Newsletter: Using Courts To Build The Movement

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The courts are a tool usually used by the status quo to protect their interests.

The US Constitution is a property rights constitution, with human rights a secondary thought. Laws have followed the lead of the Constitution and have strengthened property rights. The worst crimes of US history have been protected by law – slavery, taking of Indigenous lands, attacks on unions, denying women the vote and money as speech in elections.  As a result, when politicians say we are a nation of laws, it often means the courts will be used to protect corporate interests in making a profit even if doing so destroys communities, people and the environment.


Celebration after Climate Trust victory.

But, courts do not always side with the corporations and government. There are times when an enlightenment comes to the judiciary and some begin to rule for the people or their communities. This happens because even courts reflect the political moment – or zeitgeist – when the culture takes a turn thanks to people organizing to express their interests wherever they can.

We may be at the beginning of such a moment, perhaps too soon to say and perhaps we are being optimistic. It shows the importance of the movement building national consensus because such consensus impacts everything.

The Climate Movement National Consensus Being Reached

One front of struggle, certainly not the only one, that is achieving national consensus is the climate movement. Scientific consensus was achieved years ago, despite ExxonMobil, the Kochs and other carbon profiteers trying to undermine it; and now the public is joining the consensus. A critical part of the consensus is that people are willing to take action. Half the public will take some kind of action in support of confronting global warming – that is more than 100 million people; and one in six Americans would personally engage in nonviolent civil disobedience against corporate or government activities against global warming.

1lawFrom May 4-15,, Greenpeace and many other organizations — notably grassroots movement organizations from every continent — will hold a global week of action called Break Free From Fossil Fuels. This movement flips the narrative by defining itself “as law-enforcers trying to enforce legal rights and halt governments and corporations from committing the greatest crime in human history.”

At the end of last year, a court recognized the claim of Our Children’s Trust that they have a right to a healthy environment. The court wrote that the “state has a constitutional obligation to protect the public’s interest in natural resources held in trust for the common benefit of the people.” Property rights were turned on their head to protect people and the planet rather than corporate profits.

Action at Exxon Mobil HQ in the USThis week there was another move toward prosecution. ExxonMobil is being prosecuted for its effort to hide the reality of climate change in order to protect their oil profiteering. The Department of Justice ordered the FBI to investigate the corporation. This follows the actions of Attorney Generals in New York, California and Maryland who are also investigating. Will the rule of law be applied to one of the most powerful corporations in the world for what is among the greatest corporate crimes in history?

This week Aubrey McClendon, the former CEO of Chesapeake Energy, was indicted for rigging bids on oil and gas leases. McClendon crashed his car into a wall without braking, killing himself, within 24 hours of the indictment.

There is widespread corruption in the oil and gas industry. One of the more overtly corrupt federal agencies is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) which is funded by the oil and gas industry rather than through taxes and has a rapid revolving door from the industry to FERC and back to the industry. The FERC always grants permits to the industry without considering climate change, the cumulative impacts of pipelines and other infrastructure or the impact on the community (communicide). This week the Delaware River Keepers turned to the courts to expose this broad corruption filing suit in the US District Court in Washington, DC alleging a flawed process because of a conflict of interest since FERC’s funding comes from approving projects. They seek a declaration that FERC deprives the group of due process and causes irreparable harm, wants its funding structure declared unconstitutional and to prohibit the exercise of eminent domain for FERC projects.

1holl5Regarding eminent domain, the conflict between the Holleran family in Pennsylvania and Williams Partners over the destruction of their maple trees, which they tap for syrup, to build the Constitution Pipeline ended up in federal court. An inspiring protest by a family joined by protesters who came to protect the trees from being cut by the company held the tree cutters off for weeks.  The company went to federal court and got approval to cut the trees even though they have not received all of the permits for their project. This week, tree cutters came to the property under the protection of armed federal Marshals enforcing eminent domain. The last trees to be cut were painted with red, white and blue freedom flags. While the court ruled against the property rights of the family, this may be a hollow victory, as Ted Glick described it, that will foment more opposition to pipeline building.

We are in the midst of another important fracking case this week where the Ely and Hubert families are putting Cabot Oil & Gas on trial for polluting water in Pennsylvania by fracking. The judge in the case has been reportedly overly siding with the corporation and limiting the evidence that the families can present. The evidence is strong that fracking pollutes groundwater but will the court allow the truth to be told? We may know this week how the case turns out. If the court goes against the family, it may be another hollow victory that spurs the movement on.

This is what happens when national consensus is reached on an issue and the courts do not reflect it. The litigation becomes a win-win for the movement. Either the court reflects reality and protects the people from corporate abuse, or the court sides with the corporation and the movement grows. The legitimacy of the courts and government is undermined further and people become even more assertive and confident in their actions.

Flickr/ Thierry Ehrmann

Flickr/ Thierry Ehrmann

A Global Movement

We are in a moment of global action, with people pushing for a new direction toward clean energy, a fair economy, responsive government and resolution of disputes without violence.

In Japan this week, three Ex-TEPCO executives were indicted for allegedly failing to take measures to prevent the disaster at the Fukushima. Prosecutors initially refused the case, but were compelled to take it up by an independent panel of citizens. The CEOs were indicted on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

The indictment comes in the same week when TEPCO admitted it knew within hours following the 2011 tsunami that a full-scale, multi-reactor nuclear meltdown was underway but waited nearly two months to inform the public.  This lie will have significant adverse impacts as people should have left the area more quickly.

Will TEPCO be held responsible for the damage? Harvery Wasserman writes: “39 months after the multiple explosions at Fukushima, thyroid cancer rates among nearby children have skyrocketed to more than forty times (40x) normal. More than 48 percent of some 375,000 young people—nearly 200,000 kids—tested by the Fukushima Medical University near the smoldering reactors now suffer from pre-cancerous thyroid abnormalities, primarily nodules and cysts.”

Okinawa Base ProtestAnother mass popular protest movement in Japan had a victory this week when the military base in Okinawa was halted. The base has been protested on a daily basis in often aggressive protests. It has been protested in Tokyo and has impacted elections in Okinawa where an anti-base governor was elected in a landslide. The conflict has resulted in three law suits and this week Prime Minister Abe made an abrupt about face and stopped the construction of the base in the face of litigation.

Another court case worth noting, that has not gotten any attention in the United States, was in a French court which summoned retired U.S. General Geoffrey Miller, the former Guantánamo prison chief. The court is investigating claims of U.S. torture at the Guantánamo prison. This week Miller did not show up in court. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, which has provided documents and reports to the court said:

“Miller’s absence speaks volumes about the Obama administration’s continued unwillingness to confront America’s torture legacy. The administration not only refuses to investigate U.S. officials like Miller for torture, it apparently remains unwilling to cooperate with international torture investigations like the one in France. Geoffrey Miller has much to answer for regarding the treatment of detainees during his tenure. The Convention Against Torture obligates both France and the U.S. to the prevent and punish torture, including through the exercise of universal jurisdiction, but only one country is upholding its obligations in this case.”

Essentially, the United States under President Obama is ignoring the rule of law, despite the President claiming we are a nation of laws.

1egIn another French court decision, GMO foods lost a libel case. The court ruled that French Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini was correct when he concluded that GMO food, when fed to rats, caused serious health problems including tumors. The biotech industry tried to discredit him calling the research a scientific fraud, but a defamation suit resulted in a victory for the researchers.

The Movement is Bigger than the Courts

While the movement will sometimes use the courts as a terrain for our campaign against injustice, we must remember the movement is bigger than the courts. No matter whether we win or lose in court, the struggle continues. If we win we build on that victory, if we lose we point the lack of legitimacy of the courts and government; we highlight the corruption of corporate-government. Our goal is to always build the movement and to create national consensus for transformational change.

This week the Zapatistas showed how to build on a victory when charges against Subcomandante Marcos for alleged terrorism were dropped. In response the Zapatistas put out the following statement:

“To the Federal Judiciary Council of Mexico:

“The whole time the only terrorists have been those who for more than 80 years have so badly governed this country. You are simply the sink where the genocidaires go to wash their hands and together you have converted the judicial system into a poorly built and clogged latrine, the national flag in a reusable roll of toilet paper, and the national shield into a logo made of undigested fast food. Everything else is pure theater in order to simulate justice where there is only impunity and shamelessness, feigning “institutional government” where there is nothing more than dispossession and repression.”

Many recognize that the courts “simulate justice” in a system that is in reality often unjust. So, while we applaud the decisions in history like Brown v. Board of Education that led to the end of segregation, we recognize that more often than not movements must build on the failure of courts to do justice.

1abolWe saw this in the abolition movement where in 1857 the infamous Dred Scott decision ruled that people who were enslaved were mere property with no human rights. This did not end the abolition movement but grew it. Indeed, the Emancipation Proclamation occurred a mere six years later. An abolition movement that had begun before the United States was created won the end of slavery a brief time after the US Supreme Court completely ruled against it.

Indeed, the founding of the United States is rooted in a defeat in court.  In 1761 in one of the great moments in court history the legality of writs of assistance was litigated. James Otis vigorously argued against general search warrants that granted arbitrary power to British officials to search the homes of colonists. When the court ruled in favor of this abusive power of the crown, John Adams, the sixth president, who was a very young court reporter at the time, wrote: “Then and there the child Independence was born.” The decision did not end the revolution but built consensus in favor of breaking from England; in 15 years the colonies declared their independence.

The lesson from history is the movement is bigger than the courts. If we keep building on court decisions whether they are with the movement or against it, we will prevail. Justice is on the side of ending corporate rule and courts that see it will be on the right side of history, but whether a court sees it or not, we will be on the right side of history.

  • DHFabian

    The culture hasn’t taken a turn for the good, but is solidly split into factions, often opposing each other. Any “movement” solidly favors the middle class and the black community, to the continued utter dismissal of the masses of poor, white Americans. Indeed, as we move toward the November elections, there’s an implied message of, “How DARE you mention them!” Old (ugly) stereotypes are applied to all white people in poverty, essentially writing them off as “white trash.” But in general, they are simply excluded as if they had as much relevance to socioeconomic conditions in the US as birds or mice.

    I guess Sen. Sanders reflected today’s liberals when he said, “When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be poor.” I’d personally suggest that he take the time to talk to the homeless poor, most of whom are white.

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  • Dear Senator Sanders,

    I’d like to introduce you to myself and other people whose existence you’ve completely erased: Poor whites from generational poverty who are still trapped in abject poverty, struggling for our lives, with NO INCOMES and NO JOBS (never mind a minimum wage job) in a nation that never provided enough jobs for all who desperately needed one, even during the “better times”, and those most likely to be totally economically left out are women.

    I’d like you to meet my fellow marginalized, homeless and unemployable human trafficking survivors with NO INCOMES and NO way of getting any money (other than begging, which has been criminalized) – we’re all poor and white.

    When you’re a poor white homeless 12 yr old girl (or even a young adult woman), you stand a greater change of being forced into prostitution by human traffickers/pimps and victimized by their “customers” (aka “johns”) because white girls (and boys, too) are a premium for traffickers who get/keep ALL of the money “earned” by poor women and kids forced into prostitution. If that’s “white privilege”, you can keep it.

    Have you ever visited any “tent cities?” They’re full of poor whites with NO INCOMES and NO HOPE.

    And let’s talk about “all this help out there” for the poor who have NO INCOMES for whom the last three decades of calls for job creation (the occasional short-term infrastructure jobs have excluded poor white women since infrastructure jobs go almost exclusively to men of ANY color) for a minute, shall we?

    As I type this, I am facing utility shut offs and homelessness because of having NO INCOME. I struggled for several years to find employment. After finally getting hired by an angel-funded “startup” (the only employer that offered me a job in the past 3 years) I worked for two and a half months without getting paid. That was a real hoot. I never got paid by the well-off feminist-owned startup that hired me. She and her speed/coke addict boyfriend had other priorities and paying their developers weren’t among them. The entire software development team got shafted and not paid.

    And as a 1099 “independent contractor”, I have NO worker protections at all. Not unemployment benefits, not any government agency to force my former “employer” to pony up. Nothing. For these past two months I have pretty much been working for free. I have NO money, NO income at all. The only recourse available to me is to sue her, but I’ve got no money to afford a lawyer – I don’t even have any money to be able to live.

    You need MONEY to afford housing, food, basic utilities, clothing, and medical care until someone MAYBE, EVENTUALLY decides to give you a chance for a job.

    Meanwhile, how are you supposed to live until then when you’ve got NO INCOME and NO way of being able to economically provide for yourself other than begging for greedily withheld and non-forthcoming donations from people who are better off?

    And fat chance of getting stable employment when you’re a poor marginalized OLDER white woman from the permanent underclass with a prostitution record as a result of being trafficked into forced prostitution as a homeless adolescent – and then left with NO way out of that “lifestyle” other than a body bag. The tiny few of us who DID manage to escape by sheer dumb luck got left with NO way of being able to provide for ourselves in post-Welfare Reform, post-NAFTA America – which has been hemorrhaging jobs since the 1980’s.

    And just whom does everyone else think that employers are going to hire? There’s older white women who are NOT disadvantaged trafficking survivors and they can’t get jobs due to age discrimination AND gender discrimination in a country that NEVER provided enough jobs for all who desperately need one – never mind guaranteeing women an equal right to a job and equal pay, not even during the “better times” when there were a lot more jobs to go around than there are today.

    I am not only facing utility shut-offs, I am also facing losing my house to a sheriff sale for back taxes because I have had NO INCOME to pay those before they got this delinquent, while I was struggling around hunger, regular utility cut-offs, etc. to learn and build a difficult high tech skillset over the past 2 years in order to become employable and try to compete against younger, more socio-economically advantaged people for tech jobs.

    My truck sits broke down. No money to fix it. Neighbors got foreclosed on and evicted so no one to give me a ride to the food bank (which mostly only gives stuff that I can’t have as someone struggling with borderline diabetes and no medical care).

    I am also from generational poverty, so I have no family I can turn to that can economically support me while I struggle unable to economically provide for myself with NO INCOME, against the barriers of age discrimination, sex discrimination and the insurmountable barriers of poverty and classism, trying to getting a job that I can physically do.

    There are no resources available to me so I can keep from losing my run-down house to a sheriff’s sale for back taxes (that I could not pay because of having NO MONEY and NO INCOME while struggling against significant barriers to employment as a marginalized human trafficking survivor). There’s NO social agency out there that will provide a monthly income to me so I can pay to get my vehicle fixed, buy food, pay my utilities, buy clothing, and keep up my job search – as fruitless as that is for a disadvantaged white woman of my age.

    Do you think my white skin is some sort of special currency that will get me a roof over my head and keep me from dying premature due to unrelieved abject poverty?

    There are plenty of other older white people who are poor and homeless with no up out of abject poverty. They’re without incomes that were unable to get jobs due to age discrimination in a leaner, meaner job market and if they couldn’t get jobs and get back on their feet before losing everything, what do you think happens to them after being on the streets or in “tent cities” and having to eat from garbage cans, takes a toll on their health?

    What do you thing the prospects are for poor whites from generational poverty who never even got to make it to the middle class in the first place, and/or poor older white woman who are human trafficking survivors – the most marginalized group on the entire planet?

    The underaged prostitution record I incurred as a direct result of being trafficked as a homeless 12 year old 36 years ago rendered me unemployable throughout my younger working-age years until my state finally completely vacated and expunged it – when I was 47, and therefore “too old” for any employers to want to hire. Especially in IT where you’re deemed “over the hill” at age 30.

    A prostitution record = “sex offender.” Good luck with that in trying to get a job, housing or even food stamps (in 12 states).

    And as for resources (available to poor whites but not poor blacks, according to those who insist on pandering to racial identity politics): Just what exactly do you think is out there to help poor marginalized white women who are human trafficking survivors with prostitution records? What sort of help is available to us?

    Call police? Rescue? City hall? Mayor? Shelters?

    And say what exactly?

    (911 what is your emergency?)

    I’m a trafficking survivor, I’m tired and broken and lost. I’m hungry, homeless and have only the clothes on my back and it’s minus 10 degrees outside. ..Please help me! Hurry!

    (911: I’m sorry ma’am you need to dial 211 this isn’t an emergency.)

    Get in line behind the thousands of homeless vets and children looking for resources.

    Victims of human sex trafficking are even denied temporary beds in most shelters, because, you know, prostitute = sex offender. Shelter = children. Goodbye, no help for you. (So much for all that “white privilege.”)

    And until other people understand and actually start giving a damn about what we’re up against as the most marginalized people on the earth, and stop with the “all whites have nice middle class lives and don’t suffer from any systemic oppression”, or throwing out “where there’s a will there’s a way” stuff…How can I get it through to you?

    Stability, employment, access to medical and dental care, and the ability to survive with just a little bit of human dignity – all of the things that everybody else takes for granted as ‘normal’, were things I never got to experience and those things were DENIED to me throughout my entire life after escaping my traffickers at age 17.

    In a country that provides NO economic safety net at all for the jobless poor, what do you think happens to all of those who have been completely left out economically, not just poor marginalized white women who are human trafficking survivors, but to poor whites in general who have NO INCOMES and for whom no jobs have materialized throughout the past 30 years of calls for job creation?

    What do you think happens to very poor white people who have NO INCOMES and no access to medical and dental care?

    What sort of resources (other than temporary homeless shelters which are an inhumane “solution”) do you think exist for the jobless and unemployable poor whom those who are better off won’t give any money to out of sympathy in the absence of a safety net thanks to Welfare Reform, and in the wake of our massive hemorrhaging of jobs since the 1980’s?

    Having been homeless for most of my younger adult life (until meeting and marrying my husband, a disabled foundry worker 25 years my senior who was getting a meager $900/mo social security check that had to support the both of us) since there is no real safety net for the jobless/unemployable poor, with no opportunity to gain a toehold onto even just the lowest rung of the middle class jobs ladder, I can definitely assure you, Senator Sanders, that I DO know what it means to be poor – and what it means to have no hope in a society that threw me away and allowed this to happen to me in the first place.

  • I’d like to introduce him to a bunch of utterly destitute older white women who are human trafficking survivors for whom there are no programs and help available. There’s not even enough resources for underage victims of human trafficking. There’s literally nothing for adult victims/survivors.

  • RetroPam

    My eyes popped out last night when a guest on MSNBC actually remembered the older poor white person.

    And it took a Black guest to say it.

  • SoSuMi

    Will you ever stop reposting the same old tired lies? If anyone were to bother researching your name on the internet they would know what I know.

  • I think Bernie Sanders realized his gaffe and he did try to explain himself afterwards, but it was a whole lot too little a whole lot too late. This will cost him the primaries. I was on Twitter yesterday and the political analysts there were remarking on it, and the thread was full of angry poor whites. Of all ages and both genders.