder even before they emerge from governmental committees.
But in early 2000, something different began to happen. Communities began to stop backing down—perhaps because real change only occurs when there’s nothing left to lose. It was then that local elected officials and community leaders (mostly in Pennsylvania) began to grapple with the grim reality that our governments have not only failed to protect our rights, but now assist corporations to violate them.
Many have now concluded that our legislatures, environmental agencies and courts have all been privatized—and are now used by a corporate minority as just one more means to get oil and gas out of the ground, to run family farmers out of business, and to take everything of value that our communities have.
Why the Current Strategies Have Run Out of Gas
Cries about the corporatization of government, of course, are not new. Both parties have been screaming about it for years. They’ve never seemed, however, to invent a new kind of activism that isn’t completely dependent upon the very institutions and systems that have themselves been corporatized, to provide some kind of relief. Thus, the status quo activism has been about asking regulators, politicians and judges to somehow rule against the very forces that live within those institutions.
Their tired activism remains one of pressure politics—that if you can mobilize enough people at the right time, those people can pressure the real decision makers to make different decisions.
But as communities have begun to move on their own, they’ve begun to ask some really tough questions, such as: if we really have government of, by, and for a small corporate minority, then does sending letters, filing lawsuits, or trying to elect the right people make any kind of difference at all?
It is here that these communities have departed from exhausted stodgy beliefs—namely, the belief that we live in a democracy, and all we have to do is find a way to activate it so that it works in our favor. Instead, these communities—and the brave elected officials and community leaders who are now walking hand-inhand with them—have seen this myth for what it is, and have begun to plow an entirely new path.
They’re seeking an activism that isn’t reliant upon the same institutions that created this mess. An activism which understands that the status quo powers will attempt to wield “the people’s” own institutions—all branches and agencies of government—to stop any movement that shows potential to replace the existing, unsustainable mechanisms of power with ones that are economically and environmentally sustainable.
In short, they’re seeking democracy, with the understanding that without the emergence of a movement which seizes authority to make decisions about food, water, and energy, we will continue to live in a place where those decisions are made by interests which benefit from continuing the destructive practices.