A New Declaration

Featured image: Occupy Wall Street. Wikipedia

     by Derrick Jensen

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

That the real world is the source of our own lives, and the lives of others. A weakened planet is less capable of supporting life, human or otherwise. Thus the health of the real world is primary, more important than any social or economic system, because all social or economic systems are dependent upon a living planet: without a living planet you don’t have any social or economic systems whatsoever. It is self-evident that to value a social system that harms the planet’s capacity to support life over life itself is literally insane, in terms of being out of touch with physical reality.

That any way of life based on the use of nonrenewable resources is by definition not sustainable.

That any way of life based on the hyperexploitation of renewable resources is by definition not sustainable: if, for example, there are fewer salmon return every year, eventually there will be none. This means that for a way of life to be sustainable, it must not harm native communities: native prairies, native forests, native fisheries, and so on.

That the real world is interdependent, such that harm done to rivers harms those humans and nonhumans whose lives depend on these rivers, harms forests and prairies and wetlands surrounding these rivers, harms the oceans into which these rivers flow. Harm done to mountains harms rivers flowing through them. Harm done to oceans harms everyone directly or indirectly connected to them.

That you cannot argue with physics. If you burn carbon-based fuels, this carbon will go into the air, and have effects in the real world.

That creating and releasing poisons into the world will poison humans and nonhumans.

That no one, no matter now rich or powerful, should be allowed to create poisons for which there is no antidote.

That no one, no matter how rich or powerful, should be allowed to create messes that cannot be cleaned up.

That no one, no matter how rich or powerful, should be allowed to destroy places humans or nonhumans need to survive.

That no one, no matter how rich or powerful, should be allowed to drive human cultures or nonhuman species extinct.

That reality trumps all belief systems: what you believe is not nearly so important as what is real.

That on a finite planet you cannot have an economy based on or requiring growth. At least you cannot have one and expect to either have a planet or a future.

That the current way of life is not sustainable, and will collapse. The only real questions are what will be left of the world after that collapse, and how bad things will be for the humans and nonhumans who come after. We hold it as self-evident that we should do all that we can to make sure that as much of the real, physical world remains intact until the collapse of the current system, and that humans and nonhumans should be as prepared as possible for this collapse.

That the health of local economies are more important than the health of a global economy.

That a global economy should not be allowed to harm local economies or landbases.

That corporations are not living beings. They are certainly not human beings.

That corporations do not in any real sense exist. They are legal fictions. Limited liability corporations are institutions created explicitly to separate humans from the effects of their actions—making them, by definition, inhuman and inhumane. To the degree that we desire to live in a human and humane world—and, really, to the degree that we wish to survive—limited liability corporations need to be eliminated.

That the health of human and nonhuman communities are more important than the profits of corporations.

We hold it as self-evident, as the Declaration of Independence states, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it. . . .” Further, we hold it as self-evident that it would be more precise to say that it is not the Right of the People, nor even their responsibility, but instead something more like breathing—something that if we fail to do we die. If we as a People fail to rid our communities of destructive institutions, those institutions will destroy our communities. And if we in our communities cannot provide meaningful and nondestructive ways for people to gain food, clothing, and shelter then we must recognize it’s not just specific destructive institutions but the entire economic system that is pushing the natural world past breaking points. Capitalism is killing the planet. Industrial civilization is killing the planet. Once we’ve recognized the destructiveness of capitalism and industrial civilization—both of which are based on systematically converting a living planet into dead commodities—we’ve no choice, unless we wish to sign our own and our children’s death warrants, but to fight for all we’re worth and in every way we can to overturn it.

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Here is a list of our initial demands. When these demands are met, we will have more, and then more, until we are living sustainably in a just society. In each case, if these demands are not met, we will, because we do not wish to sign our own and our children’s death warrants, put them in place ourselves.

We demand that:

  • Communities, including nonhuman communities, be immediately granted full legal and moral rights.
  • Corporations be immediately stripped of their personhood, no longer be considered as persons under the law.
  • Limited liability corporations be immediately stripped of their limited liability protection. If someone wants to perpetrate some action for which there is great risk to others, this person should be prepared to assume this risk him- or herself.
  • Those whose economic activities cause great harm—including great harm to the real, physical world—be punished commensurate with their harm. So long as prisons and the death penalty exist, Tony Hayward of BP and Don Blankenship of Massey Coal, to provide two examples among many, should face the death penalty or life in prison without parole for murder, both of human beings and of landbases. The same can be said for many others, including those associated with these specific murders and thefts, and including those associated with many other murders and thefts.
  • Environmental Crimes Tribunals be immediately put in place to try those who have significantly harmed the real, physical world. These tribunals will have force of law and will impose punishment commensurate with the harm caused to the public and to the real world.
  • The United States immediately withdraw from NAFTA, DR-CAFTA, and other so-called “free trade agreements” (if it really is “free trade,” then why do they need the military and police to enforce it?) as these cause immeasurable and irreparable harm to local economies in the United States and abroad, and to the real, physical world. They cause grievous harm to working people in the United States and elsewhere. Committees should be formed to determine whether to try those who signed on to NAFTA for subverting United States sovereignty, and for Crimes Against Humanity for the deaths caused by these so-called free trade agreements.
  • The United States remove all support for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Both of these organizations cause immeasurable and irreparable harm to local economies in the United States and abroad, and to the real, physical world. They cause grievous harm to working people in the United States and elsewhere.
  • The United States recognize that it is founded on land stolen from indigenous peoples. We demand a four stage process to rectify this ongoing atrocity. The first stage consists of immediately overturning the relevant parts of the 1823 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Johnson v. M’Intosh, which includes such rationalizations for murder and theft as, “However extravagant the pretension of converting the discovery of an inhabited country into conquest may appear; if the principle has been asserted in the first instance, and afterwards sustained; if a country has been acquired and held under it; if the property of the great mass of the community originates in it, it becomes the law of the land, and cannot be questioned.” We demand that this pretense, this principle, not only be questioned but rejected. The second is that all lands for which the United States government cannot establish legal title through treaty must immediately be returned to those peoples from whom it was stolen. Large scale landowners, those with over 640 acres, must immediately return all lands over 640 acres to their original and rightful inhabitants. Small scale landowners, those with title to 640 acres or less, who are “innocent purchasers” may retain title to their land (and this same is true for the primary 640 acres of larger landowners), but may not convey this title to others, and on their deaths it passes back to the original and rightful inhabitants. The third phase is for the United States government to pay reparations to those whose land they have taken commensurate with the harm they have caused. The fourth phase is for each and every treaty between the United States government and sovereign indigenous nations to be revisited, with an eye toward determining whether the treaties were signed under physical, emotional, economic, or military duress and whether these treaties have been violated. In either of these cases the wrongs must be redressed, once again commensurate with the harm these wrongs have caused.
  • The United States government will provide reparations to those whose families have been harmed by chattel slavery, commensurate with the harm caused.
  • Rivers be restored. There are more than 2 million dams in the United States, more than 60,000 dams over thirteen feet tall and over 70,000 dams over six and a half feet tall. Dams kill rivers. If we removed one of these 70,000 dams each day, it would take 200 years to get rid of them all. Salmon don’t have that time. Sturgeon don’t have that time. We demand that no more dams be built, and we demand the removal of five of those 70,000 dams per day over the next forty years, beginning one year from today. Remember, physical reality is more important than your belief system.
  • Native prairies, wetlands, and forests be restored, at a rate of five percent per year. Please note that tree farms or “forests” managed for timber are not the same as native forests, any more than lawns or corn fields are prairies, and any more than concrete sluices are wetlands. Please note also that if all of the prairies and forests east of the Mississippi River were restored, the United States could be a net carbon sink within five years, even without reducing carbon emissions.
  • An immediate end to clearcutting, “leave tree,” “seed tree,” “shelter tree” and all other “even age management” techniques, no matter what they are called, and no matter what rationales are put forward by the timber industry and the government. All remaining native forests are immediately and completely protected.
  • An immediate end to destruction of prairies and wetlands. All remaining prairies and wetlands are immediately protected.
  • The United States government immediately begin strict enforcement of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other acts aimed at protecting the real, physical world. All programs associated with these Acts must be fully funded. This includes the immediate designation of Critical Habitat for all species on the wait list.
  • Each year the United States must survey all endangered species to ascertain if they are increasing in number and range. If not, the United States government will do what is required to make sure they do.
  • The United States government do whatever is necessary to make sure that there are fewer toxins in every mother’s breast milk every year than the year before, and that there are fewer carcinogens in every stream every year than the year before.
  • The United States government do whatever is necessary to make sure that there are more migratory songbirds every year than the year before, that there are more native fish every year than the year before, more native reptiles and amphibians, and so on.
  • Immediate closure of all US military bases on foreign soil. All US military personnel are to be immediately brought home.
  • An immediate ban on the direct or indirect use of mercenaries (“military contractors”) by the US government and all associated entities.
  • A reduction in the US military budget by 20 per year, until it reaches 20 percent of its current size. Then it will be maintained at no larger than that except in case of a war that is declared only by a direct vote of more than 50 percent of US citizens (and to last only as long as 50 percent of US citizens back it). This will provide the “peace dividend” politicians lyingly promised us back when the Soviet Union collapsed, and will balance the US budget and more than pay for all necessary domestic programs.
  • The United States officially recognize that capitalism is based on subsidies, or as Dwayne Andreas, former CEO of ADM said, “There isn’t one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.” He’s right. For example, commercial fishing fleets worldwide receive more in subsidies than the entire value of their catch. Timber corporations, oil corporations, banks, would all collapse immediately without massive government subsidies and bailouts. Therefore, we demand that the United States government stop subsidizing environmentally and socially destructive activities, and shift those same subsidies into activities that restore the real, physical, world and that promote local self-sufficiency and vibrant local economies. Instead of subsidizing deforestation, subsidize reforestation. Instead of subsidizing the oil industry, subsidize relocalization. Instead of subsidizing fisheries depletion, subsidize fisheries restoration. Instead of subsidizing plastics production, subsidize cleaning plastics from the ocean. Instead of subsidizing the production of toxics by the chemical industries, subsidize the cleaning up of these toxics, both from our bodies and from the rest of the real, physical world.
  • Scientific consensus is that to prevent even more catastrophic climate change than we and the rest of the world already face, net carbon emissions must be reduced by 80 percent. Because we wish to continue to live on a habitable planet, we demand a carbon reduction of 20 percent of current emissions per year over the next four years.
  • The enshrinement in law of the right for workers to collectively bargain. In case of strikes, if police are brought in at all, it must be to protect the right of workers to strike. If police force anyone to come to terms, they must force the capitalists.
  • That laws against rape be enforced, even against those who are rich, even those who are famous athletes, even those who are politicians, even those who are entertainers.
  • The enshrinement in law of the precautionary principle, which states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or the real, physical world, then the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action. In the absence of conclusive proof, no action may be taken. For example, no chemicals would be allowed to be released into the environment without conclusive proof that they will not harm the public or the environment.
  • No new chemicals be released into the real, physical world until all currently used chemicals have been thoroughly tested for toxicity, and if found to have any significant chance of harming the public or the environment, these chemicals must be immediately and without exception withdrawn from use.
  • The immediate, explicit, and legally binding recognition that perpetual growth is incompatible with life on a finite planet. We demand that economic growth stop, and that economies begin to contract. We demand immediate acknowledgement that if we do not begin this contraction voluntarily, that this contraction will take place against our will, and will cause untold misery.
  • That overconsumption and overpopulation must be addressed in methods that are not racist, colonialist, or misogynist. We must recognize that humans, and especially industrial humans, have overshot the planet’s carrying capacity. We must recognize further that while overconsumption is more harmful than overpopulation, both are harmful. We must further recognize that right now, more than fifty percent of the children who are born are not wanted. We demand that all children be wanted. We recognize that the single most effective strategy for making certain that all children are wanted is the liberation of women. Therefore we demand that women be given absolute reproductive freedom, and that all forms of reproductive control be freely available to women. We demand that those who attempt to deny women this freedom be punished by law.
  • The United States government put an immediate end to absentee land ownership. No one shall be allowed to own land more than one-quarter of a mile from his or her home.
  • Land ownership patterns change. Land ownership is more concentrated in the United States than in many countries the United States derides as antidemocratic: five percent of farmers in Honduras own 67 percent of the arable land, while in the United States five percent of landowners (not citizens) own 75 percent of the land (California is in many ways worse: twenty-five landowners own 58 percent of the farmland). To rectify this, no one shall be allowed to own more than 640 acres. All title to individual or corporate land holdings over 640 acres are to be immediately forfeited. These lands will be first in line for restoration to native forest, prairie, wetland, and so on. Lands not suitable for these purposes will be used to provide housing for those who cannot afford it.
  • An immediate end to factory farming and to monocrop agriculture, two of the most destructive activities humans have ever perpetrated. We demand a return to perennial polycultures.
  • An immediate end to soil drawdown. Because soil is the basis of terrestrial life, no activities will be allowed which destroy topsoil. All properties over sixty acres must have soil surveys every ten years (on every sixty acre parcel), and if they have suffered any decrease of health or depth of topsoil the lands will be confiscated and given to those who will build up soil.
  • An immediate end to aquifer drawdown. No activities will be allowed which draw down aquifers.
  • Provision of free food, shelter, and medical necessities to all residents.
  • Immediate increase in the tax rate to 95 percent for all gross earnings over one million dollars per year by persons or entities.
  • An immediate and permanent halt to all fracking, mountaintop removal, tar sands extraction, nuclear power, and offshore drilling.
  • An immediate and permanent halt to all energy production that is harmful to the real, physical world. This includes the manufacture of solar photovoltaics, windmills, hybrid cars, and so on.
  • Removal of plastic from the ocean. Each year the ocean must have 5 percent less plastic in it than the year before.
  • Each year the oceans must have 5 percent more large fish than the year before.
  • The United States Constitution be rewritten to destroy the primacy it gives to the privatization of profits and the externalization of costs by the wealthy, and to make its primary purpose not the preservation of the wealth and power of the already wealthy and powerful, but rather to protect human and nonhuman communities—to protect the real, physical world—and enforcably to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet.

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We hold these further truths also to be self-evident:

That demands without means to enforce them are nothing more than begging. We are not begging. We are demanding.

Power is not a mistake, and those in power will not suddenly have attacks of conscience. Social change has never occurred through waiting for the rich or powerful to develop consciences, and it never will.

Those in power will not act different than they have acted all along, and they will not act against the power of capital. We hold it as self-evident that the rich and powerful have no reason to stop the rich from stealing from the poor nor the powerful from destroying more of the real, physical world than they already have. That is, they have no reason except us. Our lives and the life of the planet that is our only home is on the line. We no longer have the luxury of allowing those in power to continue. If those in power won’t accede to these demands, then they need to not be in power, and we need to remove them from power, using any means necessary.

We hold it as self-evident, as the Declaration of Independence states, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it. . . .”

It is long past time we asserted our rights.

 

 

3 thoughts on “A New Declaration”

  1. It is time to assert our power as a mass of people our Government is not working for us and hasn’t been since it started. The New Document is well thought out. It is better than the Constitution which never really represented us anyway. I am a soldier against the State of Capitalism and all its corrupt entities.

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