By Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap
With the 44th anniversary of Earth Day, we have to look at why the health of the planet is at an all time low.
How many people do you know who would aspire for a world without clean water to drink? How many are in favor of acid rain, food poisoning, or natural disaster? What about asthma? Higher cancer rates? Starvation? Do many of your friends dream of a United States without our glorious mountain-scapes, deciduous forests, or glistening lakes? Would any rational person want these things for their country, their children, themselves? The answer, obviously, is no, they wouldn’t.
Numerous surveys and polls reinforce the reality that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of environmental protections. In fact, when asked to choose between environmental regulation and energy production, a whopping 94% of Americans believe in prioritizing protection of clean water and air over all else.
The American people don’t want to destroy our environment, contaminate our water, poison our bodies, and clog our skies. To the contrary, we would overwhelmingly prefer increased regulation in order to protect our resources and sustain our earth. If this is so clearly the case, why then is the natural world literally being destroyed before our eyes? Why are there are no adequate laws controlling oil, food, water, land, and air, and why are the meager regulations we do have being blatantly ignored and repeatedly overturned?
The answers to these disconcerting questions are rooted in a history of concentrated power, corruption, and specifically, some very questionable Supreme Court decisions regarding the U.S Constitution. In January 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that “corporations are persons” under the first amendment, essentially entitling them to spend unlimited, unchecked money on political expenditures.
This ruling doesn’t come out of nowhere. Indeed, it is merely the latest in a series of decisions dating back to the late 1800s which have granted corporations rights as human beings, allowing them to avoid regulation, and resulting in uncontrollable corporate influence over politics.
These days, such rulings have conveniently enabled large multinational corporations to shield destructive and illegal practices under the cloak of the US constitution. Through precedents set by the Supreme Court and reinforced time and again, wealthy corporations have convinced America to grant them personhood, with all the built-in constitutional rights.
But the obvious reality is that corporations are not people. They do not breathe, eat, or drink water. They have only one basic need: profit, and this in itself confirms the faulty logic of corporate personhood.
When people make decisions, we often think about financial gain too, but we also consider such matters as health, safety, happiness, social and environmental well-being. Corporate giants do not consider these things. They are businesses, not people, and it is fallacy to allow them control of decisions regarding the health of our people or our planet. Yet they have somehow been granted the right to cry “freedom of speech!” and “equal protection!” in order to avoid being held accountable to real humans.
Monsanto, for instance, cites the US Constitution in countless lawsuits to force unlabeled genetically engineered and chemically injected foods onto the public. In Vermont, Monsanto argued “free speech” to prevent the state from requiring labeling on dairy products containing Bovine Growth Hormones (rBGH). Just this month, the corporation snuck a legislative ‘rider’ inside an unrelated Senate spending bill, which essentially gives the company complete immunity from any federal court action against any new Monsanto GMO crops that are suspected to be dangerous to the public or the environment.
Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry has taken full advantage of “corporate personhood” to spend exorbitant amounts of money on lobbying and other political endeavors. In the 2012 election year, fossil fuel groups have spent more than $153 million on campaign ads to promote pro-fossil fuel candidates. One corporation, Chevron, contributed $2.5 million to a super PAC to elect House Republicans. In exchange for the support, Republicans voted consistently to protect the $2.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil. Meanwhile everyone else pays a hefty price. The True Cost of Chevron is a 64-page report highlighting some of Chevron’s most outrageous crimes against humanity and nature.
The list of offenses by these and other corporate giants goes on and on. They claim “free speech,” “property rights” and “equal protection,” to avoid regulation, buy off politicians, and justify misconduct. In reality, if they really were people, they would be people guilty of such activities as bribery of public officials, grand theft, fraud, destruction of public property, money laundering, provoking unjust wars, and flat out murder.
So why has nobody arrested Chevron?
The American people have the right to protections for our health and our environment. We have the right to ensure our families have access to clean water, healthy food, and breathable air. This is why grassroots organizations through the Move to Amend Coalition are calling for a constitutional amendment to eliminate corporate personhood.
With the support of people; real, living, feeling, breathing, people, we can wrest our Constitutional rights from corporations and build a country and world based on protecting and preserving the other beings of our planet and prioritizing human rights over corporate profit.
Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap is Executive Director of Democracy Unlimited. She grew up in Santa Fe, NM and came to Humboldt County in 2001 by way of Western Massachusetts where she was studying education and community at Hampshire College. She served as a member of the national Leadership Team of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s campaign to Challenge Corporate Power, Assert the People’s Rights and the STORY (Strategy Training and Organizing Resources for Youth) Board of the SmartMeme Project. She is also a Principal with Program on Corporations Law and Democracy and Local Democracy Fellow for the Liberty Tree Foundation. In November 2004 Kaitlin was elected to serve on the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District Board. She is the youngest member to serve in this position, as well as the the first woman to take this office. She was re-elected in 2008 and now serves as Board President. Kaitlin serves as the National Director for Move to Amend. She oversees the national field organizing operations for the campaign, the affiliate support program and provides internship program supervision.
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This article appears in:
2014 Catalyst, Issue 8: Spring of Sustainability