We all know it, even if we don't often say it out loud.
Development corporations decide our land use policies: energy corporations make our energy policy, agribusiness corporations make our farm policies and finance corporations make our economic policies.
And they've been making them for a long, long time.
Meanwhile, as a result of those decisions, the world burns.
Scientists now predict a warming of the planet that may be irreversible and studies now document that 70 percent of all biodiversity on the planet has been extinguished. Four billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released into the atmosphere annually; 11 million people live within one mile of a Superfund site, and 700 industrial chemicals are now found within each of our bodies.
In fact, by almost all major environmental statistics, we're in worse shape now than before the adoption of the country's first major environmental laws more than 40 years ago.
It's not for lack of trying, is it? People watching the destruction of their communities have used all of the legal tools that the system has given them - appealing regulatory permits, challenging Environmental Impact Statements.
But it has all miserably failed to turn the boat around. And the boat is rapidly running aground.
Our activism has failed because the problem isn't coal, or incinerators, or sludge dumping, or factory farms - the problem is something much harder to get our hands around -- a system that recognizes the right of a small number of corporate decisionmakers to make decisions about energy, agriculture, transportation and waste management. A system that enforces those corporate decisions over ours; a system ingrained throughout our local, state and federal governments as a result of more than 200 years' worth of governmental gifts of "rights" and powers onto corporations.
If we're really interested in actually stopping the harms, we must recognize that structural changes are necessary - ones that permanently elevate community power above corporate power. Because without real, local control, we will never be able to move towards any semblance of sustainability.
Because this system is hopelessly locked down and beyond our control, so hopelessly dedicated to mowing down anything that stands in the way of the corporate mantra of "the endless production of more," we must seize the only governments we can - the ones that supposedly represent us, and turn them upwards against the other layers of government to force those other layers of government to change.
And change requires raw force. As author Derrick Jensen is fond of saying "...do we really think that Monsanto will stop Monsantoing because we ask nicely?"
What's tragic, of course, is that this structure places municipal corporations on the side of the corporations; and our elected officials become defenders of corporate "rights."
Which is what just happened in Bellingham. And it's not the first time that the City of Bellingham has reacted this way. The city acted to bar the healthy bay initiative, which sought waterfront cleanup; signed the contract with American Traffic Solutions -- the red light camera corporation -- to put traffic cameras into Bellingham.
The courts - programmed to keep municipalities from interfering with corporate "rights" - have created a myriad of ways in which citizen lawmaking can be prevented. The recent decision by Judge Snyder essentially allows any initiative to be challenged before an election, for any reason. So much for citizen lawmaking power - even when it's just about the right of the people simply to vote on an initiative.
If you want to stop getting abused, you have to change who makes the decisions that are abusive. And changing "who decides" means coming face-to-face with a structure of law that has been designed very carefully to eliminate the democratic process; and then openly and frontally challenge that system of law.
That's why the Community Bill of Rights has very little to do with coal - and everything to do with restoring the right of people to make decisions about what happens within their own communities.
Because right now, decision makers 2,000 miles away from Bellingham have more rights than we do. And if it stays that way, get ready for more of the same.
Retired professor of political science David Maas of Bellingham is a steering committee member of the No Coal! Political Action Committee. For more information about the organization, go online to coal-free-bellingham.org.