Dear Friends: sorry about my long absence, which will not happen again. So much to share, in these challenging times. And also, so many positive ways to deal with them and to keep moving forward. That’s what I”ll be writing about.
First Up – a scarcely believeable recent Supreme Court decision, holding that the richest, non-human, (corporate) sector of our society has the same “political free speech” as we ordinary humans enjoy.
That ruling was a real heart-stopper. Almost as if in answer to every land-plunderer’s prayer, the Supremes announcng that not only did corporations have the same rights to free speech as individual American human beings… but also, and therefore, they had the ‘right’ to pour any amount of money they pleased, anywhere and anytime, into the election campaigns of “their” candidates.
Not to mention afterwards, when they can — openly and legally now – spend more millions on lobbyists – to ‘inform’ those they helped elect exactly how they will be ”expected” to vote on legislation affecting that company. No more restrictions; gone are the former checks and balances.
This is “paid speech,” not free speech. No matter how much the Court’s bare majority pretends that corporations are now legally ‘people’ at election-time, they still aren’t. Just aren’t.
I will support any and all efforts to undo this tragic and harmful decision.
But for now, there it stands – and it is not happy news. Certainly not for those of us who love our natural world and daily strive to protect it, pass it on into our common future. Why? Because the corporate sector controls most of the money in our society: from Wall Street to land developers to Big Oil and Big Coal and Big Timber (and all the rest)… these are the most well-fed Golden Geese of our times.
They have the money, and they have the motivation – to elect “their” people, who will vote any way they want. Just like the robber barons of the 19th century, who bragged openly about their “bought Senators”.
Now it seems as if those Bad Old Days may have returned. Can you imagine what any developer who wants to exploit just about anything — prized open spaces, endangered species habitats, unlogged ancient forests, prisitine shorelines – will now do if a strong conservationist attempts to run for City Council, much less Senator? No more limits; the floodgates have been opened, wide.
They have the money to do all these things, and they have more of it than any other part of our society. Many, led by their trade association, the National Chamberof Commerce, have long lobbied to get rid of pesky laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. No matter that all those (and many similar) laws — enacted by huge bipartisan majorities and supported overwhelmingly in every poll of public opinion – have, for four decades, assured the American people that we will always have a beautiful heritage to treasure, and a clean environment in which to enjoy it in. The National Chamber of Commerce crowd has always had the wherewithal to go after our conservation laws, and the precious places they defend; now they also have the legal go-ahead to, well, — go ahead. Full steam ahead.
And as now seems obvious, they “have” the Supreme Court too; the other day I read a far-right website which bragged about how they can’t wait to get their own anti-endangered species case up before those right-leaning jurists, who now are the majority.
This is how it all seemed, as the first wave of shock and anger washed though and over me. “Now what? Can it actually come to pass that most of what we have fought for and protected over the past two generations could be ripped away? Whenever there is a political struggle over these issues, ‘our side’ can never hope to match the money-power of ‘their side.’ Never has, never will.”
So have I pondered… yet, as the shock (if not the anger) of the travesty wears away, I have begun to have some positive thoughts. This is a bad thing, yes; it is especially harmful to the rule of law and the predominance of citizen democracy in our country; more corporate dominance in our politics seems inevitable. But will it necessarily be as bad for some of our other values, or all that destructive of the precious and loved places of this American Earth… or of that strong web of laws, so carefully constructed over the years, to protect them??
I no longer think so, despite the extra empowerment to many anti-environmental interests now granted by the Court. We have our great strengths too; they are still with us, and within us. All we need to do is take another look at ourselves, and to recall the odds we have faced in other times; to remember other challenges which many then thought could not be overcome — but which were surmounted anyway. Our movement has had a long and courageous history of succeeding, anyway.
Remembering that strong past can now inform and guide the stressful present. So let’s have another look at these strengths.
1. We’ve already been here. Money, lots of money, spent to fight against environmental protection, has always been the norm. Whenever there’s been any kind of legislative/political campaign to save any park, wilderness area, open space, or pass any environmental law, the “big money” has always been on the other side. Always.
So what’s new? There’s just more of it now. But we’re used to it — that has always been part of our experience.
2. We win anyhow. More doesn’t mean better. If it did, there would be very very few National Parks, Wilderness areas, protected coasts and wetlands… because those who fought to save them in previous times faced the same money-power. And won. So can we. We must continue to be creative and nimble, and always seek the best ways to go straight to the people. They are with us still, as they have always been.
3. Corporations are not monoliths. Sure, the Chamber of Commerce types are almost always going to be financing politicians who oppose environmental values and concerns. But there are many other companies out there which need and want a beautiful and clean environment. Their employees want these things too, as often do the businesspeople who lead them. We always neeed to keep searching, but this large segment of corporatedom can be allies; they can — and already have –donated money to the hundreds of land trusts which are buying conservation areas around the country.
4. Our strongest — and most permanent – strengths are still there, as potent as ever:
— The people themselves. Most Americans, deep inside, love this land – their land. If that was not so, we would have scarcely any protected lands at all, much less tough, stringent laws. Despite fierce opposition when they were established, and dozens of attempts to repeal them since, they have only been strengthened. This because it is the people themselves who demand no less from their politicians.
— Love of place. There is a growing literature on this subject now, but we in themovement have known it for a long time: people will fight especially hard to protect “their” places. Whether it is the vacant lot next door, or a favorite hiking area, the whole history of America’s great and growing legacy of protected places is one of individuals or bands of people who so loved a place, that they were willing to fight for years to save it. And to never quit, whatever the odds. We must remember this unique history. We are not alone, never have been.
— Us. We who are committed to be active in the cause of rescuing all we can of the natural treasures of our Nation, seem to have a very special resource upon which we can always draw: ourselves.
To me, this quality is expressed in three special ways: 1st, that we have love — for what we seek to protect; 2nd, that we have the inner courage it takes to stand up and fight for that place or that law, whatver it takes; and 3rd, that we have the staying power to continue, for as long as it takes.
I know these special attributes to to be so, because not only have I witnessed them continually over the past forty years, but I see them today, now too. Every day (for example),we read about some New Jersey town taxing itself to purchase open space; a local group rallying in Florida to protect an endangered species; someone appealing a damaging logging operation in the Northwest; others in someone’s living room in Maine (or Arkansas), strategizing how to protect a special precious place. These, and the thousands of other actions like them, are spontaneous, never ending, and occur everywhere. And as we know from the recent Ken Burns series on “America’s National Parks — Our Best Idea, ” so it has been in our country for over a hundred years.
I have a word, and a phrase for all this. The word is “The Beat” – meaning the daily, and unending actions of Americans who love their land and want to protect it. And the phrase is ”The Beat Goes On.”
That’s what we have right now; that’s who we are. No ruling of any court, no money, or extra money, can ever buy this. That’s why all that new money won’t make much, if any, difference.
The Beat goes on… and on; and cannot be stopped.