Opin­ions & Editorial What is Self-gov­er­nance?

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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.

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