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How wealth rules the world saving our communities and freedoms from the dictatorship of property

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Many of today's most serious issues—homelessness, gun violence, fracking, prison privatization, predatory lending, and many more—resist resolution because the "rights of property" undermine the rights of people. Issues that undeniably affect whole communities are determined by the courts to relate primarily to property, contracts, and corporations and are removed from the public sphere and immunized from public governance.
There's a reason for this. Ben Price tells the story of how the Federalists—the more conservative faction of the Founding Fathers—secretly drafted the Constitution as a counterrevolutionary document. It restored to the colonial 1 percent privileges overturned by the revolution, avoiding a popular backlash by bestowing rights on wealth itself, rather than creating a British-style personal aristocracy. These rights of property deprive the majority of their ability to self-govern and weaponize government in ways that let the "minority...
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Praise for How Wealth Rules the World

“How Wealth Rules the World should be prerequisite reading for all serious social science academicians and especially social change activists. It convincingly exposes how property became and remains the single most sacred and legally protected right in our culture and increasingly globally, which has routinely blocked peoples’ right to protect the health, safety, and environment of their communities. Price challenges people of conscience dedicated to human rights and protecting the planet in our life-threatening times to rethink their goals and reassess their strategies directed toward authentic life-affirming systemic change.”

—Greg Coleridge, Outreach Director, Move to Amend

“Powerfully and unflinchingly, Ben Price is telling the truth: the truth about the founding of our nation, our legal system, the mess we’re in—and what we can do to change it. Well said, every word, and all true. It is staggering to realize that the architecture of this country was (and still is) designed to deliver injustice and inequality in perpetuity unless we work for real change. I appreciated the in-depth historical and contemporary look at this issue. It’s a bit overwhelming to realize the depth of revolution required if we are ever to see real democracy here in the United States, but Price guides us through the challenges to the opportunities with depth, intensity, and dedication to getting to the vision that so many of us hold for people-powered democracy. An important read.”

—Rivera Sun, author of The Dandelion Insurrection

“Ben Price’s important new book, How Wealth Rules the World, is a revelatory page-turner, an urgent and timely guide to both explain the subversion of democracy by the rich and to provide a way out of the meat grinder that is shredding and destroying families, communities, countries, and our planet’s very biosphere, its ability to sustain nature and civilizations.

“The counterrevolution of business and property over we the people, our rights and communities, ha; s grown ever stronger for hundreds of years as American courts and politicians serving the elite have subverted our branches of government. Read How Wealth Rules the World, share it, discuss it, and organize around it as if your family’s and friends’ lives depended on it—because they do.”

—John Stauber, author of bestsellers including Toxic Sludge Is Good for You; Trust Us, We’re Experts; and Weapons of Mass Deception

“Unlike good ice cream, the truth can be hard to swallow. But you won’t get a brain-freeze from reading this book. Dig into Ben Price’s How Wealth Rules the World. I promise; it’ll be good for you. He’s scooped the political historians by serving up unexpected revelations chock-full of common sense.”

—Jerry Greenfield, cofounder of Ben & Jerry’s

“How Wealth Rules the World is an immensely important revelatory work that lifts the blanket off this still insufficiently discussed but absolutely most important issue. Ben Price offers a step-by-step explanation of the extent to which the wealthiest 1 percent of the population have managed to usurp control and undermine the once democratic processes in the United States, distorting them to serve only the goals of the richest people on the planet. This information is mandatory for anyone interested in pursuing positive change, and Ben Price has done a magnificent, step-by-step presentation of the roots and details of the problem. Right now, this is probably the most important subject we all need to address. Thank you to Ben Price for moving the details forward.”

—Jerry Mander, author of Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television and The Capitalism Papers





How Wealth Rules the World

Copyright © 2019 by Ben G. Price

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.



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First Edition

Paperback print edition ISBN 978-1-5230-9763-0

PDF e-book ISBN 978-1-5230-9764-7

IDPF e-book ISBN 978-1-5230-9765-4

Digital audio ISBN 978-1-5230-9762-3

2019-1

Production manager: Susan Geraghty. Cover design: Wes Youssi, M.80 Design. Interior design and composition: Westchester Publishing Services. Copyeditor: Michele D. Jones. Proofreader: Sophia Ho. Indexer: Sylvia Coates. Author photo: Kara Scott.





I dedicate this book to the people of every community

struggling for control of their own destinies, and to my

colleagues at the Community Environmental Legal Defense

Fund, for their selfless commitment to making the future

better and their devotion to correcting the errors of the past.





Contents


Foreword

David C. Korten

Preface

Introduction One Right to Rule Them All: The Dark Side of Property

1. Property Is Not an Unalienable Right

2. The Ongoing Counterrevolution

3. Of Laws and Men

4. The Emancipation of Property from Democracy

5. The Municipal Colonies of America

6. The New Three-Fifths Clause

7. The Pretense of Representation

8. Creditors and Cannibals

9. Property’s International Empire

Conclusion Community Rights Challenge the Dictatorship of Property

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

About the Author





Foreword


We the people of the United States are not the middle-class democracy of, by, and for the people many of us grew up believing our nation to be. Our current awakening to this truth is a first step toward achieving our aspiration of real democracy and a society that truly works for all.

To take the next step, we must understand why achieving the aspiration has so long eluded us. This makes Ben Price’s book, How Wealth Rules the World, a distinctive and essential read for our time.

I was among those who grew up believing that the United States modeled the middle-class democracy to which most of the world’s people aspire. With that belief as my guide, I devoted some thirty years of my early professional life to sharing the supposed lessons of US success with the world’s less fortunate. This included twenty-one years living and working as a development professional in Ethiopia, Central America, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

Over these years, I began to see results very different from what I had gone abroad to serve. I observed “development” forcing people off the lands and waters from which they met their daily needs. A tiny number of people were lifted to new levels of opulence and a few to new levels of material comfort. Most, however, were reduced to a daily struggle to survive even more brutal than the hardships they might previously have endured.

The real shock came when I realized that many in so-called advanced countries, including the United States, were experiencing a similar downward spiral. Eventually, I returned home to share what I had learned while abroad about the truth behind America’s global mission. I documented that story in my book When Corporations Rule the World.

In How Wealth Rules the World, Price adds another layer of analysis to reveal a yet deeper truth and its roots in US history. He reveals how the inspiring and visionary words of the US Declaration of Independence mask the reality that the United States was born of the European conquest of the Western hemisphere, the theft of lands from the hemisphere’s indigenous people, and the conversion of those lands into prosperous plantations by indentured servants fleeing extreme poverty in Europe and by slaves brutally abducted from Africa.

The rules of the new nation were written by members of a landed aristocracy resting on a foundation of stolen lands worked by their enslaved and indentured servants. Exactly whose rights and freedoms might we have expected these founder’s preferred rules to guarantee?

It would come as no surprise that, as Price reminds us, the original US Constitution limited political power to white male property owners and that the first human rights victory of the citizens of the new nation came when white males without property won the right to vote. Nonwhite males followed only much later. Women, of course, came later still.

So, do we in the United States finally have democracy? Hardly. We are no longer ruled by a landed gentry, but rule remains in the hands of a propertied aristocracy. It isn’t just some innocent fluke of history.

As Price elaborates, the legal code of the rights of property was inserted into the Constitution written by and for the owners of stolen property and the enslaved who worked it. It is not much of a stretch to suggest that the original Constitution was written to enshrine a US dictatorship of the propertied class.

I’m especially intrigued by the distinction Price makes between personal property that an individual has earned through his or her labor and privileged property that secures the rights of a propertied elite.

I often note that I believe private property is such a good thing that everyone should have some. By this I mean that all people should have a secure right to the property on which they depend for their basic livelihood. The land, tools, skills, and/or business from which the person makes a living for herself and her family. The place of lodging he calls home. These are the things in which every person should have an ownership stake as an individual or as a family or cooperative member.

Privileged property, as Price describes it, is property used by one person to extract unearned profits and/or to enjoy luxuries far beyond his personal need by controlling and limiting or prohibiting access by others to a means of living. It is a very important distinction between the right to make a living and the right to make a killing.

As Price describes, using a clever legal sleight of hand, the founders who drafted the Constitution made property into a rights-bearing canteen to be drunk from only by the holders of privileged property. They thereby assured that a propertied aristocracy of men like themselves would hold the powers of self-governance securely in their own exclusive hands.

As subsequent human rights victories led to constitutional amendments that weakened the rights of the propertied, a judiciary schooled in rights-of-property legal doctrine regularly stepped in to assume for itself the Constitutional power to issue decisions that restored and strengthened the founders’ “original intention.”

Consequently, the real power in our system resides not with We the People, or even with the institutions that make the rules. It resides with a court system that has taken unto itself the power to interpret the rules. This all comes together to secure the power of the US Supreme Court—as ultimate representative of the interests of the owners of privileged property—to be the ultimate decider among the three branches of the US government.

I have long suspected that the founders might well have anticipated that a Supreme Court staffed by graduates of elite law schools—in their day exclusively white males born of wealthy families—would be the ultimate arbiter of the rules. I have also long wondered about the twisted legal logic of the Supreme Court justices who granted the rights of personhood to corporations owned by private shareholders. Isn’t an owned person a slave?

The system of rule by property in the name of democracy that the US founders put in place is one of history’s greatest and most successful deceptions. Libertarian think tanks, neoliberal economists, and lawyers in service to the propertied class have more recently taken the deception global through the World Trade Organization and international trade and investment agreements.

I am struck by the truth of Price’s extraordinary and perceptive observation that the US Constitution, which defined economic relations between thirteen formerly independent colonies with its clauses on contracts and interstate commerce, was effectively the first North American trade agreement securing the interests of big business and wealth concentration.

The division between the super-rich and everyone else continues to grow on a now global scale to create the greatest wealth gap in human history. As of 2018, the six richest people in the world owned more wealth than the poorest half of humanity. The combined wealth of the three richest US citizens exceeded that of the poorest half of the US population.1

If democracy was the founders’ intention, they failed terribly. If it was to secure elite privilege and an ever-growing gap between rich and poor, they succeeded beyond anything they could possibly have imagined.

What the US founders may have intended, however, is currently irrelevant. We the People—all people—have the right and the imperative to create the democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people that we have never had. How Wealth Rules the World unlocks the code that stripped us of our rights and that we must now strip from the laws and legal institutions by which we govern ourselves.

David C. Korten, author, When Corporations

Rule the World and Change the Story,

Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth





Preface


A concerted assault on local democracy is under way. In towns, counties, villages, and cities across the United States and around the globe, municipalities are forbidden the authority to secure and protect residents’ rights through local law.

Every day, people are faced with assaults against their rights on the job. They are left helpless to preserve their local economies against giant retail chains, subsidies paid with their tax dollars to attract community-busting monopolies, exemptions from local laws and taxes for industries that bring poverty-level wages and toxic by-products for local disposal. They are stripped of self-governing tools to defend the air they breathe against the installation of refineries and fossil fuel pipelines. They are scoffed at for wanting to protect their families and neighbors against police violence. They can’t protect the land they get their food from and the air their children breathe against aerial pesticide spraying by agribusiness juggernauts. And it’s illegal for them to safeguard the water their children drink against polluting manufacturers and extractors when state law forbids (“preempts”) protective local laws.

The plan of this book is to unmask the artifice of democratic representation that American law—and the laws of many erstwhile democratic nations—mocks in practice. It will expose the way the legal system has been engineered to guarantee that wealth and empire prevail over people and their common birthright. It has been written for anyone who wonders “what went wrong” in a nation thought to have pioneered a system of democratic representation with rules that apply equally to everyone.

Community activists, labor leaders, working people, environmentalists, progressives tired of losing, and conservatives tired of believing in but not seeing reverence for foundational ideals will be interested in knowing how things got so screwed up.

Readers seeking a deeper understanding of why so many social and political challenges seem insurmountable and those who wonder why the legal system, economic policies, and international trade agreements seem to serve some purpose other than the public welfare will find in this book a new framework for productive thought.

Those involved with Move to Amend, Public Citizen, and similar organizations focused on ending the legal advantages with which courts have empowered corporations will find here an expanded and more nuanced view of the problem. Others whose critique of capitalism demands more than superficial reform will be interested to learn the hidden ways the wealthy are favored by a system of law that protects capitalism from democracy and sacrifices human and civil rights to ensure its success.

The information that people under siege need is not warm and fuzzy. It’s stark and real. It may at times seem depressing, disempowering, and, frankly, not filled with hope. I can only say that, although these are common reactions to being exposed to our dire situation, that’s not where the story ends. Extraordinary people have taken up the struggle for true freedom. They have begun to take seriously their unalienable right to protect themselves, their communities, and their natural environment against toxic uses of private wealth. Unalienable, as used in these pages, means intrinsic; impossible to be separated from; not able to be forfeited, sold, traded, or even voluntarily surrendered.

Understanding the truth of our predicament always seemed more important to my colleagues and me than being sensitive to the desire to find easy answers and quick fixes. Our impatience with Band-Aid solutions to systemic oppression is driven not by callousness but by urgency. Our critique of traditional progressive organizing is a judgment not of character but of strategy.

The underlying framework for what’s revealed in these pages is partially outlined in the curriculum we’ve developed and continue to revise in what we call Democracy School. It’s an intensive seminar that the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has presented to many hundreds of communities around the country since 2003. I’m a Democracy School lecturer, a contributor to the curriculum, and the current national organizing director for CELDF.

My community organizing work over the past fifteen years has been as important in developing the ideas presented here as the legal and historic research. At CELDF we’ve gone beyond theory and history. I was CELDF’s first community rights organizer. Fifteen years later, with a team of organizers in multiple states, we’ve helped hundreds of communities draft local laws that challenge legal privileges for wealth that violate the rights of people and the natural world.

Along the way we learned how the system is fixed. It works exactly as intended. It prevents democracy from inconveniencing the rich. When I use the term democracy, I mean that the people affected by governing decisions are the ones who make and enforce the law, directly or through representatives bound to the will of the governed and limited only by a strict respect for the unalienable rights of all beings.

Rich people hiding behind the legal immunities afforded by incorporation appeal to domestic courts and international trade tribunals to protect their interests against democracy. Laws, administrative agencies, and a plethora of ineffective regulations are programmed to favor and maximize advantages for the privileged. Around the world, legal traditions rooted deep in the hierarchical imperialism of a globe-spanning empire yield predictably undemocratic results. In nations that have emulated the US Constitution and system of law, and in others that once were colonies of the British Empire, as was the United States, the dictatorship of property is mistaken as the indispensable foundation of civilization.

The story of how property gained through conquest and confiscation is legally immunized from democratic governance has been kept quiet for far too long. Today’s beneficiaries of the colonial tradition of genocide, slavery, and ecocide have a responsibility to educate themselves to the facts and abandon the heroic legends that mask the truth.

Victims of empire around the world don’t need to learn the visceral lessons that privileged white descendants of imperial colonizers need to learn. But before the progeny of settlers can understand the misery and injustice brought on by their forebearers, a lot of false history needs to be unlearned, including how, after American independence, counterrevolutionary schemers erected a system of government that perpetuates the violently won gains of wealthy white men.

This is your invitation to know what those who game the system know and to pick up where the American revolutionaries left off. Come join the community rights movement. It’s time we liberate ourselves from our delusions and from the dictatorial power that law conveys to a propertied aristocracy.





INTRODUCTION


One Right to Rule Them All


THE DARK SIDE OF PROPERTY


When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.

—Frederic Bastiat





Owning Up to the Real Problem: Wealth Obliterates Self-Government


Let’s get it out in the open: The United States of America and nations that emulate its governing principles are governed by a dictatorship of property. Is it plutocracy? Sure, but it goes deeper than that.

The US Constitution, as it was written and later interpreted by the Supreme Court, hijacked democratic rights that American revolutionaries thought they had won. The Federalists developed a whole system of law that serves the interests of wealth. Elements of that system include the following:

State constitutions untethered from their revolutionary moorings

International trade agreements that supersede local, state, and federal laws

Regulations administered by an unrepresentative bureaucracy

Political parties that gerrymander legislative districts, so that they can choose their voters rather than allowing voters to choose representatives

Corporate property that the Supreme Court has declared to be “persons” with Bill of Rights protections

Federal and state statutes that privatize public governance and prohibit democratic limits on the uses of private fortunes

Local governments declared to be property of the state and made unavailable to communities for municipal lawmaking

We live deep within an undemocratic matrix of law that masquerades as a democratic republic while it legalizes an aristocracy of wealth. The US Constitution was written by men who came from a uniformly privileged class. Charles Beard argued this point in his book An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.1 Beard analyzed the economic interests of those who met in secret to overturn the Articles of Confederation (the first constitution of the United States) and concluded that the Federalists were motivated by economic self-interest to establish a form of government that would protect their wealth against “an excess of democracy,” as Alexander Hamilton put it.2

The Federalists who replaced the Articles with the US Constitution were not fully aligned with the liberating agenda of commoners who risked their lives to throw off the hierarchical chains of the British Empire. They were wealthy men educated in British law with opinions that harmonized with aristocratic sentiments.

The authors of the US Constitution are often called the “founding fathers.” Popular history lumps the Federalist counterrevolutionaries in with the likes of Thomas Paine, who with his firebrand writings against monarchy, nobility, and special privileges for the few inspired the people to demand independence. Popular culture counts the Federalists as American Revolutionaries no less fervent for liberty than the men whose ideas of leveling the social class system inspired American farmers and day laborers to pick up their muskets and take on the Redcoats.

This conflation of the Federalist counterrevolutionaries with those whose “Spirit of ’76” is reflected in the Declaration of Independence and absent from the US Constitution is a troubling reminder that popular history too often preserves false memories.

What’s the evidence that the Federalists intended a constitution that weaponizes law to protect the accumulation of property and raise wealth above and out of reach of public governance? To begin with, their own words were recorded in Philadelphia in 1787 by James Madison and Robert Yates. Damningly, that record was held secret until every delegate to the clandestine conclave had died and the constitution they wrote had been the law of the land for two generations. We have that evidence, and it tells the tale I’ll share in chapter 2.

We also have the product of their cleverness to consider. The Federalists established a quasi-monarchical judiciary. Politically appointed judges wield the power to veto any legislation that departs from the Federalists’ original intent: to protect wealth accumulation from democratic oversight. We have the arguments of the Anti-Federalists who called out the would-be American aristocrats for betraying the Revolution. If not for them, we would not have the first ten amendments to the Federalists’ document, the Bill of Rights, which many identify as the soul of the US Constitution.

More immediate evidence that the original intent of the US Constitution was to immunize possession of unearned property from public regulation can be found in the antisocial way the document is interpreted by the courts and how it operates on society today.





The Dictatorship of Property


Here’s my argument in a nutshell.

We are faced with social, political, and environmental problems that resist resolution because law empowers a wealthy minority to govern based on priorities often at odds with the general welfare. The Constitution—and its interpretation by the courts—amounts to an arsenal of weaponized law able to deliver special privileges to a propertied class. Certain legal mechanisms let those seeking to profit at the public expense block policies that compete with their interests.

These legal doctrines operate by a two-step process. First, they remove democratic rights from the public sphere and deposit them in concentrated accumulations of property. The oddity of attaching legal rights to property itself rather than to people roared into public consciousness with the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that affirmed corporate property’s “personhood” and free speech rights. Although the ruling shocked the conscience of average Americans, it was not the first time the Court had vested civil rights within inert property. Nor were corporations the first type of property to be given legal rights.

The second step is for property imbued with rights to deliver those rights as an extra layer of legal privilege to the property owner.

When civil and human rights are deposited in property, that property is placed beyond the authority of the people to govern how it is used by its owner. This nullifies the majority’s ability to decide directly or through elected representatives what the public policy will be.

As a result, we aren’t allowed to resolve issues of immediate concern to every community. Even when we understand what needs to be done, we are often blocked. Privileges secured by law for an opulent minority outweigh our right to self-govern. We’re left institutionally powerless when the interests of the rich conflict with settling issues like these through community lawmaking:

Homelessness

Police accountability

Sanctuary cities, immigrants’ rights

Workers’ rights on the job

Minimum/living wage

Fracking

Retail chains

Water privatization

Genetically modified plants and animals (GMOs)

Gun regulation

School privatization

Private vote tallying

Corporatization of food production

Prisoners’ rights

Prison privatization

Unsustainable energy policies

“Private” surveillance and data mining

Factory farms

Strip mining

Predatory lending

Pipelines

Urban sewage sludge

Toxic trespass (private poisoning of the public)

Our social and governing problems are rooted in the legal fiction of property. I say “legal fiction” because without law, property does not exist, as we’ll discuss thoroughly in chapter 1. For now, it’s important to realize that not all property conveys the same kind of governing clout to its owner. To make this clearer, I’ll draw a distinction between personal property and privileged property.

Personal property, as used in these pages, is derived from one’s own labor. Ownership of it is understandably a cherished right. Our homes and vehicles, our wages and savings (not “returns” on savings derived from interest)—these justly belong to each of us, meaning we have an exclusive right to them. The right to own the fruit of one’s personal effort is unalienable. Again, unalienable means intrinsic; impossible to be separated from; not able to be forfeited, sold, traded, or even voluntarily surrendered.

The right to one’s personal property is part of the right of self-preservation and includes the right of material security within the social context and within the natural ecosystem. Personal property is a limited category, confined to what an individual can produce solely from personal effort. It may be just enough to subsist; it may be a significant treasure. But it is never accumulated at the expense of someone else’s rights.

Privileged property is the kind of property to which the Federalists, and later their quasi-monarchical Supreme Court, attached legal privileges—the kind of property that is not earned by personal effort. Either it is the spoils of conquest, the booty of pillaging, or the result of the enclosure (privatization) of “the commons,” or it is ownership of amassed property through inheritance, purchase, garnishment, or confiscation.

Privileged property involves monopoly control, including the deprivation of the rights of others. It is accumulated and maintained by many mechanisms, including rationing of necessities and extortion of labor in exchange for them. Ownership of privileged property is regularly used to justify extractive activities that destroy the ability of human communities and ecosystems to sustain a healthy existence.

I am not claiming that privileged property is always used in antisocial ways. Large fortunes amassed by robber barons, real estate moguls, televangelists, and dictators are enjoyed through inheritance by their children, who sometimes apply a part of the hoard to philanthropic causes. Even when it is used for seemingly noble purposes, however, privileged property is still the result of anti-social behavior. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (author of What Is Property? 1840), said of it, “Property is theft.”

The legal doctrines that institutionalized special privilege for the wealthy include the following:

Federal preemption of state and local commercial law-making

Privatization of public law

Commoditization of unalienable rights by way of contract (e.g., mandatory waiver of rights to enter into routine business contracts; mandatory arbitration and juryless settlements)

Corporate “rights”

The denial of legal “standing” to appear in court without a property claim

Subordination of local governments through state preemption (prohibitions on local law making)

Legal biases in favor of the property rights of creditors and against the human rights of debtors

The dictatorship of precedent over justice

And many other devices

The rich handily override the rights of individuals and the will of community majorities. When our solutions to local harms involve restricting the use of accumulated wealth, the wealthy rely on rights vested in property to stop us. And the law is on their side.

At the time of this writing, I’ve been working with citizens in Denver, Colorado, to place a “right to survive” amendment to the city charter on the ballot. Its intent is to secure the rights of people who are homeless against constant harassment and move-on orders by local law enforcement. Those orders serve the interests of the business community, but they violate the fundamental rights of propertyless persons, who lack the legal protections afforded to wealth.

People deal with homelessness and all the other local challenges one at a time, as though they are unrelated. Activists organize locally to stop a gas pipeline, address police violence, object to aerial pesticide spraying, advocate for prisoners’ rights, demand a living wage, prohibit the injection of toxic fracking waste into the same ground from which they draw their drinking water. They believe that there are regulations and protective laws they can invoke to their advantage. But most people who confront these issues run into the same wall. Just when they think they can’t lose because their cause is just and they’ve gathered all the damning evidence they need to prove their case, it all gets wiped away.

People are frustrated by unreceptive courts and left baffled by negative outcomes. They feel blindsided. They begin to blame themselves for missing small details, for not organizing better, or for not figuring out how to navigate a complex system of law. When people ask regulatory agencies and elected representatives for protection, they are routinely told there’s nothing to be done. Their local officials shrug and say that they wish they could help, but their hands are tied.

What these activists generally don’t realize is that the outcome was in every case predetermined. It’s not their fault. Rather than ensuring equal rights for all of us, our property-based legal system conveys privileged access to power to those who possess wealth, while denying it to everyone else. Issues that undeniably affect whole communities are decided by the courts primarily based on property claims. Contracts and corporate law are said to relate to matters of a private interests and are of no interest to the public. Using this reasoning, they are said to fall within the realm of private law. As such, they are removed from the public sphere and immunized from public governance.

This privatization of law dealing with contracts and corporations treats the whole realm of economic behavior as if it had no impact on society at-large. It follows a logic that has as its premise the notion that individuals with wealth should decide all matters defined as “commerce” free from public interference. This explains our inability to make democratic decisions about many issues. Once removed from the purview of public law, the priorities of wealth are deemed off-limits to public governance. Public law is, of course, the kind we are most familiar with. It sets policies and places sanctions on anti-social behavior. It deals with issues of general concern to the community at-large. Our right to make public policies on issues in which wealth has an interest has been privatized. As a result, we are institutionally powerless.





Here’s How We Know Whom Government Serves


By the mid-twentieth century, state governments were routinely being recruited by the corporate class to further curtail local self-governing rights. By the second decade of the twenty-first century, the practice of knee-jerk preemption (overruling) of the power of municipalities to govern corporate behavior moved with precision.

Municipalities are the institutions most commonly available to citizens for exercising the right of self-government. State preemption of local lawmaking frequently amounts to usurpation of public governance to benefit private interests. The courts regularly deny that preemption deprives people of their democratic rights, but forbidding municipalities to enact laws that protect the rights of people accomplishes just that. Underlying these rulings, the courts presume that the people never had authority to employ the states’ property for their own purposes.

Dillon’s Rule, which we’ll hear more about in chapter 5, is the legal theory that community governments are utterly subordinate to the state. It is asserted day in and day out, not by states intervening directly into municipal affairs, but by the managers and directors of business corporations suing local governments to overturn laws that interfere with their agendas. When they sue, they ask the court to rule that the municipality has acted outside of its valid authority in adopting a law prohibiting a corporate project. Predictably, industry front groups and lobbyists have already succeeded in having the state institute preemptive laws that the corporate lawyers then invoke to their advantage.

Preemption is a term that applies in situations where federal law blocks state law, and where state law trumps local law. The reason for a higher level of government to block lawmaking at a lower level is that some interested party has a claim that is prior and superior to the interests of everyone else. When fundamental rights are being protected by local law, the higher law can set minimal protections and forbid state or local legislation that weakens those protections. This is called floor preemption, and it is a legitimate protection of civil rights. When floor preemption is exercised, unalienable rights and other keystone values are held superior to other considerations.

Ceiling preemption works in the opposite direction. When rights in property are at risk of being diminished by a local law, the state sets maximum protections and forbids the municipality to legislate in a way that would exceed state regulations and protect the community more than the state allows. Ceiling preemption protects the interests of wealth against the interests of justice and is therefore illegitimate.

Ceiling preemption means that the state regulations will be minimal. It also means that wealthy speculators, investors, corporations, and developers can rest assured that municipal governments will not interfere with their primary goal of extracting profit from the community.

More significantly, ceiling preemptions are enforced through litigation by publicly chartered and licensed “private” corporations. The rights with which law imbues property empower corporate management to use the courts to strike down municipal laws that fail to show deference to the propertied class. Even though a preemptive law is adopted by the state, it is the wealthy people using the corporation and the extra rights attached to it who bring legal actions to usurp local governing rights and enlist the courts to enforce the preemption. Because it is enforced privately rather than by the government that enacts it, the supposedly public law of ceiling preemption amounts to the privatization of public governing authority.





Liberating Communities to Protect Themselves: Making Government Serve the Governed


It took only a couple of years for my colleagues and me to figure out that corporations and their court-bestowed rights aren’t the root of the problem. They’re a symptom. Our basic premise was that unalienable rights belong to the living and that they are higher law when it comes to a contest of legitimacy with rights stored in amassed property and conveyed to its owners. We started applying that basic premise to challenge each of the Federalists’ property-as-sovereignty legal doctrines.

Then we took the next step. People resisting state-permitted dumping of toxic waste in their communities thought there was no way around laws preempting local bans. But if we take seriously the primacy of unalienable rights, and that “democracy” means that the people affected by governing decisions are the ones to make those decisions, then state and federal preemptions forbidding local rights-protecting laws are illegitimate by logical extension.

That’s why we began including in the local laws we drafted language that specifically nullifies permits that pretend to legalize what the community banned to protect its health, safety, and environment. In Youngstown, Ohio, for example, residents have tried to amend their city charter—a local constitution—seven times, as of this writing. They’ve attempted to enact a Community Bill of Rights that would ban fracking and related infrastructure. They’ve been beaten back each time by a large influx of corporate money spent on scare tactics and misinformation.

When the community came within less than a percentage point of winning in 2016, a whole new opposition strategy unfolded the next time they tried. The state teamed up with the propertied class to keep the people’s proposed law off the ballot and prevent the voters from deciding. Industry honchos were tired of spending their money to thwart local democracy. They enlisted the state attorney general, the county boards of elections, and the courts to invent ever more tenuous legal reasons to block access to the ballot for the community’s initiative. Even more galling, the people’s own tax dollars were spent to defeat their efforts.

Thanks to CELDF Ohio organizer Tish O’Dell, the Protect Youngstown community group has not backed down, despite the withering opposition. They have a saying in Youngstown, after all these battles: “You don’t lose until you quit.” Every struggle for civil rights has come to the same conclusion.

One of the provisions included in their proposed amendment has been used over the years by dozens of communities in other states. It rejects the notion that the state can legalize activities that violate the rights of community members. The section says this: “No permit, license, privilege, or charter issued by any state, federal or international entity which would violate this Charter shall be deemed valid within the City of Youngstown.”

Directly challenging long-standing legal doctrines is necessary because government has no legitimate authority to prohibit free people from protecting their rights with democratically enacted local laws. The right of the people to engage in self-government in their own communities is the essence of what community rights organizing is all about. Ceiling preemption, Dillon’s Rule, and municipal subordination to state government are legal doctrines used not for the general welfare but by a propertied minority keen to upend the unalienable right of self-government when it encroaches on the privileges of wealth.

When the City Council of Pittsburgh, at the insistence of a mobilized community, defied the state’s preemption and banned fracking in 2010, I discussed the implications of challenging doctrines like preemption with council members during the ordinance drafting process and in public testimony prior to the vote. With each new local law that we draft for our client communities, my colleagues and I include provisions that more completely address the violation of unalienable rights by the rights of property. Pittsburgh’s ordinance challenged the state’s authority to preempt rights-protecting prohibitions on fracking. It also denied corporate personhood and declared that “corporations in violation of the prohibition against natural gas extraction or seeking to engage in natural gas extraction shall not … be afforded the protections of the commerce or contract clauses within the United States Constitution or corresponding sections of the Pennsylvania Constitution.”

That’s right. We took on the commerce and contract clauses of the US Constitution too, because they purport to enforce private privilege with public law and deprive fundamental rights in the process.





“We Wish We Could Help, but Our Hands Are Tied”


The lament of every municipal official confronted by a roomful of angry constituents could be summarized on a bumper sticker that says, “We wish we could help, but our hands are tied.” It’s the mantra that every one of us hears when we show up at a municipal meeting to ask local officials to do something to stop Project X. You know: the pipeline, the frack wells, the power lines and microwave towers, the landfill expansion, the big box store, the latest moneymaker that nobody wants.

The people we elect locally aren’t universally apathetic about the needs of their communities. They generally do what they can with what they’ve got, which is less and less as states breach their responsibilities to citizens more and more to save money for other priorities, like tax cuts for the rich and subsidies for the biggest of businesses.

When they tell us they can’t help us, our municipal officials are telling mostly the truth, although they always have a choice to buck the system and do what’s right. The ones who will take that stand are the ones community rights organizers love to bump into. They are the salt of the earth, the ones who offer hope that the precedent-driven repetition of errors of the past can be corrected. They are the special ones who know that neither the state nor the federal government can legitimately forbid public servants from standing up for the rights of the neighbors who elected them. They understand that you can’t protect wealth at the expense of everybody and everything else and pretend that’s the way it should be.





Somebody Stole Our Revolution


By now many of us know that the US Supreme Court decided on its own, without direction from elected representatives of the people or precedent from judges of the past, that corporate property has constitutional rights. This is a prime example of what I mean when I say that law—including case law (the accumulated collection of court decisions)—lodges unalienable rights intended for people within property. The Supreme Court didn’t invent the idea of stowing constitutional rights within inert property, although the choice of corporate property was a real innovation. They took their lead from the men who wrote the Constitution.

The Federalists got the ball rolling when they injected rights to extraordinary political representation within the privileged property of slaves. Until the Civil War, slaves counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of proportional representation in the House of Representatives and delegates to the Electoral College. With the three-fifths clause, the Constitution injected political rights into human chattel and gave slave owners palpable political advantages over all American white males represented in nonslave states. The principle of one citizen–one vote was violated, even when only wealthy white males were granted suffrage. The patrician plantation culture of the South cut a deal with Northern proto-industrialists and avoided the most overt trappings of aristocracy in exchange for the political power of an aristocracy. Possession of privileged property (slaves) translated into superior power in the governance of the nation for otherwise outnumbered possessors of human chattel.

It must be said that neither inert corporate property nor enslaved people are able to enjoy the rights that the law deposits in them. They are mere vessels for conveying the rights of property to their owners, who capitalize on the extra political power thus conveyed. Corporations and slaves are examples of what I’ve been calling privileged property.

The original, unamended federal constitution included other methods of infusing privileged property with rights that convey superior political power to the best hoarders of capital. The power to govern, supposedly won by white male revolutionaries, was privatized and made unavailable even to the average unbanked white man on issues impinging on rights in wealth. This was accomplished by inclusion of such constitutional provisions as the commerce clause, the contract clause, and the fugitive labor clause. We’re going to get to all that.

We’ll examine each of these wealth-biased nuggets in later pages. They impose contractual obligations on each citizen, without the consent of each citizen, right there in the US Constitution. As we will see, the long-term effect has been to privatize decision-making on many issues that would otherwise reasonably be considered matters of public concern and democratic governance.

Over the past two hundred years, a succession of politically appointed Supreme Court judges has gone further than the Federalists dared by infusing all sorts of property with new governing powers that are transferable to the owners. Recent outrageous judicial decisions have caused an uptick in the number of people conscious of and alarmed by the ploy.

Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission was the court case decided in 2010 in which the judges gave corporations a constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections. A sleeping public that hadn’t noticed that American law already put the rich in the driver’s seat was suddenly roused. Some thought that the worst thing about the decision was that corporations had been declared legal “persons.” They hadn’t been taught that the courts made that decision 124 years earlier. Few realized that the decision wasn’t about corporations at all. It was about clearing the way for the wealthy to decide who will govern in the United States. A scattering of voices could be heard calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.

If they succeed, it won’t be nearly enough.





Half-Fast Measures


The Supreme Court betrays every American with rulings like Citizens United, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the courts have found ways to include corporate property in the Constitution, although corporations are never mentioned there. Over time, devotion to the “founders” became a more powerful meme than fealty to the ideals of the Revolution. Our awareness of betrayal has been sublimated beneath the surface of American jingoism. This explains the general reluctance to demand systemic change.

The most drastic proposals from constitutional reformers go no further than calling for constitutional amendments to overturn the damage done by Citizens United. The short of it is this: It’s a losing strategy. Because the legal mechanisms for conveying extra power and authority to the wealthy are deeply engrained in US law, those amendments would do little to free us from the dictatorship of property. There’s no delicate way to say it: We have much bigger problems.

Today, wealth inequality is a hot topic, but the fact that rich people enjoy more leisure and luxury than the rest of us is not the problem. It’s not just about corporations, either. Judges regularly attach legal privileges to property. Case law is a veritable La Brea Tar Pit filled with the preserved remnants of an extinct democracy, all covered in the black goo of legal doubletalk. Judges have solemnly doled out legal opinions, insisting that their job is to serve the law and not administer justice, all without making it clear that precedent and the laws they serve favor a propertied class of aristocrats.

We are at a moment in history when a movement is afoot to amplify and strengthen legal rights attached to wealth. Occasional “rogue” court decisions, such as Citizens United, are taken as the exception even though the US Supreme Court has never failed to preserve the law’s protection of rights in property over the rights of people.

The court has regularly created new vessels to carry those privileges. Decisions like Citizens United are nothing new. They reinforce and expand the legal default settings that date back to 1789.

Making property into a rights-bearing canteen to be drunk from only by its owners guaranteed that we’d be ruled by an aristocracy of the propertied class and that we’d thirst for the deprived right of self-governance. The Federalists thought they knew better. We need to understand and believe they were wrong.





International House of Property: Wealth’s Global Dominion


The tactic of storing legal rights and governing authority in property, initiated by the Federalists, has had profound impacts into the twenty-first century not only in the US but globally. Around the world, nations have histories steeped in colonialism, with all its brutality, enslavement, and exploitation. Although the US escaped its colonial chains earlier than many countries, its racist, misogynistic, homophobic culture preserved in its Constitution the oppressive inequities inherited from the British Empire. From the privatization of the commons (the “enclosures”) to the treatment of women and Africans as chattel, Americans took inspiration for institutionalized injustice from the empire that succeeded in claiming as its own much of North America.

For good or ill, the US Constitution has been emulated by newly emancipated nation-states, so that many have adopted parts of it as their own. Others, once British colonies, have modeled their governments closer to that of their former imperial master. And fifty-three former colonies are aligned as members of the Commonwealth of Nations to this day. Over the past half century, neoliberalism and globalization have entrenched the acquisition of wealth and the centralization of control over trade, commerce, and finance as the core values of a planetary regime. International trade agreements are negotiated by those whose privileged property empowers them to act in the sphere of domestic and international governance as free agents. Stowing superior political rights in property may have a “Made in the USA” label on it, as a legal innovation, but by now it’s as ubiquitous globally as jazz and rock ’n roll.

The niceties of republicanism, citizenship, representation, and even sovereignty have been courteously mooted. Turning the whole planet and its every aspect and inhabitant into commoditized property is no longer a patrician pipe dream. Totalitarian capitalism has been legalized. Protecting home, family, habitat, and the future from the dictatorship of property is illegal, pretty much no matter where you go.





Planetary Emancipation


There is a movement afoot that could undermine this dystopian reality. Internationally, a movement for the legally enforceable rights of nature is under way. It began humbly, in a little borough in Pennsylvania. It spread to Ecuador, Bolivia, New Zealand, and India. It has a life of its own, and that is why it is unstoppable.

How can recognizing the unalienable rights of nature challenge and defeat the global juggernaut of rights legally attached to property? The answer is in the question. When nature is no longer categorized in its every aspect as property, and when forests, mountaintops, aquifers, coal seams, ore deposits, genetic material, natural medicines, and every subset of the natural world are emancipated from the legal status of property, then the threat to our rights and our common inheritance posed by the hegemony of private ownership can be ended.

Humans are a part of the natural world. Although the grand philosophies that justified and inspired imperial conquests over other lands, people, and nature are based on the premise that some special humans exist apart from and above nature and have monopoly rights over it, that’s simply not the case. We are one of many species on the tree of life, dependent for our breath, sustenance, and survival on all of it and exempt from none of its priorities.

Because so many still believe that the ideals of the Declaration of Independence are alive, if imperfectly, in the US Constitution and the government it spawned, it’s not possible for many Americans to discover the truth right under their noses. But for people in nations more recently liberated from colonialism and exploitation, and in those nations still suffering under its power, the hypocrisy is more immediate. The unalienable rights bestowed on every one of us by “Nature … and Nature’s God,” as the Declaration has it, and the aspiration to establish government at the consent of the governed have been betrayed in America and around the world where those ideals gain no more than lip service. It is an unnatural situation.





An Invitation


The dictatorship of property has insinuated itself into our hometowns. It sits as a gatekeeper at all our town meetings in the seat of the municipal attorney who advises the erstwhile elected representatives of the people that they must ignore the will of the community and defer to the power and preemptions of their wealthy masters.

These are not idle claims. They are direct observations from the front lines of the community rights movement. If it all sounds too depressing and surreal in a country where the people are supposed to be in charge, take courage from the fact that there is hope. It’s been here all along. But do take courage, because you’ll need it. We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. It’s time to wake up and act. Others have begun. You can join them.





CHAPTER ONE


Property Is Not an

Unalienable Right


I doubt whether a single fact, known to the world, will carry as clear conviction to it … of the treasonable views of the federal party … who having nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76 now look to a single and splendid government of an Aristocracy, founded on banking institutions and monied in corporations … This will be to them a next best blessing to the Monarchy of their first aim, and perhaps the surest stepping stone to it.”

—Thomas Jefferson





Devise and Conquer: The Legal Foundations of Empire


In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, residents have been trying to protect their community and environment from the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline since 2014. They organized under the banner “Lancaster Against Pipelines,” and on October 17, 2017, twenty-three members of the group were arrested for blocking a backhoe from tearing into land owned by a group of nuns, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ.

The pipeline is intended to transport natural [sic] gas from frack wells scattered throughout the commonwealth to export terminals on the coast. The nuns’ land, and an outdoor chapel they’d built on the part of their land seized through eminent domain, is in the path of the fossil fuel conduit. Eminent domain is government sanctioned appropriation of personal property for a supposed public use with compensation to the owner.

According to the York Daily Record, “The Adorers claim that the developer’s seizure of the rights to the easement via eminent domain violated their religious freedom, since reverence for the land was among their deeply held spiritual beliefs.”1 The nuns had filed suit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for permitting the violation of their religious rights, but on this October day, as that law-suit went unanswered by the court, part of the shrine was dismantled and trenches dug, after the peaceful protestors were removed.

In July 2018, the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the nuns’ claim that their religious rights were being violated. The community group Lancaster Against Pipelines put out a press release announcing the decision. They wrote, in part, “It’s crystal clear from this ruling that the Natural Gas Act supersedes even our most fundamental Constitutional rights.”

This confrontation reveals power dynamics that are important to understanding how our system of law arms wealth and disempowers those with less of it (or none). It’s a contest between anonymous humans pushing for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, the residents opposing it, and the nuns whose land was taken lawfully and given to a corporation whose owners have plans to profit from the confiscated property.

The first dynamic to notice is that the law transferred control of the commandeered property to a private business corporation. The corporate directors had no plans to put the land to use for a public benefit. They intended to use it to generate profit by exporting gas to foreign markets. Eminent domain handed owners of corporate property the legal right to take possession of the nuns’ property.

The second dynamic to notice is that, although rights vested in property under US law exceed the rights inherent in people and living systems, the law also distinguishes between wealth and mere possessions. The amount of property and whether it is personal property or privileged property makes all the difference.

The third dynamic to notice is that the law found greater value in the property rights of the owners of corporate property than the nuns’ right of ownership to their land. The nuns’ property and the preservation of their right to it do not serve the priorities of power and empire as much as advancing the corporation’s interests.

Herein is revealed the difference between privileged property and nonprivileged personal property. If all property were the same in the eyes of the law, the nuns might have expected the courts to protect their right to it. Whom the law works for and whom it works against are a matter of wealth.

The fourth dynamic to notice is that the rights of the residents of Lancaster County, including the ones arrested for their protest, were irrelevant to the legal permitting of the pipeline. Because they had no property interest in the land, the protesters had no “standing” before the law to have their grievances heard about safety, aesthetics, lost historic significance of disturbed Native American burial grounds in the path of the pipeline, and other perceived harms. Their only legal status was that of trespassers on condemned land and nuisances to the pipeline workers. The law didn’t represent their rights or interests.

The fifth dynamic to notice is that preserving the natural world did not factor into any of the legal proceedings. Nature is not a subject in the eyes of the law. It is an object, a collection of items to be owned and not a rights-bearing entity to be protected. If it is property, it may convey to the owner certain rights, but it has none itself.





Building Empire under the Radar: Because Nobody Wants to Say That’s What’s Going On


We need to untangle the braid of interacting rights in this case to understand where law begins and justice ends. My thesis is that federal constitutionalism serves wealth, not people and communities, and that the underlying logic used to rationalize this system of law and government is intrinsically and ethically flawed. To expose these flaws, let’s start with a simple assertion: Ownership of specific property is not an unalienable right.

Not all of us are born equally advantaged with wealth. Unalienable rights are distributed equitably to all. We can be voluntarily alienated from our property, as through gifting, sale, or lease. We can also be involuntarily alienated from property through taxation, garnishment, condemnation (eminent domain), theft, and other means. Hence, property is not an unalienable right.

Sometimes, as in the assertion of eminent domain against the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, the enforcement of law reflects this fact. The tenuousness of the right to personal property is made very clear. But the law’s deference to all sorts of rights in property is so integral to American constitutionalism that loss of property rights generally only occurs when the rights of one party conflict with the interests of another, wealthier party. Overriding this deference requires the full collaboration of government and wealth. In a conflict between personal property and privileged property, the law and court precedent favor privileged rights over personal rights. This is the big secret that everybody knows but no one talks about.

American law developed in a culture of colonial expansion. It intentionally protects the accumulation of privileged property (wealth). There is no wonder in this. Such accumulation is the engine of empire. Protection of personal property by law follows the logic of empire. Small fortunes may grow to larger ones, so they are to be protected. But that paternalism diverges from the absolute when doing so interferes with more effective means of acquiring and centralizing control over resources. Placing resources under the jurisdiction of law’s authority is how empires are built and is the purpose of legal protections for amassed property. The authority and rights developed over the years for large business corporations have been magnified for no other purpose than to facilitate this acquisition and centralization of power.

There are inadequate enforceable rules for safeguarding the earned wages and assets of less affluent people against the juggernaut of commercial empires both large and small. Today’s business corporation falls into both the large and small categories. Some are able to compete on a global scale, almost as nations without a land base. When law is used to protect the privileges of empire by declaring wealth and its uses exempt from public law and thus not responsible for harming the rights of individuals, communities, and the whole planet, then we are all are at risk.

The misapplication of eminent domain robs people of their certainty of justice, because to the average person property is property, and the law should not favor one possession over another. Like so many other confrontations between unalienable rights and rights vested in property, eminent domain exposes an undemocratic arrangement. An unacknowledged partnership exists between government and wealth in the guise of corporate power. The legalized expropriation of personal property, labor, public resources, and services when it benefits private accumulation of profit and wealth demonstrates what much of American law is all about.

The project of empire building is accomplished through legally sanctioned mechanisms for the appropriation of other people’s property, labor, savings, and rights. The more primitive methods involve physical violence. Domestically, those means have been largely replaced by procedural violence inflicted through agencies, departments, authorities, and the maddening bureaucracy of the courts.

The official misuse of eminent domain is only the most blatant example of how rights vested in property rule over all other considerations. The personal right to property lodged in each natural person yields to the powers lodged in the privileged property of wealth and exercised through the courts. The conflict between personal property and privileged property is a battle in which unalienable rights arrive disarmed by law, which protects privileges vested in property.

Those who gain possession of privileged property can invade the larder of common rights through many doors. They gain entry through expropriation, appropriation, inheritance, rent-seeking,2 usury,3 garnishment,4 seizure, assumption, trade, litigation, annexation, conquest … in fact, theft. Setting aside illegal and unscrupulous ways of achieving wealth, we can ask: “Is the accumulation of property by legal means an unalienable right?”

The answer has nothing to do with legality. It has to do with basic logic. Because privileged property can be increased, then the legal rights conveyed by it can be increased. If those rights are unalienable, then unalienable rights can be compounded. If so, we would have to conclude that some unalienable rights are not equal rights. By extension, because some people can have more unalienable rights than others, then some unalienable rights could be withheld legally from the majority or a disfavored minority. The concept of unalienable rights would then be meaningless. The more rational conclusion is that unalienable rights are in fact equal for all and that property is not an unalienable right.

Unalienable rights, unlike wealth, cannot be compounded. They are not able to be increased by accumulation. They cannot be purchased. But the rights conveyed by privileged property facilitate an exponential increase in the amount of deference law pays to people in possession of it. Wealth accumulation isn’t just an increase in leisure and luxury. It represents a substantial decrease in rights for everyone else. A bias in the laws and Constitution of the US makes it so.

Over time, and under color of law, rights vested in property, which I’ll shorthand as the rights of property, have eroded the natural rights of everyone but the propertied class. Rights conveyed to the wealthy through privileged property are prized above all others under American law. There is a reason. The Federalists, who insisted on a strong central government and not a democracy governed by We the People, had the building of a continental empire clearly in mind. They made provisions in the Constitution for the addition of new territories and states. They made other provisions to accelerate and defend minority ownership of most of the property, along with the control of lawmaking and governance by that same minority.

All of this is in sharp contrast to the aspirations of American revolutionaries and the expectations of newcomers to the United States. It’s antithetical to the idealism celebrated in songs and parades on the Fourth of July. What we have is the antithesis of what we want. The reason more than two hundred communities in the United States have enacted local community bills of rights that challenge wealth-privileging legal doctrines is that people have begun to wake up from the sinister spell that insists this is the way it has to be.





Lines in the Sand: Property Is Ink on Paper


Let’s ask the most basic question: Where does property come from?

From outer space, it’s not possible to see national borders or property lines on the earth’s surface. Our blue-green home doesn’t look at all like a Rand-McNally atlas or a municipal plat. State and town boundaries are invisible. Property lines are undetectable.

So if property in land and political borders can’t be seen empirically, where do they exist? The answer: They exist only in law and in the minds of people who believe that law reflects reality.5

To illustrate how “real property” becomes real in our heads, let me tell you a brief story about the colonization of the Western Hemisphere by Europeans. When Christopher Columbus returned from his exploratory venture to the Americas, he visited the monarchs of Portugal and Spain. Both kingdoms wished to claim the newly found lands for themselves. The dispute between them was settled by Pope Alexander VI. He drew a line on a crude map, from the North to the South Pole, and cut South America in two. He declared that to the east of the line, where present-day Brazil juts to the right into the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal would rule; to the west of that line, it would be Spain.

The pope’s pen was as powerful as a magic wand. The spell he cast was slow to take hold, but the ink on that map changed the course of history. It had no immediate physical effect on the planet. Yet that ink had the indelible effect of creating a law-based rationale for invading conquistadors. Meanwhile, it left indigenous people by the millions, and the whole of the natural world, without rights and without protection. The Doctrine of Discovery espoused by Pope Alexander VI in his “Inter Caetera” papal bull of 1493 legalized conquest, plunder, and exploitation.





Justifying Injustice: The Emperor’s Philosophers


Thirty-three years later, Francis Bacon published his Novum Organum, laying out the basis for scientific inquiry. He imagined that human beings could escape the limitations nature imposed on us by deducing its laws from observation. Where Pope Alexander VI drew a line and made a law that severed the physical world into parts and parcels, Bacon intended to dissect all of nature, own its secrets, and use those laws to similarly enrich whoever could command them. Bacon is quoted as saying: “My only earthly wish is … to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man’s dominion over the universe to their promised bounds … [Nature will be] bound into service, hounded in her wanderings and put on the rack and tortured for her secrets.”6

The rituals of mechanical intervention into nature, like the pope’s ritual of dividing up the planet into estates, made world-spanning conquest possible. “I am come in very truth leading you to Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave,” Bacon is purported to have said. “The mechanical inventions of recent years do not merely exert a gentle guidance over Nature’s courses, they have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations.”7 These comments summarize the imperial spirit of the age.

Now, in the twenty-first century, we begin to see how both humanity and nature have been shaken and the bonds of equality and community severed. The world has been reduced to a matrix of possessions held together by a tangle of laws defining who owns what (and who owns naught). The pope’s ink on a map became a point of contagion for a political idea that now rules the world. The laws of possession separate the haves and the have-nots, making community into an atomized cloud of competition rather than a bond of mutual aid.

Similarly, Bacon’s extraction of mechanical rules from nature has severed humanity from nature’s community. The privatization of nature and other societies became the obsession of a culture experimenting with altering its place in the world. Many today predict a terrible endgame, when the laws of nature and human laws clash.

In the age of conquest, it was law as much as gunpowder that helped Europeans conquer whole continents. The law of boundaries, borders, enclosures, and property, armed with the distilled and lifeless laws of nature, had a hypnotic effect on European culture. A whole civilization was blinded to the horror and harm it would do.

No thought was given by Pope Alexander VI to the cascade of injustices his pen stroke would precipitate. The lives of the people already living in the lands he cavalierly assigned to Spain and Portugal were dismissed as irrelevant. There was no anticipation of the future clear-cutting of the Amazon jungle, the centuries of war, oppression, revolution, and sadness that the stroke of a pen would catalyze. The pontiff and his favored monarchs imagined only the wealth and power the lawful privatization of the Western Hemisphere would convey to them.

In the second volume of his work on inequality, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that

The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.8



Another philosopher, John Locke, wrote that “government has no other end, but the preservation of property.”9 A hundred years later, American revolutionaries such as Thomas Paine when he wrote Common Sense and Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence had other aspirations. For them the purpose of government is to secure unalienable rights, including the right to one’s own labor and the product of it, and the right of the people to engage in self-government without deference to the priorities of wealth. But in America and in the nations around the globe whose social contract is rooted in conquest and colonialism, the ethics of power and possession prevailed.





Workers and the Law Serve Wealth


Understanding the distinction between personal property and privileged property is necessary to further illustrate why the accumulation of property is not an unalienable right. Going back to early American sources, we find Benjamin Franklin corresponding with the wealthiest man in the American colonies, the financier of the Revolution, Robert Morris. He wrote, “All the property that is necessary to a man for the conservation of the individual and the propagation of the species is his natural right, which none can justly deprive him of; but all property superfluous to such purposes is the property of the public, who by their laws have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it whenever the welfare of the public shall demand such a disposition.”10

Let’s be clear about whether there is a right to privileged property and where belief in that right comes from. Then let’s ask if there is a right to one’s personal property.

In all cases, law creates property. We aren’t born with it. Whether it is the nuns’ land and chapel in the woods or the pipeline company’s commandeered right-of-way through their sanctuary, law and government decide who owns what. That goes for all types of property. Because all property exists subject to legal consent, law can either recognize a claim of ownership or deny it. What law cannot legitimately deny is the right to be free of servitude, where the fruit of one’s labor belongs to another. What law cannot legitimately assert is that the value of the wages of servitude, in whole or in part, belongs to the master of the worker in pursuit of wealth. But, as we see, law readily and constantly does both. The Federalists who devised that law conflated the right of the wealthy to be free from community governance with the right of all people to be free of servitude. In further service to the opulent minority, the Federalists then denied freedom from servitude as a general right.

Let’s consider the case of earned wages for work done. American law has acknowledged a right to be free from involuntary servitude, including but not limited to slavery, since adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. Section 1 of the amendment says that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Prior to adoption of that language into the Constitution, ownership of one’s own labor was not recognized as a right. Although hailed as the end of slavery in the United States, the Thirteenth Amendment didn’t make freedom from involuntary servitude a recognized unalienable right. It allowed the enslavement of people convicted of crimes. With no cue from the amendment’s language, judges have also decided that it allows government to impose involuntary military conscription on those unable to find a legal escape hatch.

We’re examining the question of servitude to illustrate the difference between personal property and privileged property. The one, the right to own and control one’s own labor—that is, the use of one’s own body and mind to produce added value and thereby profit—is unalienable. It’s not the added value, the property itself, that is unalienable. It’s the liberty from labor for the benefit of another that is unalienable.

Liberty is one of three specific examples of unalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. Servitude subtracts liberty from the person and is a direct violation of a fundamental right. But when rights are bestowed upon the property itself, as when corporate property becomes the repository of Bill of Rights protections, then law acts to protect additive acquisition (privileged property). It’s that word involuntary that so clearly reveals that the Thirteenth Amendment was never intended to end the legal advantages of masters over workers, or to guarantee freedom from servitude as a constitutionally protected right. The essence of unalienable rights is that they cannot be separated from the person, not even voluntarily. By including the word “involuntary” in the amendment, servitude of poor people to wealthy people was preserved as a legally allowable arrangement.

Even though labor can no longer be stolen lawfully from a worker through enslavement, the laborer can still be persuaded to “voluntarily” waive rights to fair compensation in exchange for employment. The law allows it. What can be sold, surrendered, or volunteered is not by law unalienable. And thus, in the eyes of the law, freedom from servitude is not an unalienable right.

Accumulation of privileged property (wealth) requires the confiscation of value from the past and future industriousness of many others. Legalized servitude makes wealth possible. Possession of privileged property, such as a corporation, affords its owner the legal tools to protect wealth from redistribution by the community at large, from which the wealth flows.

Thus law creates a one-way gated pump for work converted into added value to flow away from its human producers and into privileged property, from which only the propertied minority is authorized to withdraw.

Legal scholar Morris R. Cohen wrote,

The character of property as sovereign power compelling service and obedience may be obscured for us in a commercial economy by the fiction of the so-called labour contract as a free bargain and by the frequency with which service is rendered indirectly through a money payment. But … there [is] actually little freedom to bargain on the part of the steelworker or miner who needs a job … Today I do not directly serve my landlord if I wish to live in the city with a roof over my head, but I must work for others to pay him rent with which he obtains the personal services of others. The money needed for purchasing things must for the vast majority be acquired by hard labour and disagreeable service to those to whom the law has accorded dominion over the things necessary for subsistence.11



Once personal constitutional protections are waived by private contract, public law and the protections of the Bill of Rights are powerless to intervene. The employee may be required to surrender freedoms of speech, assembly, privacy, and religion, and other rights on the job as a contractual condition of employment. Each unalienable right becomes alienable. Each conditional right becomes moot. Rights of persons are made subordinate to rights in corporate property. Private law (as noted earlier, law related to contracts and corporations) is given deference over public law (which sets policies and places sanctions on anti-social behavior. It deals with issues of general concern to the community at-large). Minority interests trump general rights.

The worker’s right to wages is limited and maxed out by whatever minimum wage (or lack thereof) is set in his or her political jurisdiction. Beyond that nominal regulation, the employer and not the worker or the law decides whether that right includes a paycheck adequate to cover the necessities of life. Ownership of privileged property gives the employer this power to decide.

When the worker’s income is taxed, there’s no assurance that his or her priorities will be represented in budgeting how the collected revenue will be spent. Often, the portion of wages taken by government will serve the interests of the employer and others similarly in possession of privileged property, and not those of the worker. There is no inherent reason for this. There is a bias in the law. A viable economy would still be possible if unalienable rights took precedent over property amassed as wealth. Empire, however, might not be possible.





Unequal Protection: The Myth of Equality before the Law


Law creates property in all its forms by sanctioning its existence. But how the law treats personal property contrasts sharply with how it treats privileged property, as we are beginning to see.

The species of privileged property have proliferated unchecked for a century and a half through modification of the law. From simple interest on loans to compounding interest; from mineral rights to intellectual property rights; from “naming rights” to copyrights; from stocks and bonds to future profits; from proprietary rights to corporate rights; from legal standing to engineered legal precedent—the number of institutionalized legal privileges for wealth has expanded with no sign of stopping.

It matters how all of this is understood. Adam Winkler, professor of constitutional law at UCLA School of Law, has written an entertaining book titled We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights. The author tells the story from the droll perspective of victimized corporations struggling for justice and how they gained constitutional rights from the Supreme Court. He compares the pursuit of legal advantages for wealthy people and their corporate property to a civil rights movement. It is a clever device. But Winkler makes a more serious historical observation that, whereas it only required that the wealthy ask for those rights for their chartered property, it took decades of abolitionist struggles, a civil war, and three constitutional amendments to free African Americans from the status of rightless property.

A laughably baseless interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment let the Supreme Court change corporate property into a person with constitutional protections that rival those afforded to real people. That was in 1886, thirty-four years before the Constitution was amended to recognize the right of women to vote. To this day, women lack an equal rights amendment. Corporations have been guaranteed equal rights with men under the Fourteenth Amendment for over a century.

The lesson here is that the American system of law ensures that wealth has access to the Supreme Court to protect its rights, whereas ordinary people have no automatic entrée into the halls of justice to secure their rights.


IN THE LAST PAGES of his book, Winkler tells the story of Mora County, New Mexico, and the Mora Community Water Rights and Self-Government Act of 2013. It’s an ordinance I had a hand in drafting and shepherding to adoption at the request of community members and the county commissioner, John Olivas. Winkler holds our ordinance up as an example of how we might push back against the hegemony of wealth and the privatization of the federal Bill of Rights.

In a region where water is scarce and widespread hydraulic fracturing (fracking) was being proposed, county residents grew concerned. Fracking uses immense quantities of water to force natural gas out of the ground. In the process, the water is tainted with poisons and not reusable. That’s what prompted them to contact CELDF and eventually enact their ordinance in 2013.

The county law declared that, because water is indispensable to life, it is an unalienable right. It declared the corporation’s property interests in natural gas, its mineral rights, not to be unalienable. And it held that unalienable rights supersede the inferior rights in property.

Later that same year, the Independent Petroleum Institute of New Mexico and a couple of similarly interested individuals sued Mora County for adopting an ordinance banning the extraction of fossil fuels within the county. The lawsuit claimed that the ordinance violated the corporation’s First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. It was a civil rights suit against the county.

It was all but preordained that without the overriding guidance of conscience and with a near-sacred sense of obligation to precedent, a judge would eventually overturn Mora’s water rights ordinance as a violation of the civil rights of a corporation. And that’s what happened. In federal district court, it was not the people’s right to water but the mineral rights belonging to the corporate property and the corporate property’s rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection of the law that prevailed.

There was no appeal. A well-funded political campaign to oust the commissioners who enacted the ordinance succeeded in replacing them with industry-friendly commissioners who walked away from the defense of the people’s right to water.

Mora’s ordinance is one of hundreds drafted by CELDF and enacted across the country. Wealth has deployed its arsenal of legal advantages against a few of them, punishing municipalities financially, even threatening to bankrupt them, while blaming CELDF for bringing grief and costly litigation upon them. Lower courts, unwilling to make decisions about constitutional issues, generally rely on such mechanisms as state preemption to safeguard the interests of property and wealth. Federal courts lean on Supreme Court precedent to protect the civil rights previously bestowed on corporate property.

One of the successes we’ve come to expect from campaigns like the one in Mora is the exposure of the legal substructure that arms the priorities of wealth with power to neutralize the unalienable rights of people. That may not seem like much of a win, but in the context of public obliviousness to the true nature of American law, it is a necessary first step toward building a community rights movement.





The Land Must Be Liberated: Emancipating the Planet


The community rights movement into which you are being invited conceives of a much more inclusive definition of community than the framers of the US Constitution had in mind. For them, white men who own property were the legitimate rulers of the nation. Women, Native Americans, African Americans, paupers of all sorts had no place in the governance of the community or the nation. It’s time to open the gated fortress where people and their possessions separate themselves from nature, fellow human beings, and responsibility to them, smug in their presumed superiority. We can reconstitute community as it should exist: people living in harmony with nature, rather than as parasites.

Nature is the greater community, and we are a part of it. We are not helpless to begin the task of correcting and making amends for the cultural, genocidal, and ecocidal errors of the past. Or if we are, then the visceral longing for freedom and real justice and preservation of the planet are lost causes. But that is an intolerable outcome.

Liberating the planet from those who claim to own it must coincide with liberating We the People and all of us in nature from the dictatorship of property. These inextricably interwoven causes have the same goal: right relationship and true freedom.


IN 2006, I WAS working with clients in the borough of Tamaqua in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. It’s anthracite coal country, where a century and a half of mining has left the landscape pockmarked with holes and rubble and a shallow-rooted forest of perpetual saplings that will never become full-grown trees. Once the Industrial Revolution switched from coal to petroleum for most of its energy, the same communities from which natural “resources” had been stripped became the dumping ground for toxic waste. Gaping strip mines and deep mine shafts were eyed for “reclamation,” meaning they’d be filled with industrial waste, coal fly ash, urban sewage solids, and river dredge.

The people of Tamaqua thought that was a bad idea. I worked with them to draft a local law that included provisions my colleagues and I had been developing for a few years. At the heart of the ordinance was this concept: Unalienable rights come first.

As we worked on the draft ordinance, I had a conversation with Cathy Miorelli, a member of the borough council and full-time school nurse. She wasn’t concerned that the draft law for the little town would take on the “well-established” constitutional rights of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Corporation and the preemptive authority of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. No. She went to the heart of the matter and raised the issue of property rights. How could Tamaqua prohibit landowners from doing whatever they want with their property, to the point of creating serious hazards for the community? She knew the reverence for property central to American law. How could we challenge such a foundational doctrine?

It wasn’t a question. It was a challenge. “No, really: How can we do it?”

As it turned out, CELDF’s executive director, Thomas Linzey; our historian and mentor, Richard Grossman; and I had been having quiet, internal conversations about an idea that was raised in the 1970s by Christopher Stone, professor of law at the University of Southern California, in his book Should Trees Have Standing? Its subtitle was Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Professor Stone asked how society could really protect the environment when nature has been subdivided into privatized parcels. Under Western law, ecosystems and nature have but one legal status: that of property. Owners of property have few enforceable obligations to others when it comes to how they treat their property. If only nature had legal rights of its own, Stone mused; then maybe something could be done to protect it.

And that is what Cathy Miorelli was curious about. What could be done to stop the owner of the Springdale coal mine from filling it with toxins? Up to that point, no one had taken Christopher Stone’s question seriously enough to test it. So, we did.

On September 19, 2006, Tamaqua became the first government on earth to recognize legally enforceable rights for ecosystems. Section 7.6 of the ordinance states:

It shall be unlawful for any corporation or its directors, officers, owners, or managers to interfere with the existence and flourishing of natural communities or ecosystems, or to cause damage to those natural communities and ecosystems. The Borough of Tamaqua, along with any resident of the Borough, shall have standing to seek declaratory, injunctive, and compensatory relief for damages caused to natural communities and ecosystems within the Borough, regardless of the relation of those natural communities and ecosystems to Borough residents or the Borough itself. Borough residents, natural communities, and ecosystems shall be considered to be “persons” for purposes of the enforcement of the civil rights of those residents, natural communities, and ecosystems.



It was a first. The law still stands, not having been challenged with corporate or state litigation. Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company did not go forward with its dumping plans. It cannot be said that the ordinance or this new approach to protecting the environment won the day once and for all. But it did gain international attention.

By now the rights of nature have become something of a cause célèbre. Beneath the legal fight to protect the planet and its living systems is a battle to the death—or to life—over legal rights in property and the status of nature in the eyes of the law. Word of what Tamaqua had done traveled far and abroad. For those who doubt that what we do locally in our hometowns can have any important or lasting effect, take note.

Following news of Tamaqua’s brave leap into uncharted territory, Ecuador recruited CELDF staff to guide their Constitutional Assembly in drafting a key part of what would become their new national constitution. They wanted to include rights for Pachamama—Mother Earth. By popular vote in 2010, with overwhelming support, Ecuador’s new national constitution recognizing fundamental legal rights for nature became its new law of the land. The English translation of the constitutional provision on which my colleagues worked says this: “Natural communities and ecosystems possess the unalienable right to exist, flourish, and evolve within Ecuador. Those rights shall be self-executing, and it shall be the duty and right of all Ecuadorian governments, communities, and individuals to enforce those rights.”

What Tamaqua had done, and what Ecuador did, became an example for bold American communities and nation-states around the globe. Readers may be familiar with the changed legal status of nature and natural systems in New Zealand, Bolivia, India, Colombia, and elsewhere. Here in the US, through our community rights organizing, we’ve added the rights of nature to all the local laws we draft for American communities.

The “no fracking” Community Bill of Rights enacted by Pittsburgh in 2010 recognized the rights of ecosystems, saying: “Natural communities and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, wetlands, streams, rivers, aquifers, and other water systems, possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish within the City of Pittsburgh. Residents of the City shall possess legal standing to enforce those rights on behalf of those natural communities and ecosystems.”

Our associate director, Mari Margil, has traveled the globe to help officials and activists develop rights-of-nature legislation and constitutional provisions. We were not involved in New Zealand’s settling with the aboriginal Maori people to recognize legal rights for the Wanganui River. The movement for nature’s rights has begun to take on a life of its own.

Here in the US, more than forty cities, municipalities, and counties have enacted laws recognizing nature as a rights-bearing entity. No longer mere property in which special privileges are stored, later to be enjoyed by its human owners, nature is recognized in those communities as fully qualified to enjoy its own rights and to have them defended in court.

The reason that nature needs recognition for her legal rights is not that nature should be considered a legal person. We’ve changed our understanding and approach since our first venture into unalienable rights of nature in Tamaqua. Nature is not a human being. And it’s not a mere “juristic person,” or corporation. It has its own priorities and deserves and needs these protections because Western law and the rule of property treat nature as the slave of its many owners.

It is the privilege to destroy that makes the owners of land and “resources” dangerous to life on earth. The rest of us, who do not “own” the world, have unalienable rights, including the right to withdraw presumed privileges of property ownership when they threaten others’ rights and do harm to the world. The privilege to destroy is among the cache of governing powers conveyed to landowners by the rights of property. It has brought to the world the climate crisis, a mass species die-off, and the ecocide of the oceans, not to mention the proliferation of disease, dislocation, misery, and suffering for people and life in general. To argue that the community has no authority to bring this carnage to an end is a blithe absurdity.

There is no doubt that making the needed changes to privileges associated with property will be one of our culture’s greatest challenges. Freeing nature from bondage to its “owners” will alter the meaning of the word property in ways that will defy centuries of institutionalized privilege for those who possess the lion’s share of everything. The propertied class will resist any change that diminishes their dominion over us and the entire living world. They will employ uninformed friends, family, and strangers as their armed workforce to resist our efforts. They will engage in propaganda and misinformation, name-calling, villainization, and criminalization of our efforts, our gatherings, even our thoughts, to stop us from wresting total control from them. The stakes could not be higher. To lose is to lose everything. Your help is needed in this struggle for survival.





CHAPTER TWO


The Ongoing Counterrevolution


The uniformity of the Framers’ economic status had a predictable impact on the Constitution. It provides protections for property rights and limits the political powers of the poor. In contrast, it does not provide for the needs of the lower classes. Instead, those provisions focused on the poor are designed to suppress insurrections, to prohibit state debtor relief laws, and to prevent property redistributions.

—Ann M. Burkhart





Where Do Rights Reside: In People or in Property?


Until the American Revolution, the proprietorship colony of Pennsylvania was run by a General Assembly overseen by the descendants of William Penn. It was made up of Quaker members of the commercial elite. They opposed independence because of their business dealings with England, and without Pennsylvania on board, other states refused to endorse secession from the empire.

Only wealthy white men were represented in the General Assembly, and as in most of the colonies, voting and holding office were open only to white men with substantial property. That left out most men and everyone else.

Thanks to some backroom chicanery by Sam and John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Doctor Benjamin Rush, unbanked men from the rural countryside gathered and descended on the State House in Philadelphia, where both the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Continental Congress were meeting. The rabble tossed out their colonial betters when those men refused to send delegates with instructions to support a declaration of independence. The insurgents voted in their own representatives to the General Assembly, and they quickly put Pennsylvania on the side of independence. With Pennsylvania on board, the scales tipped in the Continental Congress in favor of separation from England. Then the propertyless assembly got busy writing the first constitution of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

When they gathered to draft their 1776 state constitution, the rabble-run General Assembly decided to break with British tradition and allow all men—white and black—to vote and hold office, whether they were rich or poor. Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in crafting that early state constitution.

To justify dropping property qualifications, he told this story. “Today a man owns a jackass worth fifty dollars and he is entitled to vote; but before the next election the jackass dies. The man in the meantime has become more experienced, his knowledge of the principles of government, and his acquaintance with mankind, are more extensive, and he is the