Local autonomy through Constitutional change
- September 2013

Thomas Linzey rocked a standing-room only crowd in Dalby Hall at MUM on Sept 18. Unlikely as it seems, a lecture about detailed aspects of the law, without any visual aids whatsoever, had electrifying results. A good friend said that she could hardly keep herself from breaking into tears during the evening; others ranked it among the most powerful presentations they had ever heard.

The evening was a non-stop, rapid-fire traversal of the history of battles fought and often lost by communities pitted against corporations bent on bringing toxic operations into their midst (CAFOs, fracking, incinerators, sludge dumping, and so on). These battles are frequently lost because our system is skewed to support the rights of corporations and to restrict the rights of localities when it comes to the pursuit of commercial interests.

As Linzey sees it, the "DNA of this country," the Constitution, was explicitly designed to protect and support business interests. We had a continent to subdue, a nation to build, and we had to prove our strength to Europe. The Bill of Rights — which most of us think of as the Constitution — is a set of amendments that had to be driven in over the opposition of the Founders. The bulk of the Constitution deals with the machinery of government and with property protection and commercial rights. The Supreme Court's decision that corporations are persons, with rights that often trump those of localities and individuals, was, Linzey said, inevitable based on the text of the Constitution.

"We have a 1780's form of government," he said. "The Constitution has a lot of bad stuff in it... it is used as a vehicle by corporations to pummel our states and our localities." Unlike the new constitution of Ecuador, which Linzey helped draft and which gives explicit rights to Nature, we have "the antithesis of a sustainability constitution."

After decades of work in pro-bono environmental law, Linzey decided that what we must do is this: Continue to take legal action, starting at the local level, to assert the rights of communities, individuals, and Nature herself. Redouble these efforts. Do this not in the hope that we will ultimately win those battles, given the current rules of the game, but because we need to "draw the conflict." We need to win the war. Linzey and his firm have helped hundreds of localities pass ordinances to block unsustainable corporate encroachments. Many of these will be struck down. The hope is that if enough attention can be brought in this way to the dangers of our corporate-centric law, a groundswell of indignation will rise. It will be felt next at the state level and will eventually result in a demand for Constitutional change. Nothing else will be enough to alter the direction in which this country is heading, because nothing else can change the rules by which these dangerous games are being played.

There are ways to plug into these efforts locally. Linzey offered a course in Fairfield last year called The Democracy School. Some of the graduates are spearheading activity in our community. Contact Bob Stone at Fairfield Home Rule (bstone@lisco.com) to learn how you can help.

MUMTV posted a video of Linzey's talk at new.livestream.com/mum/TomLinzey. Take a look.