RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH NEWS #806
December 9, 2004
Published Feb. 15, 2005
Editor's introduction: As I head off to The Daniel Pennock Democracy
School to learn more about the work of Tom Linzey and the Community
Environmental Legal Defense Fund ( http://www.celdf.org ) and expand my
idea bank, I've been enjoying the texts that arrived by mail as
homework-in-advance. One of them is this wonderful essay by Jane Anne
Morris, titled, "Help! I've Been Colonized and Can't Get Up...." I
had to share it with you. Many readers will recall Jane Anne's
previous work in Rachel's #488, #489 and #501.
Jane Anne points out that this essay was originally written for the
Earth First! Journal ( http://www.earthfirstjournal.org/efj/ ) which is
why, she says, it emphasizes environmental activism. It could apply
equally well to almost any other work for social change.
Speaking of environmental activism, if you've been thinking about the
"Death of Environmentalism," as I have, you might want to consider
signing up for a weekend Democracy School yourself, or arrange for a
session in your home state. To see a schedule of future sessions go
to http://www.constitution411.org/natl_dem_schl/main/schedule_ds.html .
To read more about "The Death of Environmentalism," including the
original essay by that title and several responses to it, go to
http://www.rachel.org/library/getfile.cfm?ID=505 and then follow the
debate on the Grist Magazine ("A beacon in the smog") web site
http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2005/1/13/134030/929 . --P.M.
"HELP! I'VE BEEN COLONIZED AND CAN'T GET UP...."
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 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
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
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
Corporate strategy leverages their power; their efforts reinforce and
magnify each other. Our strategy splits our resources and dissipates
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
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
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
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
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. 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
1. The talk show host was Oprah Winfrey. She had the financial
resources and popularity to beat the lawsuit. -- Ed.
2. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962).
* Jane Anne Morris is a corporate anthropologist who lives in Madison,
Wisconsin. She is the author of Not in My Backyard: The Handbook,
available at America's biggest unionized book store, Powell's
( http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=1-0962494577-3 ), and she
is a member of POCLAD, the program on Corporations, Law and Democracy
( http://www.poclad.org/ ). Some of her work has appeared previously in
Rachel's (#488, #489, and #501), available at http://www.rachel.org .
In its present form, this essay originally appeared in Defying
Corporations, Defining Democracy, edited by Dean Ritz (New York: The
Apex Press, 2001); ISBN 1-891843-10-9.
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