A Coming of Age Story of Love, Loss and Nature: Ogden

A Coming of Age Story of Love, Loss and Nature: Ogden

Ogden: A Tale for the End of Time by Ben G. Price [Editor’s Pick]

It is rare to read something written from a nonhuman perspective without forcing humanlike qualities on them. Ben Price does exactly that in “Ogden: A Tale for the End of Time.” The shift from human’s to troll’s to bear’s to deer’s perspectives seems authentic and genuine. This reflects the author’s own values: of the author being able to view the nonhumans with respect and see the nuances and complexities of their lives, without attributing humanlike qualities to them. It quite fits the author’s profile as well. Ben Price is a pioneer of the Rights of Nature movement – a movement for legal recognition of the rights of natural entities to survive and thrive, a movement that is not possible with a human supremacist attitude.

The lively forests of Huth and Tibbs

Ogden is a magical coming of age story about a troll who is raised by a human family in a society where men secretly meet to plan the genocide of trolls. Unfamiliar with all of this, the family takes care of the troll and attempts to teach him to become more “civilized”, or more man-like. The book is full of multiple themes, reflecting the unfortunate realities of our society – from patriarchy to class division to human supremacy to racism. It has something for all of us who critique one or more aspects of human society. In this review I’ll explore some of these in the context of the different settings presented throughout the novel.

From Drowden Erebus’ bucolic Hapstead Manor to the wild and lively forests of Huth and Tibbs (Ogden’s troll parents) to the un-lively walled town of Irongate to the slum-like settlement of Doltun and Petula, Ben Price jumps from one setting to another without creating an unsettling feeling among the readers. The four settings describe a contrast of social structure, in terms of class divide, racism, human supremacism, patriarchy, colonialism, a contrast that is not just apparent, but, sadly, too familiar to the readers. Taking a different perspective, these four settings are not just four different social structures but a metaphor to different historical times: the wild forests represent the past where we (all creatures including humans) came from; Hapstead Manor the sedentary lifestyle based on agriculture; Irongate as the industrialized cities, ones that the agriculturalists covet; the slums the inevitable byproducts of the cities.

Price puts our modern society in contrast to egalitarian societies

The societal structure inhabited by trolls, like Huth and Tibbs, is based on respect, not only for nature and natural elements, but for fellow conspecifics, for the females of their species and for other species. For one attuned to it, symbols of matriarchy are apparent in Huth and Tibbs’ cave: ancestor worship and Goddess figurines. Consistent with our most reliable knowledge of matriarchal societies, the trolls are also the most egalitarian of the different characters we see.

While the Hapstead Manor is owned by a kind, loving man who treats his women and children and workers well, it is still “owned” by the man of the house. Ultimately, his words are the last, even though Ben Price describes some instances where the wisdom of Drowden’s worker Argis, cook Odelia, wife Dorina or daughter Miranda prove to be superior to Drowden’s judgment. In other words, they have a significant place in the plot.

The same cannot be said for Irongate. Irongate is ruled, apparently and latently, by a group of belligerent entitled men whose sole purpose in life seems to be to increase their wealth and ultimately their power and to protect their supremacy. They are ready to use any means to do so, including silencing, raping or murdering those who don’t comply. That they rationalize their actions with absurd reasoning can be pitied, but not justified.

Finally, the slum-like settlement (Bladicville) where the outcasts live is an inseparable part of the walled town of Irongate. Cities are designed in a way where the land does not support the population, thus the need to import food from villages. At the same time, cities also require jobs risky enough or “low” enough that the residents do not deign to perform, thus a need for a “lower” group of people to do those jobs. That’s how poor quarters or slums are required in a city. This is where the “lower” group of people find their residence. Poverty is not the only thing that classifies them as inferior.

Humans are enslaving trolls

As Americans should know from their own history, in order for slavery to be justified, the slave owners and traders first needed to believe Blacks to be inferior to Whites. Similarly in “Ogden”, there needs to be created a classification where one group of people is considered inferior to the other. This is implied in the historical background of Ogden with the slavery of trolls by humans. Even though the slavery had ended, the hierarchy thus created, of trolls being an inferior group, was still intact. Slum dwellers like Doltun and Petula were ostracized not just because of their poverty, but because they were half trolls and half humans – a group considered inferior based on their genetic association with trolls.

The book resonates with anyone who grieves over the loss of natural world. I would highly recommend it to our readers.

Ogden: A Tale for the End of Time will be released on October 24th. You can find the book at Addison and Highsmith Publishers.

Decade Long Gag Order for Speaking Out [Press Release]

Decade Long Gag Order for Speaking Out [Press Release]

Editor’s Note: This press release from CELDF (Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund) describes a gag order put against an activist, Tish O’Dell, for talking about her concerns on the use of an industrial byproduct in her community. The gag order was placed in 2012. Since then, tests have affirmed that not only was the product toxic, it is also high in radioactive elements. Lawsuits by big corporations against activists are one of the tools used to shut down any form of resistance. We have talked about it also in the context of the lawsuit against activists and tribal members involved in protecting Thacker Pass. After a decade during which new research has been conducted, Tish O’Dell has appealed for a termination on the gag order.


June 19, 2023


Terry Lodge, Attorney CELDF

Tish O’Dell

OHIO, Cuyahoga County – On Friday, June 16, a motion was filed in the Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas for relief from judgment for Tish O’Dell to terminate the permanent injunction from a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) filed against her in March 2012 by Duck Creek Energy which claimed defamation and loss of business profits.

O’Dell had been active at the time, educating both her community, elected leaders and neighbors about the harmful effects of urban oil/gas drilling happening in her community of Broadview Heights and surrounding communities by sending emails, posting information online and attending community meetings. In the process, she had learned of Duck Creek Energy’s road de-icer, AquaSalina, which according to Duck Creek Energy President, Dave Mansbery, was a byproduct of oil/gas drilling. O’Dell’s concern increased upon learning, from test results reported to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), about the high levels of substances like benzene, toluene and ethylbenzene contained within the supposedly harmless de-icer. These substances are known to be carcinogenic. She also continued to conduct more research on ODNR’s website and in other places in order to inform herself and educate others as to what takes place during the drilling process and fracking.

“When I learned that AquaSalina was being used on my community’s streets as well as in neighboring communities, I wanted to inform people about what I had learned,” said O’Dell. “I felt people needed to know what was being spread on the roads that they, their kids, and their pets were walking on. And common sense indicated to me that what is spread on our streets gets into our air and our lawns and goes down street drains to water supplies. I knew the oil/gas industry was powerful, but I also believed in my right and everyone’s right to free speech and the right to question the government and their decisions. I had never heard of a SLAPP lawsuit until there was a knock at my front door and the person asked if I was Tish O’Dell and told me ‘You’ve been served’.”

After a year of court filings, depositions, and much pressure directed against O’Dell’s inclination to go to trial, a settlement was signed in the fall of 2013. Part of the settlement involved granting a permanent injunction, an extraordinary remedy in a defamation case, against O’Dell, prohibiting her from using certain words to describe the product AquaSalina. During this time Mansbery began bottling and selling the product on store shelves in local hardware stores and even at several Lowe’s locations in Ohio. This afforded activists and scientists the opportunity to purchase the product and begin testing it. And in the decade since, there has been much research and testing of the product by the state agency ODNRuniversitiesRolling Stone Magazine and other publications. The tests affirmed that not only was the product chemically toxic, it is also high in radioactive elements, Radium 226 and 228. In October 2021 the Ohio Department of Transportation stopped using AquaSalina in part because of the environmental concerns.

Because these recent test results and scientific research papers didn’t exist in 2012, O’Dell is filing this motion to dissolve the court order so she can again speak freely and warn people about the dangers of this product to both humans and nature. There have been several attempts over the past few years to pass a law at the state level which would make a commodity out of  this drilling byproduct. And with the state opening up leasing of park land for fracking this year, there will be more brine produced.

“SLAPP suits are just another tool used by industry and corporations to silence and intimidate those who speak out against them and their activities,” stated Wyatt Sugrue, Chicago attorney. “The goal is not only to silence journalists, individuals and organizations, but to also make others afraid to speak up. In recent years there have been high profile cases of SLAPP suits against John Oliver and HBO, Mother Jones Magazine and recently Texas Gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke who was served with a SLAPP by the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, Kelcy Warren.”

As stated in the motion:

The Ohio court system has in essence allowed a limited-purpose public figure, Duck Creek Energy, to immunize itself from public scrutiny, and the court system is acting as the personal police force for the company to stop such scrutiny. 

“What I have learned over the past decade is how our system, controlled by an elite minority, is quashing the people’s constitutional rights. I witnessed this first hand working with so many great people across the state who were also attempting to protect their own communities and nature. They inspired me to do this,” stated O’Dell. “I can’t just tell others to stand up for their rights and what they believe in and to have courage even when it seems scary, and not practice what I preach.”

A recent article by EarthJustice, September 2022, sums it up, “We aspire for the courts to be an institution that upholds the rights of all, however, SLAPP suits are a way for the rich and powerful to abuse the court system and turn it into a tool that silences individuals and organizations. SLAPP suits disguise themselves as legitimate lawsuits, and while most end up being dismissed, their real goal is quashing legitimate dissent and protest in the process. Protesting is one of the cornerstones of our democracy, a right so important in the early days of our country that it is explicitly included in the first amendment. One thing is clear. Our courts must uphold this right for everyone and cannot become tools for the rich and powerful to abuse power and limit the ability of all of us to seek justice and speak out against issues impacting our communities.”

In the O’Rourke SLAPP, it has been discovered that Warren, the plaintiff, has also made campaign contributions to six of the nine Texas Supreme Court Justices that could ultimately hear the case.

According to CELDF Attorney Terry Lodge, “Ending the gag order on Tish O’Dell is important to our work as an organization. CELDF works with community members and activists throughout the state and country to assert their constitutional and democratic rights to expose harms and stand up for protecting the community and nature. If the wealthy and powerful can file lawsuits to silence their voices, those must always be opposed.”

Photo by Kilian Karger on Unsplash

Wetlands Rights & How Wealth Rules [Events]

Wetlands Rights & How Wealth Rules [Events]

Editor’s Note: The following events are not organized by DGR. We stand in solidarity with both of these and encourage our readers to get involved in these if possible.

Radical Resilience and Restoration for Wetland Rights

On June 28th CELDF’s Kai Huschke will be presenting at the Society for Wetland Scientists annual conference. Joining Kai on the panel Socio-Ecological Resilience and Adaptation: Implementing Rights of Wetlands will be Senior Ecologist/Natural Climate Solutions Specialist Gillian Davis from BSC Group, Inc. and Tufts University Global Development & Environment Institute, Matthew Simpon, Director from the UK based organization 35percent, and Bill Moomaw, Tufts University Professor Emeritus. The four have been active as part of a global collective working on the community and national levels for the legal rights of wetlands.

The talk is a part of the Society for Wetland Scientists annual conference which will be held from June 27-30, 2023 in Spokane, WA, USA at The Davenport Grand Hotel.

Here are some excerpts from Kai’s talk:

Globally for the last 200 years the prevailing directive governmentally, legally, economically, scientifically, and culturally has been to extract and exploit the natural world for the wants and needs of a single species – humans. Colonization has never stopped; it has merely changed its stripes and patterns of speech but behaviorally it continues to conquer into submission and extinction the life forces of the planet with wetlands receiving a disproportionate amount of abuse.

The emergence of legal rights of nature efforts over the last 20 years in North America and across the globe is a potent force for the cultural shift necessary to actualize living from, in, with, and as nature. Wetlands restoration efforts in the name of rights of wetlands can only occur if there is a restoration of the human species on a massive scale that would allow for the healthy and harmonious balance of living from, in, with, and as nature. Science along with other aspects of the culture must reject colonizing systems of law, economics, governance, and even science itself and develop methods and systems outside the dominant one.

How Wealth Rules: Part III

CELDF’s Ben G. Price has been hosting lively and engaging discussions on his award-winning book, How Wealth Rules the World: Saving Our Communities and Freedoms from the Dictatorship of Property.

Many books have been written about wealth, power and politics in the United States. Most of them make intuitive sense. Wealthy people use their power to influence and control politics. But Ben Price’s new book is often counterintuitive as he explores how wealth itself is imbued with power.

CELDF is making available, a serialization of Ben Price’s book. You can read this award-winning book in free installments of downloadable pdf files and join Ben Price for monthly webinars to discuss the book in the sequence of shared chapters.

You can find earlier webinars: One Right to Rule Them All, The Dark Side of Property and Property is Not an Unalienable Right.

You can register for the next webinar (The Ongoing Counter Revolution) at June 13th from 7:00 – 8:30 PM EDT.

Photo by Sara Cottle on Unsplash

Help! I’ve Been Colonized and I Can’t Get Up!

Help! I’ve Been Colonized and I Can’t Get Up!

Editor’s Note: Jane Anne Morris’ 2005 essay “Help! I’ve Been Colonized and I Can’t Get Up” is considered a classic text within the community rights movement. It criticizes the regulatory regime of environmental and public health protection, which has ultimately helped corporations standardize and de-risk investments, while failing to prevent ecological collapse. Instead of participating in this system, Morris proposes six legal changes which would substantially limit corporate power.

The problems described in this essay have only become even worse since 2005. Barriers to challenging corporate-friendly legal structures are numerous, deeply embedded, and well-defended by teams of lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians who are entrenched in government and other institutions like military units employing defense-in-depth. Seventeen years of anti-corporate-power organizing, since this essay was written, has yet to breach these barricades.

Morris’ essay today can be read in at least two ways: first, as calling for a populist effort to reign in corporate power, as she originally intended the piece; and second, as a historic account of advancing corporate power which calls for strategic and ethical escalation in defense of planet Earth.

Take a Lawyer and an Expert To a Hearing and Call Me In a Decade

By Jane Anne Morris

A third of your friends are locked down Reclaiming the Bill of Rights, Building a Movement in an old growth grove or at a corporate headquarters, with law enforcement officers rubbing pepper spray in their eyes. Another third are preparing testimony so you can be persuasive at a generic regulatory agency hearing while you’re begging them to enforce a tiny portion of our laws. The third third are trying to raise money to pay lawyers to get your friends out of jail (after they’ve been released from the hospital) or take the regulatory agency to court (after it declines to enforce the law).

The pepper spray, groveling and money-grubbing might not be so bad if we could honestly say that the earth is better off today than it was four years ago. I can’t honestly say that.

This diatribe is an effort to take a hard look at what we’re doing and insinuate some new elements into the debate. It’s not intended to belittle any of our efforts, point fingers, or assign blame, so don’t take it personally. We are all earthlings.

Our campaigns follow the gambling addiction model. The last bet didn’t pay off but the next one might if… if… if we just had a new, improved tripod, three more experts, more labor or church support, ten more elected officials on our side, a hundred more people at the demo, or a thousand more letters in the mail…. Who are we kidding? We are just doing the “same old thing” over and over again and fooling ourselves that it might work next time.

We are stuck in a feedback loop where our failures are interpreted as signs that we should repeat our failed tactics, but try harder. This is what it is to be colonized. The telltale sign is not that we’re failing, but that we’re fooling ourselves, and don’t see it as a feedback loop.

If our minds are not colonized, then how come almost every Earth First! Journal action piece starts with a banner or a lockdown and ends with a plea to write a letter to a white male bigshot? (Go ahead, look through back issues. It goes on for years and years.)

Over at corporate headquarters they have a steeper learning curve.

Despite the occasional bag of guts on the committee table or clever banner, it must be reassuring for corporate executives and those who serve them to sit back and smile at the success of their containment efforts, and the predictability of our campaigns.

The issue of whose minds are colonized is a delicate one. We all know people whose minds have been colonized. Who are they? They are other people — people out there. They are somebody else. Not us.

It’s time we did the unthinkable and asked ourselves if we have been colonized. What do we see when we compare our strategies to corporate strategies?

Many of our groups are organized to save wolves, butterflies, trees, prairie flowers, rivers, deserts, or estuaries. But corporation executives don’t organize to destroy the wolves, butterflies… flowers… estuaries. Nor do they organize to pollute the air, spoil the rivers, or promote five-legged frogs.

This asymmetry should give us pause as we try to understand why corporations are on a roll while we’re stuck in a feedback loop. Let’s look again.

Corporate strategy leverages their power; their efforts reinforce and magnify each other. Our strategy splits our resources and dissipates our power.

Corporate strategy aims to increase the power that corporations have over people. That means that when a single corporation gets a victory, it helps all other corporations, too. They are all stronger, they all have more power, and the people have less.

We work on separate harms. When we lock down to one old growth stand, others go unprotected. When we protest about one chemical, others go unprotested. When we testify to preserve one watershed, others are not spoken for.

We have whole campaigns directed at one chemical, one corporation, one species, one grove of trees, one article of clothing.

In doing so, we fracture our resources. While we’re out working on a “Chlorine is Bad” or “Wolves are Good” campaign, we’re not working on all of the other chemicals, animals, trees, etc., that also need attention.

Some of us argue that this fracturing is inevitable, because there’s so much wrong in the world. (Declaring a problem to be inevitable is a great way to justify not talking about it. Another gift to the corporate world view.)

Others of us think that the fracturing results from not being organized enough, or not being organized right. This opens the door for endless bickering about whether we should organize by bioregion or by article of clothing, by species or by chemical, by issue or by occupation. Either way, we’re still fractured.

Being fractured is another way of being colonized.

Another sure sign of being colonized is when you censor yourselves, and don’t even wait for others to do it. Some of our self-imposed limitations are right off of a corporate wish list.

We have a strange “but it’s the law” syndrome. Why can’t we bring up important issues at EPA hearings? It’s regulatory (administrative) law. Why can’t we get our views accurately presented on TV? It’s (corporate) private property law and FCC regulations. Why can’t we imprison corporate executives for what their corporations do? It’s liability law.

So what do we do? We toe the line at the EPA hearing. We dress up as animals to get a moment on TV. We let lying corporate executives lie.

That is, we work around the defining laws that are the groundwork for a rigged system. We’re looking for favors, lucky breaks. We don’t even dream of control, yet we call this a democracy.

This is being colonized.

Corporation representatives do not feel constrained in this way. Nothing is too destructive, too audacious, too outrageous for them to attempt. After all, they have most of us believing and not even objecting to the idea that corporations have “rights.” In early 1998 an association of corporations (itself a corporation that supposedly has “free speech” rights, according to prevailing legal opinion) sued a talk show host in Texas for saying that she’s going to stop eating hamburgers.[1]

Then there’s the Zen of “Describing The Problem.”

We need our storytellers, we need our scribes, we need our analysts, we need our own human fonts of crazy ideas. We needed Silent Spring.[2] By now we have the equivalent of Son of Silent Spring, Daughter of Silent Spring, Second Cousin Once Removed of Silent Spring. But habitat destruction continues as fast as we can describe it, if not faster. Our compulsion to Describe The Problem (something we do really well) serves a purpose, especially for people who think there’s no problem, but the people who need to hear it the most aren’t hearing it. We’re Describing The Problem to each other in lavish detail, which crowds out efforts to rethink our whole strategy.

Are we doing anything other than lurching back and forth between Describing The Problem and then buckling the seatbelt on our feedback loop? I for one think I’ve heard enough “Bad Things About Corporations,” and I’m pretty tired of working on campaigns that will not only fail, but fail in predictable ways.

How have we been colonized? Let me count the ways. We interpret failures as signals to do the same things over again. We are predictable. Our strategies and styles of organizing fracture and dilute our resources. We either accept this dilution as inevitable, or blame each other for not organizing right. We censor ourselves, in thought and action. We act as though if we Describe The Problem to each other enough, it might go away.

And now, we can argue about whether we’ve been colonized or not. Corporate management is popping extra popcorn for this one.

But enough of what we do. What do corporations do? (The question should be, “What do people do behind the fiction of corporations?” One of the signs of our being colonized is that we personify corporations. I’ve been trying to avoid that in this piece but… help, I’ve been colonized and I need help getting up….)

Corporate management figured out a hundred years ago that fighting against each other, competing and diluting their resources was weakening them and limiting their power. So they don’t do that any more.

So what do people do while hiding behind the corporate shield? The short version is that they write a script for us, and we follow it. Then they write a script for themselves, and we don’t even read it.

A big part of the script written for us involves Regulatory Law (including environmental and administrative law). It assumes that corporations have the rights of constitutional “persons.”

It outlines procedures for what We the People can do (not much); what government can do (a little more); and what corporations can do (a lot).

At regulatory agencies, corporate “persons” (that is, corporations) have constitutional rights to due process and equal protection that human persons, affected citizens, do not have. For non-corporate human citizens there’s a “Democracy Theme Park” where we can pull levers on voting machines and talk into microphones at hearings. But don’t worry, they’re not connected to anything and nobody’s listening ‘cept us.

What Regulatory Law regulates is citizen input, not corporate behavior. So when we cooperate in regulatory law proceedings, we are following the script that corporation representatives wrote for us. We’re either colonized, or we’re collaborators. That the regulatory agencies fail to protect the public is clear. Why they fail is another matter.

One reason is that they were set up with the cooperation of and sometimes at the urging of big corporations. Today regulatory agencies and trade associations work together to do the work that the “trusts” of the last century were set up to do.

A second reason for regulatory failure concerns the nature of the corporation, to which we turn briefly.

Corporations are not natural entities, like karner blue butterflies or white pines. Corporations are artificial creations that are set up by state corporation codes. These state laws, plus a bunch of court cases, form the basis for the notion that corporations have powers and “rights.”

This law is Defining Law. This law is the script that corporate lawyers write for corporations. This law is the law that we don’t even read.

It’s right there in the law books in black and white, just like the “regs” that we spend so much time on. But this Defining Law is invisible to us because we’ve been colonized and have accepted it as a given. We leave this defining law — in corporation codes, bankruptcy law, insurance law, etc. — to corporation lawyers, who rewrite it every few years without so much as a whimper from citizen activists. Then we wonder why the parts-per-million regulations aren’t enforced.

So, the second reason that regulatory agencies fail to protect the public is that we have allowed corporate lawyers to write the Defining Law of corporations. This law bestows upon corporations powers and rights that exceed those of human persons and sometimes of government as well. It seems pretty obvious, then, that we need to rewrite the Defining Law.

Sooner or later we come up against the claim that all this stuff about “rights” and so on is just too legalistic. None of us wants to be involved in narrow and excessively legalistic strategies.

However, a glance through any Earth First! journal will confirm that we’re constantly dealing with The Law, whether we’re filing testimony or engaged in direct action. As long as we’re in the legal arena, we might as well be dealing with Defining Law, and not the regulatory frufru that we’ve allowed to distract us.

If the civil rights movement had been afraid to touch the deep defining “law of the land” we’d still be laboring under “separate but equal.” For as long as we stick with Regulatory Law and leave Defining Law to corporate lawyers, we’ll have corporate government.

What are we going to do tomorrow morning?

We could keep doing what hasn’t worked in case it works next time; we could denounce people who suggest that what we’re doing isn’t working; we could declare victory so our folks won’t get so depressed and discouraged. I’d like to steer clear of those options.

I’d also like to avoid “negotiating” with corporations as though they were persons with a role in a democratic system, and avoid doing anything else that accepts that corporations have the constitutional rights of human persons.

Here is one cluster of ideas for rewriting the Defining Law of corporations. It’s not a 3-point plan, and it’s not the beginning of a twenty point plan — just some ideas to think about.

1. Prohibit corporations from owning stock in other corporations. Owning stock in other corporations enables corporations to control huge markets and shift responsibility, liability, resources, assets and taxes back and forth among parent corporations, subsidiaries and other members of their unholy families. By defining corporations in such a way to prohibit such ownership, much of the anti-trust regulatory law becomes unnecessary and superfluous.

2. Prohibit corporations from being able to choose when to go out of business (in legalese, no voluntary dissolution). This would prevent corporations from dissolving themselves when it came time to pay taxes, repay government loans, pay creditors, pay pensions, pay for health care, and pay for toxic cleanups.

3. Make stockholders liable for a corporation’s debts. People who want to be stockholders would reallocate their resources to corporations that they knew something about, that weren’t engaged in risky, toxic projects. (This would encourage local, sustainable businesses and healthy local economies. Imagine that.)

These three measures might seem “unrealistic” to some, but it beats the heck out of a voluntary code of conduct, or a wasted decade at a regulatory agency. All three of these provisions were once common features of state corporation codes. No wonder corporate apologists prefer that we hang around in the regulatory agencies with our heads spinning with parts per million and habitat conservation plans.

These three measures were quite effective, which is why corporation lawyers worked so hard to get rid of them. But they address only a tiny portion of what needs to be done.

Here’s another cluster of ideas for ways to shape a democratic process that is about people. (The idea that corporations have “rights” would seem nonsensical to any but a colonized mind.)

1. No corporate participation in the democratic process. Democracy is for and about human beings. Corporations should be prohibited from paying for any political advertisements, making any campaign contributions, or seeking to influence the democratic process in any way.

2. Corporations have no constitutional rights.

A corporation is an artificial creation set up to serve a public need, not an independent entity with intrinsic “rights.”

3. Corporations should be prohibited from making any civic, charitable, or educational donations. Such donations are used to warp the entire social and economic fabric of society, and make people afraid to speak out against corporations.

These probably seem even more “unrealistic” than the first batch. Imagine how good it is for corporate executives that we find these ideas “impractical.” And by the way, these were all once law, too.

The final objection to be raised is that we’ll never get anywhere as long as the “news media” are against us, refuse to cover our issues, and distort our views. Agreed.

But the “news media” are corporations, key players in a system of propaganda that encompasses not only television, radio and newspapers, but also the entire educational system. The “airwaves” belong to the public.

Why have we allowed a puppet federal agency to “lease” the public airwaves to huge corporations? Ya wanna lock down? Lock down to a TV or radio station and make the public airwaves public again. Not for a day but for a lifetime.

Ya like boycotts? What if a regulatory agency gave a hearing and nobody came? The outcome would be the same but we wouldn’t have wasted all the time and resources, nor would we have helped grant an aura of legitimacy to a sham proceeding.

What could we do instead? We could get together with the lawyer and the expert and begin to figure out how to stop being collaborators.

Jane Anne Morris was a corporate anthropologist who lived in Madison, Wisconsin. She was the author of Not in My Backyard: The Handbook, and a member of POCLAD, the program on Corporations, Law and Democracy. Some of her work has appeared previously in Rachel’s (#488, #489, and #502). In its present form, this essay originally appeared in Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy. This article originally appeared on POCLAD.

Building a Movement from CELDF on Vimeo.

Questioning Unquestioned Beliefs: What the Lake Erie Bill of Rights Teaches Us

Questioning Unquestioned Beliefs: What the Lake Erie Bill of Rights Teaches Us

By Will Falk and Sean Butler

Photo: 2009 algae bloom in western Lake Erie. Photo by Tom Archer.

It should be clear to anyone following the events surrounding attempts by the citizens of Toledo, OH, with help from nonprofit law firm the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), to protect Lake Erie with the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, that the American legal system and all levels of government in their current form exist to protect corporations’ ability to destroy nature in the name of profit and protect those corporations from outraged citizens injured by corporate activities.

In the scorching summer heat of August 2014, nearly half a million people in Toledo, OH were told not to use tap water for drinking, cooking, or bathing for three days because a harmful algae bloom poisoned Lake Erie. Harmful algae blooms on Lake Erie have become a regular phenomenon. They produce microcystin, a dangerous toxin. Microcystin “causes diarrhea, vomiting, and liver-functioning problems, and readily kills dogs and other small animals that drink contaminated water.” The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency reports that mere skin contact with microcystin-laden harmful algae blooms can cause “numbness, and dizziness, nausea…skin irritation or rashes.” Scientists have also discovered that harmful algae blooms produce a neurotoxin, BMAA, that causes neurodegenerative illness, and is associated with an increased risk of ALS, and possibly even Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In 2018, a federal judge found that the principal causes of Lake Erie’s perennial harmful algae blooms are “phosphorus runoff from fertilizer, farmland manure, and, to a lesser extent, industrial sources and sewage treatment plant discharges.”

The Environmental Working Group and Environmental Law and Policy Center report that, not surprisingly, between 2005 and 2018 the number of factory farms in the Maumee river watershed – a river that flows into Lake Erie and boasts the largest drainage area of any Great Lakes river

“exploded from 545 to 775, a 42 percent increase. The number of animals in the watershed more than doubled, from 9 million to 20.4 million. The amount of manure produced and applied to farmland in the watershed swelled from 3.9 million tons each year to 5.5 million tons.”

The groups also state that “[t]he amount of phosphorus added to the watershed from manure increased by a staggering 67 percent between 2005 and 2018.” And, “69 percent of all the phosphorus added to the watershed each year comes from factory farms in Ohio.”

Many Americans believe regulatory laws like the Clean Water Act and regulatory agencies like the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exist to protect against phenomena like harmful algae blooms. But, Senior US District Court Judge James G. Carr recently described how regulatory laws and agencies have failed to protect Lake Erie. In a 2018 decision in a case brought by the Environmental Law and Policy Center under the Clean Water Act for the failures of the US and Ohio EPAs, Carr described, “Ohio’s long-standing, persistent reluctance and, on occasion, refusal, to comply with the [Clean Water Act].” He also wrote:

“As a result of the State’s inattention to the need, too long manifest, to take effective steps to ensure that Lake Erie (the Lake) will dependably provide clean, healthful water, the risk remains that sometime in the future, upwards of 500,000 Northwest Ohio residents will again, as they did in August 2014, be deprived of clean, safe water for drinking, bathing, and other normal and necessary uses.”

Despite Carr explaining that he “appreciate[s] plaintiffs’ frustration with Ohio’s possible continuation of its inaction,” he ruled that he could not expedite Ohio’s compliance with the Clean Water Act because he could not determine that Ohio had “clearly and unambiguously” abandoned its obligations under the Clean Water Act.

In response to the regulatory framework’s failure to stop harmful algae blooms, on Tuesday, February 26, 2019, citizens in Toledo, OH voted to protect Lake Erie with the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (“LEBOR” or “the Bill”). The Bill “establishes irrevocable rights for the Lake Erie Ecosystem to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve, a right to a healthy environment for the residents of Toledo” and “elevates the rights of the community and its natural environment over powers claimed by certain corporations.”

Toledoans for Safe Water (TSW) is the grassroots coalition of local Toledo citizens who ushered the Bill through Ohio’s constitutional citizen initiative process. Ohio’s citizen initiative process allows citizens to draft and propose laws and to place those laws on a ballot so citizens can directly vote on the law’s enactment. Typically, laws are drafted, proposed, and voted on solely by legislators. Initiative processes like Ohio’s are some of the only avenues American citizens have for directly proposing and enacting laws and providing a direct check and balance on an “out of touch” or corrupt legislature. It is important to understand, however, that, even with citizen initiative processes, it is incredibly difficult to not only democratically enact laws that would actually protect the natural world, but it is incredibly difficult to even place rights of nature laws on the ballot in the first place.

Toledoans for Safe Water’s experience is enlightening. Formed after the harmful algae bloom of August 2014, TSW worked tirelessly to pass an initiative protecting their water source including overcoming efforts by the Lucas County Board of Elections and BP North America to keep such an initiative off the ballot. First, TSW had to gather 5,244 signatures to place LEBOR on the ballot. They far exceeded that total by gathering approximately 10,500 signatures. Despite gathering much more than the necessary signatures, the Lucas County Board of Elections voted against putting the initiative on the November 2018 ballot.

Toledoans for Safe Water members sought an order from the Ohio Supreme Court to put the measure on the ballot, but the Court denied the request in September 2018. Fortunately, in October 2018, in another case involving a different charter initiative, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that city councils may force county boards of election to place charter amendment initiatives on the ballot. This ruling expressly overruled precedent previously relied on to prevent Toledo citizens from voting on LEBOR. Armed with this new ruling, TSW successfully asked the Toledo City Council to put LEBOR on the ballot. However, in December 2018, a Toledo citizen sought a writ of prohibition from the Ohio Supreme Court to block LEBOR. TSW found themselves in front of the Ohio Supreme Court once again. This time TSW won.

After ensuring LEBOR made it to the ballot, Toledoans for Safe Water had to convince enough voters to vote for the Bill before it could be enacted. In the weeks leading up to the election, BP North America wired $302,000 to the Toledo Coalition for Jobs and Growth, the primary group opposing LEBOR. In the end, TSW spent $7,762 in support of LEBOR, while Toledo Coalition for Jobs and Growth, with the massive donation from BP North America, spent $313, 205 to stop LEBOR. Despite this disparity, LEBOR passed with 61 percent of the 15,000 Toledoans who voted.

But, mere hours after the City of Toledo certified LEBOR’s election results, Drewes Farms Partnership sued the City seeking an injunction against enforcing LEBOR and a court ruling that LEBOR is unconstitutional. Several Toledo city-council members spoke out against the enactment of LEBOR before the election, and it appears that the City will not enforce LEBOR. Yes, you read that correctly: After LEBOR won with 61% of the vote (nearly two-thirds of those who voted), the City of Toledo agreed to an injunction prohibiting them from enforcing the law.

In response to such bald face tactics, we must ask, if a local city government agrees not to enforce the will of its citizens, then what really is left of the notion of a government for and by the people? And the inevitable answer must be, nothing. Indeed, as environmental author Derrick Jensen explains in his book Endgame:

“Surely by now there can be few here who still believe the purpose of government is to protect us from the destructive activities of corporations. At last most of us must understand that the opposite is true: that the primary purpose of government is to protect those who run the economy from the outrage of injured citizens.”

Jensen’s conclusion eerily reflects the very plain statement by Attorney General Richard Olney, who served under President Grover Cleveland in 1894 about the newly-formed Interstate Commerce Commission. The ICC was the very first federal regulatory agency, created to ‘regulate’ the railroad industry, but as Olney (a former railroad attorney, himself) said:

“The Commission…is, or can be, made of great use to the railroads. It satisfies the popular clamor for a government supervision of railroads, at the same time that that supervision is almost entirely nominal. Further, the older such a commission gets to be, the more inclined it will be found to take the business and railroad view of things.”

Nearly 200 years later, Jensen’s observation reflects the reality that not only does our regulatory system not protect the interests of the people of this country; it was never intended to. It was created to protect industry.

And so the parade of horribles that Toledoans for Safe Water have encountered should come as no surprise. A little over two months after the lawsuit was filed by the agriculture industry to strike down LEBOR, the State of Ohio requested, and was granted, the right to intervene to argue with Drewes Farms Partnership that LEBOR should be invalidated. TSW also tried to intervene on behalf of Lake Erie, exercising their new rights under LEBOR and arguing that the City is not an adequate representative of LEBOR. The City neither opposed TSW’s intervention in the case, nor denied that it would be an inadequate representative of LEBOR. Regardless, on Tuesday, May 7, Judge Jack Zouhary, a U.S. District Judge in the Northern District of Ohio, Western Division denied Toledoans for Safe Water’s intervention. Lake Erie and TSW asked the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to stay (legalese for postpone) the case while they appealed Zouhary’s denial of their intervention. But, the Sixth Circuit refused to stay the case.

Because Zouhary has denied Toledoans for Safe Water’s intervention and the Sixth Circuit did not grant Lake Erie’s and TSW’s request to stay the case, it will proceed with no one who supports LEBOR present to argue on behalf of Lake Erie or the citizens of Toledo for the remainder of a case that will decide the fate of a law enacted by the citizens of Toledo. To be clear, the City government, popularly assumed to represent the will of the City’s people, is specifically not representing the will of the people.

About an hour after denying Lake Erie and Toledoans for Safe Water’s intervention, Zouhary scheduled a phone conference for Friday, May 17 while ordering the parties to the lawsuit to send him letters regarding a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Typically, parties to a lawsuit file motions and briefs describing their arguments and these motions and briefs become part of the public record so that the public can see why legal decisions are made. In specifically asking for letters, Zouhary shielded Drewes Farms Partnership’s, the State of Ohio’s, and the City of Toledo’s arguments from public scrutiny.  Here we see how the will of the people, expressed through the legislative process, can be effectively silenced by the judicial process. The courts, commonly thought of as a check on abuses of power by the legislative branch of government that encroach on fundamental rights of individuals, have now been unmasked as a vehicle to silence and overturn the will of the people and to legitimize further violations of fundamental rights of the people ­– in this case the simple and essential right to clean water.

And to round out the evidence that we do not live in a democracy, on Thursday, May 9, the Ohio House of Representatives adopted its 2020-2021 budget with provisions that prohibit anyone, including local governments, from enforcing rights of nature laws. The State of Ohio is using its power of preemption – a long-established legal doctrine that defines the relationship of municipal governments to state and federal governments as one of parent to a child – to prevent Ohio residents from protecting the natural world with rights of nature at any time in the future.

This is a perfect example of why CELDF lawyer and executive director Thomas Linzey often states that, “Sustainability itself has been rendered illegal under our system of law.” And:

“Under our system of law, you see, it doesn’t matter how many people mobilize or who we elect – simply because the levers of law can’t be directly exercised by them. And even when they do manage to swing the smallest of those levers, they get swung back (either through the legislature or the courts) by a corporate minority who claimed control over them a long time ago.”

Toledoans for Safe Water swung “the smallest of those levers” and now they have been “swung back” by both the legislature and the courts in favor of the corporate minority. We see then, that under our current system of laws, there is no government actor that validates and protects the will of the people. In the case of Lake Erie, the City of Toledo, the State of Ohio, two levels of federal courts (the District Court for the District of Ohio and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals), have all actively undermined the health and welfare and the express political will of the citizens of Toledo – all in the name of preserving and protecting the freedom of agricultural interests to continue polluting Lake Erie for the sake of their own profits.


With it being all but certain that the Lake Erie Bill of Rights will soon be officially invalidated, has Toledoans for Safe Water’s work been in vain?

Not entirely.

“Unquestioned beliefs are the real authorities of a culture,” critic Robert Coombs tells us. Right now, the culture of profit in our country, sanctioned by the legal system is destroying the planet. Informing this dominant culture is a collection of unquestioned beliefs that authorize and allow the massive environmental destruction we currently witness. Stopping the destruction requires changing the dominant culture and changing the dominant culture requires publicly challenging unquestioned beliefs so those unquestioned beliefs are exposed to the light where they can be seen, understood, and condemned.

Perhaps surprisingly, one of the unquestioned beliefs authorizing ecocide is the belief that we live in a democracy and, because we live in a democracy, that our government reflects the will of the governed. This mistaken belief leads to more mistaken beliefs including a belief that the best way to make change is to petition your elected representatives, and if they won’t listen, to elect new ones who will. This misconception includes the further mistaken belief that the American regulatory framework exists to protect the natural world and the humans who depend on Her and that therefore filing lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts can stop the destruction of endangered species, our habitat, and the air and water we require.

We should all know the truth, by now. We do not live in a democracy, and our government was never intended to reflect the will of the governed. Our elected representatives only listen to us when the corporations they’re beholden to aren’t telling them what to do. The regulatory framework does not exist primarily to protect the natural world; it exists to issue permits, to give permission, to legalize the harm corporate projects wreak on the natural world, and to make it near impossible for the citizenry to oppose those projects.

Even some of the current government’s most sacred documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Ohio State Constitution, as well as many other state constitutions, declare that people have a right to reform, alter, or even abolish the very governments those documents create when those governments fail to reflect the will of the people. The people of Toledo tried to exercise that right by passing LEBOR. Regardless, the very institutions supposedly tasked with honoring these documents are preventing the people from exercising the rights asserted in the Declaration of Independence and protected by the Ohio State Constitution.

We should all know the truth, by now, but most people still don’t. It’s one thing to tell people the truth. And, it’s another to show them. A major question, then, for social and environmental justice advocates is: How do we show people the truth?

One way is through acts of civil disobedience like enacting the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. A primary purpose of civil disobedience is to expose unquestioned beliefs for what they really are. In the case of the regulatory fallacy described above, these unquestioned beliefs serve as propaganda intended to pacify the people. Civil disobedience can stage the truth of our situation for the public to behold. Properly applied, civil disobedience can illuminate unquestioned beliefs and unveil their falsehoods.

CELDF attacks unquestioned beliefs through what it calls “organizing jujitsu.” CELDF helps communities suffering from destructive corporate projects (like fracking, factory farms, and toxic waste storage) ban those projects by passing local laws establishing rights of nature and invalidating judicially-created corporate rights. These laws, however, are currently illegal under American law and are, inevitably, struck down by the courts.

So, why does CELDF keep helping communities pass laws that are almost always struck down? This is where the organizing jujitsu happens. The laws that CELDF helps communities pass are frontal challenges to long-settled legal doctrines. When judges rule against local laws, judges’ rulings can be used as proof of how the structure actually operates. In CELDF’s words:

“Much like using single matches to illuminate a painting in a dark room, enough matches need to be struck simultaneously (and burn long enough) so that the painting can be viewed in its entirety. Each municipality is a match, and each instance of a law being overturned as violative of these legal doctrines is an opportunity for people to see how the structure actually functions. This does the necessary work of penetrating the denial, piercing the illusion of democracy, and removing the blinders that prevent a large majority of people from seeing the reality on the ground.”

With the indicators of ecological collapse constantly intensifying, it is imperative that we penetrate the denial, pierce the illusion of democracy, and remove the blinders that prevent people from seeing reality as quickly as possible. Due to the thoroughness of American indoctrination, the education civil disobedience can provide needs to be supported by real-time commentary that highlights why a specific tactic failed. This real-time commentary will help the public see the truth.

Toledoans for Safe Water has used every legal means at their disposal to protect Lake Erie and, yet, the Lake Erie Bill of Rights is not being enforced and is almost certain to be invalidated in court. Meanwhile, the poisoning of Lake Erie intensifies. Toledoans for Safe Water’s civil disobedience, despite challenging a widespread faith in the American legal system, has failed to physically protect Lake Erie. Breaking this faith is a necessary, but not sufficient, step towards dismantling the dominant culture and replacing it with a new culture rooted in a humble recognition of our dependency on the natural world. For those who see the truth that neither the legal system nor the government will protect us, the question becomes: What are we willing to do to protect ourselves?

Will Falk is a biophilic writer and lawyer. He believes the natural world speaks. And, his work is an attempt to listen. In 2017, he helped to file the first-ever federal lawsuit seeking rights of nature for a major ecosystem, the Colorado River. His book How Dams Fall which chronicles his experiences representing the Colorado River in the lawsuit, will be published by HomeBound Publications in October, 2019. You can follow Will’s work at willfalk.org.

Sean Butler is a technology lawyer and environmental activist based in Sequim, WA. In addition to his practice supporting venture-backed startups he is working to advance the rights of nature.