Let’s mount a civil rights campaign with Community Rights

In the wake of Ferguson, I’m writing to guage the interest in framing and running civil rights campaigns using the tools and platform that the Community Rights movement provides through local assertion and elevation of civil rights.  Ferguson boils, but every community suffers (perhaps more quietly) from the same underlying problems and tensions.

For people who are already on the same page about the flawed legal foundations of our civil rights laws and want to dive into specifics, feel free to jump to

  1. the discussion on what we can do and
  2. what a Community Bill of Rights looks like.

The legal problem with current civil rights laws

In our current national legal system, civil rights laws depend on commerce law as their source of authority and enforcement.  Our system views commerce as a more fundamental legal reality than civil rights.  In other words, we don’t recognize the civil rights of anything we don’t view as an economic unit of value.  Due to this dependency, when a conflict exists between the two, the more fundamental structure takes precedence and nullifies the civil rights.  Enforcement of rights depends on the ability to enforce commerce laws, which often puts various movements in artificial conflict with one-another (e.g., environmentalists filing amicus briefs in support of federal violation of civil rights).

Consider from our FAQ that [emphasis mine]:

Past civil rights gains have depended on the Commerce Clause for their constitutionality and enforceability, because the current US Constitution does not recognize, nor does it grant authority to protect, inherent and inalienable rights separately from commerce.  For example, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) supporters have stated concerns about the viability of the civil rights-based law[6] due to its dependence on the recently-limited Commerce Clause as the source of constitutional authority to enforce civil rights laws in the wake of United States v. Lopez.[7]  Two years later, United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000) struck down the civil rights remedy of VAWA because it “exceeded Congressional authority.” 

The actual text of the law read:

The text of the clause recognized the “right to be free from crimes of violence: All persons within the United States shall have the right to be free from crimes of violence motivated by gender.”

Our federal government does not and will not recognize this civil right, and as such, does not recognize gender violence as a priority issue to address in our society.  More fundamentally, it does not have the legal authority to even consider it a priority.  Our government also has no legal basis to prioritize civil rights above commercial activity.  As such, our government will either directly violate or support the violation of civil rights wherever it appears that commerce benefits.

Consider this in the context of the violence occurring in our nation:  both police and non-police shootings are gender-motivated. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackson-katz/men-gender-gun-violence_b_2308522.html)  The majority of violence in our nation falls into two categories:  men harassing and assaulting other men, or men harassing and assaulting others who don’t identify or appear as heteronormative men (including women and LGBTQ people).  The common theme, though, is that most perpetrators are men, and most violent crimes are motivated by gender.  Consider the racial tensions in the nation right now:  How many of those shootings involved women?  We’re talking about situations almost invariably involving male cops targeting black men or boys.

If we do not have the right to be free from crimes of violence motivated by gender in our society, we simply do not have the right to be free from crimes of violence, let alone the fact that we lack a basis to hold perpetrators of such crimes accountable.

What do we do?

We don’t need to wait to address the violence at its roots.  All it takes is for us to decide that we won’t wait any longer for someone else to make violence a priority and fix the issue for us.  The community rights movement presents us with an option for a legal system where everything else in our law and society derives from inherent, inalienable rights.  To create a more fundamentally just system takes work on every level of that system, including — but not limited to — a fundamental rewrite of our nation’s constitution (which amounts to more comprehensive rights protections and centering them at the core of our society’s law, a foundation upon which all other laws are based).

Community rights gives us a platform to address this and other egregious and outstanding civil rights issues on local (city, county) levels without needing to wait for state and federal governments to catch up.  By confronting these issues locally, we start an important, action-oriented conversation about the fundamental nature of our society.  Furthermore, addressing rights on the local levels first ensures an engaged citizenry and helps push the higher levels of governemnt to fall into line with these basic principles of human rights, creating both the substance and structure for the much-needed rewrite of our nation’s constitution as a document representing the collective protections and liberties we, the people (inclusive!) believe everyone should have.  In this system, lower levels of government have the freedom to increase or elevate (but not to violate) rights protections as they please, leading to faster adoption of liberties and protections at the highest levels.

We can frame and run a community rights campaign that gives every resident of the county or city where we live the legal right to be free from violence (which is most often motivated by gender).  The issue of violence (or almost any other civil rights issue) can serve as a catalyst around which we can build a more comprehensive civil rights movement addressing many outstanding issues.  Together, these issues can become Community Bills of Rights that afford elevated civil rights protections to communities and their residents.

Work doesn’t stop at the local level.  It builds up to include work at the state and federal levels in parallel.  We start at local levels wherever we have traction, to address the issues that the state and federal governments won’t address even as we directly and frontally challenge those structures limiting or undermining civil rights work in America.  “Traction” in the case of community rights means an engaged community, not necessarily a ready and willing political establishment!  Because of this, we can create the traction necessary to succeed without having to compromise or play games with the corrupt political establishment.  Each campaign, win or lose, exposes and widens the cracks in the unjust foundations of our society’s legal structure, and moves us closer to the lasting change we demand, at the scale we demand, even as we create pockets of civil justice at local levels.

Homeless rights:  a human rights baseline

As an example sister issue, others have mentioned how homeless people lack rights simply by lacking (the means to have) a legal residence.  As a result, homeless people exist as second or even third class citizens, subjected to all sorts of harassment and other violence that they cannot avoid by virtue of being homeless.  But that same violence and harassment affects us all.  By establishing a homeless bill of rights, we increase protections for the entire population by establishing a solid baseline of human rights that does not require property ownership — a safety net for all of us!  Similarly, a focus on the rights of youth would also go a long way toward creating a peaceful, just and free community.

These are just some quick ideas of major donut holes in our civil rights laws, to start conversation.

We can move civil rights law forward, right now, to create a more just and more free society.  We don’t have to wait for the state or federal governments or ask for permission to do it.  We just do it.  We, the people, lead, they follow.  What do you say?

What would a Community Bill of Rights look like?

It would first and foremost enact the legal civil rights protections that we seek to recognize or elevate, whatever we decide those to be.

Second, there are several things the Bill of Rights must do to protect those laws:

  1. It must describe how the above laws are not subject to federal or state pre-emption because they elevate rights protections
  2. It must strip corporations and all other fictitious entities of any claim to legal personhood so that they do not abuse and hijack such civil rights protections for nefarious purposes that ultimately violate the rights of real persons and communities
  3. It must describe how the rights are self-enforcing, rather than relying on commerce law as their basis for existence.

Community Rights and Food Justice

Mari Margil, Associate Director of CELDF, writes into the New York Times:

Communities are asking whether we really have democracy if we don’t have the authority to decide how our food is grown and what food we eat. They are no longer willing to wait for answers from the top. Instead, they’re planting the seeds of a new democracy movement beginning at the grass roots.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/01/opinion/beyond-foodie-its-about-our-values.html?_r=1

Agricorporations worldwide comprise the new face of colonialism.  The British East India Company — a virtual corporate subsidiary of the English government — had the responsibility of stripping India of its industrial independence and strength, just to make the colony completely dependent on British textiles.  To accomplish this, East India Company thugs raped, pillaged and plundered.  This included cutting off the hands and thumbs of Indian Master Weavers (which led to the disappearance of one of the world’s finest fabrics, muslin), and, in one case, raping, pillaging, plundering and sacking an entire town of 5,000 people, and then subsequently erasing that town from the historical record.

As John Oliver says,

Being British is a bit like being an alcoholic…when someone says you did something aweful, you find yourself going, ‘honestly, i don’t even remember doing that, but probably…sorry, sorry’

So what does this have to do with Monsanto, per se?  Thanks to its colonial legacy of resource and wealth extraction (a benefit that Great Britain enjoys to this day), the Indian subcontinent remains largely impoverished and bereft of its incredibly rich small-scale artisan community.  Part of the British strategy was to transform India from an industrial power into an agricultural colony completely dependent on the English economy:

In 1813, the British decided that India should no longer be an industrial nation (which it had been a leader since the earliest records) but an agricultural nation and colony of an industrialized England! British goods were sold in India and Indian goods were gradually replaced.


They took raw materials from Bangla and sold industrial products from Britain back to the Bengali people. The Muslin still caused a threat for sale of British fabric and so the weavers were forced to stop producing Muslin or passing on their skill to their children. To enforce these thumbs of the weavers were cut off.

So, here we stand, today, with India serving largely an agricultural export nation and virtual economic colony of the Global North, but not by its own designs.  This, apparently, wasn’t good enough, though.  US multinational corporations have found a way to intensify the exploitation and resource extraction.  Vandana Shiva writes about how Monsanto now controls 95% of India’s cotton seed:

The entry of Monsanto in the Indian seed sector was made possible with a 1988 Seed Policy imposed by the World Bank, requiring the Government of India to deregulate the seed sector.  Five things changed with Monsanto’s entry:

  1. First, Indian companies were locked into joint-ventures and licensing arrangements, and concentration over the seed sector increased.
  2. Second, seed which had been the farmers’ common resource became the “intellectual property” of Monsanto, for which it started collecting royalties, thus raising the costs of seed.
  3. Third, open pollinated cotton seeds were displaced by hybrids, including GMO hybrids. A renewable resource became a non-renewable, patented commodity.
  4. Fourth, cotton which had earlier been grown as a mixture with food crops now had to be grown as a monoculture, with higher vulnerability to pests, disease, drought and crop failure.
  5. Fifth, Monsanto started to subvert India’s regulatory processes and, in fact, started to use public resources to push its non-renewable hybrids and GMOs through so-called public-private partnerships (PPP).


Monsanto’s seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties, and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures has created a context for debt, suicides and agrarian distress which is driving the farmers’ suicide epidemic in India. This systemic control has been intensified with Bt cotton. That is why most suicides are in the cotton belt.

So we see that Monsanto’s current activities in India piggyback on and further intensify the exploitation that started with British colonialism.  The final kicker:  Monsanto, having completed its “proof of concept” for a colonial model of industrialized agricultural resource extraction, now has turned its sights back to the US and has began targeting domestic farmers:

Monsanto dedicates $10 million a year and 75 staffers for the sole purpose of investigating and prosecuting farmers, suing an average of 11 farmers per year.

93 percent of soybeans, 88 percent of cotton, and 86 percent of corn in the US are grown from Monsanto’s patented seeds.

Sound familiar?  The government and the US legal system (a system derived from English Common Law, coincidentally) all serve an elite few who use large, multinational corporations and corporate collusion with government to accomplish the exploitation and resource extraction that defines their business models.

Community Rights gives natural and human communities and persons a new form of democratic society and values that put the rights of people and planet before corporate profits wherever they conflict.  Sounds like it’s high time for a global democratic revolution!  Anyone who has found that their city, county, state and federal governments sabotage the health, safety and welfare of persons and communities in order to protect the commercial interests of an elite minority can benefit from rebel lawmaking to create a new democratic society where human rights and the rights of nature always have highest priority in the eyes of the law.

Film event: Cherokee Word for Water

Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader announced the screening of The Cherokee Word for Water, a film about the revival and empowerment of the Cherokee nation and the rise of first woman chief of the modern Cherokee nation.  Even the distribution model for the film fits its purpose, as a grassroots tool to support further community organizing efforts.  This film embodies the same spirit of local self governance and community empowerment of the community rights movement.

Check out the link above for the trailer and for ways to organize your own local screening, and the info below to get your tickets to the Portland screening.

A significantly important Native American film is in Portland!

The Ecotrust Trust of Oregon is screening Cherokee Word for Water Wednesday, June 18th, at the Hollywood Theater, in Portland.

Reception: 6:00-6:45 PM

Screening: 7:30-9:00 PM

Q&A with Charlie Soap, director and producer, and Kristina Kiehl, producer, will follow the screening.

Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for children. Click HERE for tickets

The Cherokee Word For Water is a feature-length motion picture inspired by the true story of the struggle for, opposition to, and ultimate success of a rural Cherokee community (living in property) to bring running water to their families by using the traditional concept of “gadugi “– working together to solve a problem.

Set in the early 1980s, The Cherokee Word For Water begins in the homes of a rural Oklahoma community where many houses lack running water and others are little more than shacks. After centuries of being dehumanized and dispossessed of their land and identity, the Cherokee people no longer feel they have power or control over their lives or future.

Based on the true story of the Bell Waterline Project, the movie is about a community coming together to improve its life condition. Led by Wilma Mankiller, who went on to become the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation, and fullblood Cherokee organizer, Charlie Soap, they join forces and build nearly twenty miles of waterline using volunteers. In the process, they inspire the community to trust each other and reawaken universal indigenous values of reciprocity and interconnectedness.

The successful completion of the waterline sparked a movement of similar self-help projects across the Cherokee nation and in Indian country that continues to this day.

Please join us on June 18th to see this Native American film. It is a truly a beautiful and inspiring true story!


Wolf PAC and progressive conservatism

Wolf PAC is one of many political organizations working in the name of democracy for much-needed constitutional amendments to declare that corporations are not, in fact, persons and do not have rights.  A common goal with community rights, albeit a very different strategy.

This post looks at the disconcerting language that I see Wolf PAC often (and unnecessarily) use to promote their cause.  It in no way invalidates the necessity of what they do as a sister movement of community rights work!   From their web page, they state (emphasis mine):

We must reverse Citizens United, Restore our Democracy, and Save the Republic.

To restore true, representative democracy in the United States

Restore and save whatnow?  A volunteer for the Wolf PAC has something similar in his email signature:

Fighting for free and fair elections to restore representative democracy.

This begs the question, and pardon me if this seems harsh, but (in bold and all caps) AT WHAT POINT IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES DID WE ACTUALLY HAVE A TRUE REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY?

What or when exactly are we “restoring” our system to?  Can someone please enlighten me?  Was it before 1920, when women couldn’t vote?  The Federal Government granted imaginary personhood to corporations (1886) before it acknowledged the real personhood of women (1920).  Did we have a functional representative democracy at the founding of the nation, when women and people of color were property rather than persons under law?  Or maybe we might blame representative democracy for the fact that the federal government has broken every single one of the over 500 treaties it has made with Native Americans, even treaties that had popular support at local and state levels?  I challenge someone to provide a historically-complete answer to this question.  I think an intellectually honest answer will simply state,

We have yet to achieve a true, representative democracy.  We’re working on it!

In contrast, blind appeal to a nonexistant stage in our history where the US legal system somehow worked as a “representative democracy” implies that it is our duty to “restore” it to a working state to “save” the republic.   But how can we “restore” or “save” something that never really existed in the first place?  Hence, progressive conservatism —  A romantic notion, and not even remotely accurate.

Instead, progressive conservatism serves the same powerful groups who shaped our nation’s laws in the first place, protecting their interests to the exclusion (or even detriment) of the general public welfare.  Our system works the way the framers designed it to work:  to cover up the core of a “limited monarchy” that “gives the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government” with a few token facades of representative democracy.  Nothing new.  The fight for representative democracy dates back thousands of years, to the origin of imperial control and the first struggles against tyranny and oppression.  This legacy leaves us with the struggle to decolonize ourselves from serving and recreating “limited monarchies.”

We must ask ourselves:  Do we really want to save or restore a “limited monarchy?”  Or do we just want to create an actual, representative democracy that exists to protect the inherent, inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons?

Fortunately, the marketing language and taglines that Wolf PAC and associated individuals use have little actual bearing on the substance of their work.  That said, why not say something catchy, succinct, and also historically accurate like,

Fighting for representative democracy and the republic for which it stands

Here’s another example that uses common phrases in a historically-accurate way and also better describes Wolf PAC’s work to newcomers:

We must protect the people’s right to representative democracy through free and fair elections by reversing Citizens United and reforming campaign finance

We could also simply substitute “restore” and “save” with words like “create.”

Such discussions help us keep sight of the big picture goal:  the democratic development of society.  The community rights movement stands in the thick of that fight as well, where hundreds of communities across the United States rewrite American constitutional law to elevate the right of local, community self-government above corporate “rights” and powers.  The result?  A representative democracy, grassroots, from the ground up.   Not perfect, but so much better than what we’ve got.

We need every gain we can get.  I hope Wolf PAC fails miserably in any attempts to “restore” or “save” the limited monarchy of elite rule we’ve toiled under for centuries, in order that they may succeed in moving us closer toward a true representative democracy through their actual, stated goals of eliminating corporate personhood and campaign finance reform through constitutional amendment.  Wolf PAC’s success will grease the wheels of democracy for the benefit of  all US citizens!

Natural Allies: Raw Milk, Big Brother and You

The people working to legalize their right to purchase and consume raw milk are up against a juggernaut of a system. It’s a useful lens through which to view the structural issues at play and realize the importance of the Community Rights movement in attaining fundamental victories.


Using this average of 42 illnesses per year, we can show, using government figures, that you are about 35,000 times more likely to become ill from other foods than you are from raw milk.

But why should the FDA let the facts get in the way of its promotion of the (clearly more dangerous) corporate food system? It’s like saying, “don’t walk — there’s a risk that you’ll fall over and crack your head on the concrete. You’d better drive, instead, for safety.” When we all know that motorized vehicle accidents are far more frequently severe and deadly than tripping and falling on the sidewalk (which, like anything, does have its associated risks).

Yet, the FDA “reserves the right” (sic; government agencies in democracies have no rights; only delegated responsibilities) to prosecute individuals and groups who transport raw milk across state lines:

The assertion that raw milk poses any inherent public health threat has no basis in any research. Period. I would never drink raw milk from a factory-farmed (CAFO) operation, but to claim that CAFOs are proof of any inherent danger of raw milk is like saying that all transportation is unsafe because an automobile manufacturer designed an unsafe car.  The mode of production has everything to do with safety.

The authority to prosecute people who infringe the 1987 ban on raw milk comes from the Commerce Clause, which gives the federal government unlimited power to regulate citizen activity:

the commerce clause power extends not just to activity withheld from the economy, but to inactivity, to mere existence itself…We see how the term “totalitarian” is not hyperbole. According to the system’s laws, courts, and constitutional interpretations, there is literally nothing the government cannot order us to do or not to do under the commerce clause


The Commerce Clause was strengthened by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Wickard v Filburn case, but the Supreme Court itself is part of the problem — it was designed by the Framers of the US Constitution as a way to reassert the principle rule of monarchy found in English government in the 16th-17th centuries. At that time, the Crown had uncontested authority to make and interpret law, and supreme authority over the actions of all other branches of government. By the time the Framers got to work on the US Constitution, the authority of the English Crown had eroded to a mutual veto with the Legislature. Yet the Framers went back in time to the system they wanted, to prop up the interests of an elite ruling class, and created a new monarchy in the form of the Federal Government, couching it in a facade of democratic principles. (ref J. Allen Smith’s Spirit of American Government)

Today in England, the courts operate completely under democratic rule of the people. In contrast, we have yet to challenge the foundations of our own neo-monarchical system of US governance on two fronts:

  1. Pre-emption — the idea that all “lower” (local) forms of government are merely administrative vessels of the Crown (or Federal government), which retains all final authority over the policies, actions and behavior of its subjects. The Commerce Clause is but one example of this system at work.
  2. Supreme Court Authority — the idea that we have a supreme decision-making body, which in effect may make and interpret law as it sees fit without any democratic accountability whatsoever. No matter the law created, the Supreme Court may render it null, or reinterpret and pervert its application to suit the continued rule of an elite minority.

Thus, the Courts have (and have used) their supreme authority to apply civil rights laws to corporations, giving legal fictions such as governments and corporations the gift of legal personhood and the de facto ability to run roughshod over the inherent rights of real people and communities, both natural and human. All it takes is for the ruling elite to use their immense resources to bring cases to the court until they get the decision they want. Then the system of precedent helps the perverse interpretation of law become permanent — at least as permanent as the system that brought the perversion into existence in the first place.

These are structural issues — no amount of work within our current system of law and governance will effectively address the moral and ethical trespasses of this system. The democratically-elected Legislature has no legal authority to challenge or escape this system. Everything they do exists within the context of pre-emption — that is, the anti-democratic imposition of non-local authorities on local communities. When they attempt to do something truly democratic, it is subject to the nullification of other two branches (who may use veto powers for other purposes as well).

The Executive branch feeds off of pre-emption and its authority to appoint the Supreme Court, and continues to become more powerful with each new administration. We have, in effect, a two branch system of government: Executive and Judicial. These two branches, together, form an anti-democratic system of aristocratic rule, a neo-monarchy.  Until we change this fact, we will find elite ruling minorities increasingly violating the rights of people, communities and nature. We will find them usurping our supposed-existing rights protections for their own purposes.

The solution?

  1. Reject the system. Start a community rights group in your area. Affirm your beliefs that rights are inherent in the people, and inalienable. We cannot create or destroy rights, we can only recognize and protect or violate them. The government cannot give us our rights — it can only recognize and protect or violate them. Reject any element of the government that fails to recognize or protect our inherent and inalienable rights.
  2. Provoke and frontally challenge the totalitarian constitutional legal system. Reject the authoritarian system first at the local levels. Show the people who and what we’re really dealing with. Drive local laws into power that assert the inherent, inalienable rights of people and the rights of communities to local self-governance to protect their health, safety and welfare; recognize the inherent and inalienable rights of nature; and strip governments and corporations of their claimed “rights.” Use the tools of the existing system wherever they help the cause, and use extra-legal means wherever necessary to do what is fundamentally moral, just and necessary.
  3. Work together with other localities doing the same — no matter the rights they assert and elevate. One locality might focus on second amendment, another might focus on environment, another on food, another on shelter. What matters is the grassroots, democratic precedent these actions set. Once a single rights-elevation ordinance passes, it serves as a trojan horse, breaks open the system’s defenses and renders it increasingly vulnerable to democratic authority EVERYWHERE. In fact, that’s part of the beauty of an authoritarian system — it tends toward retaining the same, systemic vulnerabilities under various jurisdictions subject to its authority.
  4. Amend or rewrite the state constitutions to recognize the validity of the local democratic challenges to the system through clauses recognizing the rights of nature, that rights are inherent and inalienable, and that as a result, communities have an inherent right to self-governance. Amend when practical; rewrite when necessary. Continue resisting at the local level. Courts will rule against us. Ignore them, don’t back down. Don’t apologize. Dissent. Create facts of resistance on the ground. Remember: legal does not equal moral or just. Abolitionists and suffragists were charged with crimes, too.
  5. Repeat at the federal level, to protect the ground gained at the local and state levels: create another constitutional convention to rewrite it (amendment to address structural flaws is impractical — the Framers designed the process to be nearly-impossible).  Don’t ask for permission of the corrupt system to change it.

Why do we work at the local level first? Because we want a democracy that exists solely for the purpose of rights protections. If we worked at the federal level, we’d be reinforcing the very system of top-down, pre-emptive and anti-democratic authoritarianism we are trying to change. We’d be asking a corrupt system to change itself. We ask for nothing. We demand nothing, we ask for no permission from the system, governments or corporations alike. We just do it.

When we fight for a right to access raw milk in this way, we are not only using historically-proven tactics and strategies, we are fighting for much more than just raw milk. We fight for a system of law that is more just, sustainable, and free. We fight for a better world for ourselves and our children.

Other questions? Check out our FAQ.

Natural Allies: The NRA

Question: What came first, the right to bear arms, or the government’s recognition of that right?

Cam’s Answer (responding to Supreme Court Justice Stevens’ proposed change to the 2nd Amendment):

…the right to keep and bear arms of individual American citizens has existed throughout this country’s history and in fact predates the founding of this nation.

The oft-debated 2nd Amendment reads as follows:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

By framing the 2nd Amendment to tie the right to bear arms to a theoretical “well-regulated militia” that serves to uphold a nonsensical “secure and free state” rather than a “secure and free people,” Madison (the drafter of the Bill of Rights) immediately undermined the very fighting force and spirit that led to the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence in the first place.

The Revolutionaries didn’t fight to free their government — they fought to free the people. States are governments. Governments do not hold rights, and therefore can have neither “freedom” nor “security.” Governments have an inherent responsibility, rather, to protect the people’s inherent and inalienable rights to security and freedom, or at the very least not threaten such rights through direct or indirect means.

Later in the same interview, Steve Halbrook argues that standing military forces are antithetical to liberties and rights:

“The military force is a command society. You take orders, you have no right…You don’t have choices…it’s inconsistent with the military force to have a right [to bear arms], it’s like saying you have a right to free speech the same as you would in civil society…you don’t.”

The original Articles of Confederation did not have a standing army. Even in war time, the revolutionary sentiments about domestic liberty were so vibrant as to recognize the direct threat to liberty that a standing army poses. It makes logical sense: Why should we worry about external threats to liberty if we have let internal threats to liberty run rampant by giving them legal permanence?

Let’s explore what a 2nd Amendment more in line with freedom and liberty might look like…and while we’re at it, let’s update the language to make it easier to read:

To secure the freedom of the people against oppression and tyranny, the right of the people to keep and bear arms and form militias for their common defense shall not be infringed.

The above, as framed, is an inherent, inalienable right that the people must declare, assert and drive into law.  We cannot expect the government to recognize such a right, because as an authoritarian entity, it recognizes such rights only as a threat to its authority and control.  Whereas the previous iteration of the 2nd Amendment arbitrarily anoints the government with the power to “call forth the militia” in service of the government, this iteration clearly articulates the inherent rights of persons to organize for their common defense. At the risk of being a broken record, the government doesn’t have rights, and therefore doesn’t need protection. The people, however, do, on both accounts.  As a result, we must force a structural shift to a democratic form of government.

We must also bear in mind that rights cannot violate other rights.  Although we, the people have an inherent and inalienable right to bear arms and form militias for our common defense, we have no right or basis to do so for the purpose of or in a manner that violates the inherent, inalienable rights of others (e.g., for the purpose of intimidation or discrimination). When we base law around the recognition, elevation and protection of inherent and inalienable rights, we acheive a natural balance of liberty under the rule of law.  In other words, grassroots democratic structures depend upon the recognition of the inherent rights of people — the one cannot exist without the other.


The NRA and supporters seems on-board with the idea of inherent, inalienable rights, and that they apply to real people, not legal fictions like governments and corporations.  The above rewritten 2nd Amendment could become local law as part of a larger Community Bill of Rights, with NRA support.  Within the context of the community rights movement, we would then assert communities’ general rights to local, self-governance at the state and federal levels, ultimately providing much stronger 2nd Amendment protections than the current top-down authoritarian system provides.  It localizes the debate over gun control, which allows flexibility for different communities to decide how they need to address the issue based on their specific needs without challenging the needs of other communities.

There also seems to be an innate inclination and sympathy toward the concept of local self-governance (respect the land and wildlife, turn in poachers, abide by a code of ethics) — perhaps because it parallels the common 2nd Amendment supporters refrain for responsible gun ownership. That sentiment is unsurprising, considering both the NRA’s founding purpose of education and history as a leading voice in safe and effective gun use, and that the repercussions of irresponsible behavior are immediate: the power is in our hands, and when we don’t use it responsibly, we — or those whom we love — get hurt.

This risk mirrors almost every inherent right: as a form of power, it comes with inherent responsibilities. The difference is that the negative feedback with gun operation is very physical, sudden and traumatic (whereas, for example, it might take us decades or even generations to recognize how we’ve ruined our freshwater supplies). As a result, we have a very powerful ethical argument for 2nd amendment rights: that they are a means for us to learn the importance of taking all rights — and their attached responsibilities — very seriously.  Again, the NRA could be a powerful leader in helping to promote this message among the people.

The discussion of ethics also relates to advocacy for the rights of nature: hunters (and anglers) who depend on a population must respect and abide by the Predator/Prey Bargain, which Derrick Jensen (via Endgame) describes as follows:

If I consume the flesh of another I am responsible for the continuation of its community.

I’ve found that most hunters I’ve known consider the above statement obvious or even self-evident, whereas most non-hunters I’ve known have difficulty grasping the concept.

The NRA seems to be no friend of the Supreme Court, which has ruled against their interests for decades.  This makes sense, given that second amendment rights — the right of the people to physically defend themselves from direct threats to their liberty — are essentially the last line of defense for the protection of all other inherent and inalienable rights and liberties. If we let our “last line of defense” fall, then everything else starts to dominoe. Imagine, for example, if the Mohawk people who lived through the Oka Crisis didn’t have access to arms. The town of Oka would have siezed the Mohawk land — whom the Mohawk people consider to be their mother — to expand a golf course in an act that the Mohawk people see as the rape of their mother. The Mohawks clearly did not want a war — but the physical intrusion forced them to set a physical boundary to protect their inherent and inalienable rights, and the rights of their mother.

What seems to be missing from much of the NRA analysis is how the US Constitution and even the Bill of Rights was expertly and deliberately Framed (e.g., by Madison, Hamilton and co) to cause both an immediate and gradual erosion of liberties (through steady increase in rights violations) in favor of the privileges of an elite few, whose interests are now represented more than ever through the rule of corporations directly and by proxy through US institutions of government (ref, for example, ALEC’s development of the ACCE).   It would be nice to see more evidence of the NRA condemning people who use guns to kill for fun and entertainment — especially if they are NRA members.  Any NRA silence on these issues taints their otherwise-strong moral arguments in favor of the right to bear arms.

Still, there’s lots of opportunity for mutual collaboration. Under the current frame of law, the Commerce Clause and Supreme Court enables infringement on 2nd amendment rights, creating a constant need for the NRA to lobby, which diverts resources away from education and safety programming. What might a government that exists for the purpose of protecting inherent and inalienable rights look like?  We invite the NRA to explore this question with us.

Radical Women: The Meaning of May Day

May Day, otherwise known as International Workers’ Day, commemorates the lives lost from the Chicago Haymarket Affair in the struggle for inherent and inalienable rights.  It represents the attempts of workers to peaceful struggle and protest in pursuit of a more-than-reasonable demand for an 8-hour workday and right to organize, against the capricious efforts of the corporatized government to break the movement.  Strikers, anarchist activists and policemen alike all lost their lives in a struggle created by a few wealthy powerbrokers and their cronies.

Radical Women describes the historical and current significance of this event in a newsletter, reproduced in part below.  We live in a world where people still lose their lives to the trespass and exploitation of an elite ruling class who value their pursuit of profit over the liberty of human and natural communities and future generations, and who have created systems of law and governance to support the rule of such thugs.

The recent unjust imprisonment of Nestora Salgado serves as case in point, and a reminder of why the Community Rights movement exists:  our lives and liberty depend on our struggle to acheive fully-democratic legal systems and governments that exist to recognize and protect the inherent and inalienable rights of nature, people and communities.  To this end, we must be unstoppable — we have no other choice.

Happy May Day!

Below is a wonderful statement on the meaning of this international working-class holiday issued by the Freedom Socialist Party (Radical Women’s sister organization) and an article on the immigrant experience by LA Radical Women member Karla Alegria. These writings capture the militant spirit of May Day – hope you agree!

Margaret Viggiani
Radical Women

May Day 2014

Clasping Hands across Borders

The May Day holiday that is now celebrated all over the world, known as International Workers’ Day in many places, was born in the struggle of U.S. anarchists, socialists, and other radicals for the eight-hour day, a fight that often cost these brave workers their lives. The campaign was led largely by European immigrants to the U.S., fleeing poverty and persecution in countries like Germany, Ireland, and Italy.

Many of the fiercest and most important working-class battles today are also led by immigrants and refugees. They come from every corner of the globe, displaced by war, oppression, ruinous “free trade” policies and neoliberalism, and climate change. Many bring a radical perspective with them; others are radicalized by the experience of being a stranger in a strange and often hostile land.

Their fights for dignity and justice lift the prospects for all working people everywhere, and for that they are owed solidarity and support. From destitute villages in Africa to the battleground streets of Syria and the shantytown favelas of Brazil, there is no such thing as a local or national struggle any longer. Global capitalism ties us all together, for good and for ill.

Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the imprisonment of Mexican-born indigenous leader Nestora Salgado, a naturalized U.S. citizen, and the international fight to free her. Salgado was arrested in Mexico because she headed a community police force defending the people from corrupt politicians, deadly drug-runners, and exploitation by foreign mining companies. The movement for her release is gaining steam on several continents.

In a May Day article in 1941, the “Rebel Girl” Elizabeth Gurley Flynn wrote:

“Only workers are forbidden to be internationalists. It’s perfectly proper for J. P. Morgan and Henry Ford; for the bankers, the munitions trusts, the chemical companies. … Only the clasped hands of the workers across the boundaries are struck down in every country.”

On May Day this year, the Freedom Socialist Party, in common cause with lovers of freedom all around the world, recommits ourselves to defying that injunction against international solidarity and to striking forward in pursuit of an end to exploitation everywhere. We publish below a column from the Freedom Socialist telling one story of that pursuit, of the millions across the globe. [Ed. — read the article here]