Suggested Reading…

CELDFs White Papers

CELDF’s Community Rights work is a paradigm shift. It moves away from unsustainable practices that harm communities by moving towards local self-government.

Community Rights Papers…

  1. The Spirit of ‘73 and the Right to Local Self-Government
    “ People have rights and corporations don’t. What we’re looking for is individual liberty and local control.”
  2. A Celebration of NIMBY: “Not in my backyard…not in ANY backyard!”
    “Not in my backyard . . . not in ANY backyard!”
  3. Firing Big Green
    “Even when we better regulate shale gas drilling, we’re still getting fracked.”
  4. American Independence
    “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.”
  5. The Fickleness of Democracy
    Citizens United wasn’t new — corporate constitutional “rights” have been recognized by the courts since 1819.
  6. The Myth of Community Rights
    Why recent community victories in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Kentucky over fracking haven’t changed the fundamental relationship between corporations and communities.
  7. Why Corporate “Rights” Matter
    While calls to “get big money out of politics” and to “make corporations accountable” are rampant nowadays, very few progressive organizations talk about the need to get rid of corporate “rights.”
  8. A Touch of Class
    This “Second American Revolution” looks a whole lot like the first — showing people that they don’t have what they thought they did . . .
  9. Drowning the Clean Water Act in the Constitution’s Bathtub
    The critical question is whether we can protect the environment under a constitutional framework that requires Congress to treat nature as interstate commerce.
  10. Paradise Lost
    A big part of colonization is about colonizing the law — taking native traditions and rules and replacing them with a U.S. system of law.
  11. Slaves in all but Name
    Communities today are faced not just with the behavior of individual corporations, but with a system of law that insulates corporate power from democratic control.
  12. Preempting Democracy
    The authority of a state legislature to nullify the authority of people at the local level to adopt certain laws.
  13. Breaking the Planet
    Ecosystem rights must be enforced against those causing global warming.
  14. Democratic Rights Matter
    Across the country we are seeing government efforts, often at the behest of corporations, to restrict the authority of “we the people” to the initiative.

Books & Articles

Learn more about the Community Rights Movement and the Rights of Nature through this list of reading materials by various authors.

Be the Change: How to Get What You Want in Your Community

by Thomas Linzey and Anneke Campbell, 2009

A revolutionary handbook that shows everyday citizens how to stand up and take control of their local governments. With assistance from the cutting-edge methodology of his Democracy School, this book will teach you how to achieve true self-governance and help provide ecosystems with the inalienable right to exist and flourish.

The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth

by Council of Canadians, Global Exchange & Fundacion Pachamama

This revolutionary new book reveals the path of a movement that is driving the cultural and legal shift that is necessary to transform our human relationship with nature away from being property-based and towards a rights-based model of balance. The book gathers the unique wisdom of indigenous cultures, scientists, environmental activists, lawyers, and small farmers to make a case for how and why humans must work to change our current structures of law to recognize that nature has inherent rights.

Gaveling Down the Rabble: How “Free Trade” Is Stealing Our Democracy

by Jane Anne Morris, 2008

Reveals a hidden source of the corporate power that has been steadily crushing our self governance: namely, the U.S. Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution, implemented by nine unelected Presidential appointees. Shows how environmental, labor and civil-rights cases using Commerce Clause arguments, rather than Constitutional Rights arguments, have distorted citizens’ rights by defining them in terms of their value to commerce.

Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail

 by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward

An excellent history of popular moments. The authors look at case studies from the Depression, Labor, the Civil Rights Movement, and the welfare movement to understand their causes, the external forces at play, what worked, and what didn’t. Important reading for any budding movement. 

Don’t Think of an Elephant 

by George Lakoff

If you want to understand how messaging and framing works, how conservatives and progressives think, and how we can communicate our message so that people can actually hear it, this is the book for you. 

What would Jefferson do? 

by Thom Hartmann

Hartman shows why democracy is not an aberration in human history, but the oldest, most resilient, and most universal form of government, with roots in nature itself. He traces the history of democracy in the United States, identifies the most prevalent myths about it, and offers an inspiring yet realistic plan for transforming the political landscape and reviving Jefferson’s dream before it is too late.

The Bottom Line or Public Health: Tactics Corporations Use to Influence Health and Health Policy, and What We Can Do to Counter Them

by William H. Wiist, Editor, 2010, Oxford University Press

When corporations claim the same citizenship rights as human citizens, they exercise an undue influence on health policy and democratic processes. Surprisingly, the same basic repertoire of tactics has been found to be employed by corporations to effect this influence, regardless of the specific industry at work. In this book, authors from around the world reveal the range of tactics used across the corporate world that ultimately favor the bottom line over the greater good. CELDF’s Mari Margil authored a chapter entitled “A New Democracy in Action.”

Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became “People” – And How You Can Fight Back

by Thom Hartmann

Unequal taxes, unequal accountability for crime, unequal influence, unequal control of the media, unequal access to natural resources—corporations have gained these privileges and more by exploiting their legal status as persons. How did something so illogical and unjust become the law of the land?

Americans have been struggling with the role of corporations since before the birth of the republic. As Thom Hartmann shows, the Boston Tea Party was actually a protest against the British East India Company—the first modern corporation. Unequal Protection tells the astonishing story of how, after decades of sensible limits on corporate power, an offhand, off-the-record comment by a Supreme Court justice led to the Fourteenth Amendment—originally passed to grant basic rights to freed slaves—becoming the justification for granting corporations the same rights as human beings. And Hartmann proposes specific legal remedies that will finally put an end to the bizarre farce of corporate personhood.

This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement

ed. by Sarah van Gelder et al.

The editors of YES! Magazine bring together voices from inside and outside Occupy Wall Street to convey the issues, possibilities, and personalities associated with the movement. Featuring contributions by CELDF’s Thomas Linzey, Naomi Klein, David Korten, Rebecca Solnit, Ralph Nader, and others, This Changes Everything offers insights for those actively protesting or expressing support for the movement, and for the millions more who sympathize with the goal of a more equitable and democratic future.

Should Trees Have Standing?: Law, Morality, and the Environment 

by Christopher D. Stone, 2010

This enduring work continues to serve as the definitive statement as to why trees, oceans, animals, and the environment as a whole should be bestowed with legal rights, so that the voiceless elements in nature are protected for future generations.

Citizens Over Corporations: A Brief History of Democracy in Ohio and Challenges to Freedom in the Future

by Ohio Committee on Corporations, Law and Democracy, 1999

Details how corporations were closely controlled by citizens and their elected representatives in the early decades of Ohio’s history; what legislative and judicial tools people used to control corporations; how corporations usurped more and more legal “rights”; the subsequent resistance from Ohio citizens; and ways to “rethink” the current relationship between “we the people” and corporations.

How Dams Fall –

By author Will Falk

“The Colorado River speaks,” Will Falk insists in How Dams Fall. Written while Falk was involved in the first-ever American federal lawsuit seeking personhood and rights of nature for a major ecosystem, the Colorado River, this essay, at once lyrical and analytical, explores the American cultural, and his personal, relationship with one of the world’s most famous―and most misunderstood―rivers.


Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy: A Book of History and Strategy

by Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD), edited by Dean Ritz, 2001

Asserts that corporate operatives have long wielded the Constitution to thwart the democratic self-governance championed by the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. A book of history, strategy and struggle. A collection of 73 essays, speeches, sermons and letters chronicles the work of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD).

Divided We Fall: The Story of the Paperworkers’ Union and the Future of Labor

by Peter Kellman, 2004

“An unflinching picture of workers fighting against overwhelming odds for justice in the workplace. As Peter Kellman tells it in these pages, workers even have to fight to keep the knowledge of their own struggles alive. This book is a milestone in preserving and sharing that knowledge.” – Howard Zinn

The Elite Consensus: When Corporations Wield the Constitution

by George Draffan, 2000

Describes how corporations leverage power through think tanks and business groups to form an undemocratic system of governance over citizens. Outlines the normal, everyday ways these institutions shape the national investment and political policies, portraying how a shadow system of corporate power effectively governs.

Fear at Work: Job Blackmail, Labor and the Environment

by Richard Kazis & Richard Grossman, 1991

Argues persuasively that to create an economically secure and environmentally sound America we must protect both jobs AND the environment; communities AND ecosystems. By exposing the practice of “ ob blackmail” for the manipulative tactic that it is, ‘Fear at Work’ removes the cloak of legitimacy from corporate threats.

Railroads and Clearcuts: Legacy of Congress’ 1864 Northern Pacific Railroad Land Grant

by Derrick Jensen & George Draffan, 1995

The legacy of Congress’s 1864 Northern Pacific Railroad Land Grant to railroad companies is one of corruption, abuse and lies. This is the story of the biggest land grant in American history – larger than 10 Connecticuts – to four railroad companies, how the timber companies got hold of huge forests to clearcut, and why these lands should be returned to their rightful owners – the American people.

The Santa Clara Blues: Corporate Personhood versus Democracy

by William Meyers, 2002

32 page pamphlet

Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice (2nd edition)

by Cormac Cullinan, Foreword by Thomas Berry, 2011

Explains how, if the community of life on Earth is to survive, a new understanding of nature and a new concept of legal systems are needed. Proposes a new approach or “Earth Jurisprudence” and gives practical guidance on how to begin moving towards it. Shows that this philosophy could help develop new legal systems that would foster human connections to nature.

The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America

by Lawrence Goodwyn, 1978

Offers new political language designed to provide a fresh means of assessing both democracy and authoritarianism today. American populism provides a perspective for this analysis because the agrarian revolt was the largest and most intense mass democratic movement in American history. The defeat of the Populists, coupled with the inability of 20th century Americans to generate an equivalent wide-ranging democratic movement, has had profound impact in our own times.

The Spirit of American Government – A Study of the Constitution: Its Origin, Influence and Relation to Democracy

by James Allen Smith

In this volume, the author undertakes to show that our constitutional system is not only undemocratic and out of harmony with the spirit of the twentieth century but is very largely answerable for the so-called evils of democracy. His first contention is that the framers of the federal constitution were conservative and extremely fearful of democracy, the fervor of the revolutionary days having made no impression on the staid and masterful men who composed the convention….Having crystallized their interests in the written document, the Fathers thereupon proceeded to protect the ruling minority forever by an amendment clause that made innovation practically impossible.” – Charles Beard, historian, Political Science Quarterly, March 1908

What the Anti-Federalists Were For: The Political Thought of the Opponents of the Constitution

by Herbert J. Storing

The Anti-Federalists, in Herbert J. Storing’s view, are somewhat paradoxically entitled to be counted among the Founding Fathers and to share in the honor and study devoted to the founding. “If the foundations of the American polity was laid by the Federalists,” he writes, “the Anti-Federalist reservations echo through American history; and it is in the dialogue, not merely in the Federalist victory, that the country’s principles are to be discovered.”

The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates

by Ralph Ketcham (editor)

The complete text of dissenting opinions of those who saw the Constitution as a threat are collected in this volume with Convention debates, commentaries, and lists that cross-reference to its companion Signet Classics volume “The Federalist Papers.”

How Wealth Rules the world: saving our communities and freedoms from the dictatorship of property 

By author Ben Price

CELDFs national organizing director, Ben Price, reveals that our constitution and legal system were intentionally designed to give more rights to the wealthy propertied class than the rest of us. Price exposes how this hamstrings our ability to effectively address a host of pressing social and environmental problems – and what we can do about it.


“Help! I’ve Been Colonized and I Can’t Get Up!”

by Jane Anne Morris

Morris gives an overview of Constitutional obstacles that face those of us in the US seeking to fashion a sustainable world.
She explains how the US Constitution most often and most effectively has been used to protect corporate persons — corporations not  human beings.

CELDF Statement: A New Civil Rights Movement: Liberating Our Communities from Corporate Control

A Pennsylvania Judge Holds That Corporations Are Not “Persons” Under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The People’s Right to Local Community Self-Government: Grant Township v. Pennsylvania General Energy Company 

This legal brief explains how the right of local, community self-government is not a new right, but one that is natural, inherent, and inalienable, belonging to the people. It is recognized in the history of the founding of this country – and yet our current legal system does not recognize that right or protect it. Instead, our legal system advances legal doctrines granting corporations “rights,” and state and federal preemption. This legal brief explains how and why such doctrines are incompatible with the people’s exercise of their right of local community self-government, and therefore, why those doctrines must give way to that right.

Statement on Efforts to Amend the U.S. Constitution following Citizens United – CELDF January 2012 

A great deal of activism has emerged in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. In that case, the Court declared that corporate First Amendment “free speech” rights were violated by federal law which limited corporate spending in elections. Following the ruling, several groups began working to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United. CELDF was invited to participate in those efforts based on our ongoing legislative work on corporate “rights.”… As the Legal Defense Fund has observed the national activism following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, we’ve declined to participate in proposed efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution for two main reasons. 

A Movement Diverted: How Corporations Neutralized Anti-Chain Store Campaigns Of the 1920s and 1930s

by Ben Price. March 9th, 2005

“Today, new passions against corporate chain stores are rising. But instead of beginning where the first anti-chain movement began, asserting the rights of self-governing people, today’s organizers start their fight where that earlier movement failed.”

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