Losing our freedoms

Losing our freedoms

This weekend we will celebrate the Fourth of July or Independence Day. This date commemorates the passage of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, ending a “monarchy” with the rebirth of liberty.

The term liberty means “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed on one’s way of life, behavior or political views.” Some examples of liberty, often labeled specifically as civil liberties, include but are not limited to freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right to equal treatment under the law and the right to own property.

If we look back at history, it is not hard to find countless examples when people were not afforded these basic rights. Ironically, the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court case found that African Americans were not persons but property.

Frederick Douglas later pointed out “we the people” didn’t differentiate between color of said people. The Japanese citizens lost their property and freedom during their interment period of WWII. The true indigenous people of our nation, the Native Americans, were not declared citizens until 1924. They lost their land, their lives and entire cultures from white colonization.

In rural regions the most prevalent complaint of many people when it comes to freedoms and rights is the infringement on the right to bear arms, or the 2nd Amendment. This amendment, which has multiple interpretations, has been defended numerous times, even at the Supreme Court level.

A 2018 Small Arms Survey reported U.S. civilians alone “account for 393 million civilian-held firearms—46% of the worldwide total.” The debate on firearms and violence in our country continues to be ongoing with no end in sight; however, what really puzzles me is how many people advocate for gun rights while idly watching other rights, ascribed to us by the constitution, disappear on a daily basis. Today our freedoms and rights are being systematically removed in state and federal court houses every day.

Our country finds itself in a precarious position. It appears that while we have freed ourselves of the monarchy in 1776, we are now descending into an oligarchy. An oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people: these people being distinguished by characteristics of fame, wealth, education, corporate, religious and political or military control.

The government cited by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address as “of the people, by the people and for the people” has all but disappeared. Instead, we find in so many areas of our lives, personal control has been usurped by corporations that have been allowed greater rights than “the people.”

This idea was advanced by the 14th Amendment, and according to historian Eben Moglen, “From the moment the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868, lawyers for corporations wanted to use that 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection to make sure the states didn't unequally treat corporations.” The sad truth today is legislation has afforded corporations many of the same rights found in our Bill of Rights, and often their rights supersede the rights of individuals.

How did we get here? How did we become a country where pipelines take and destroy citizens’ land using eminent domain as a defense? How did Ohio become a state that allows right-wing organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council to write laws to prosecute citizens who exercise their freedom to protest oil and gas infrastructure as in Ohio’s SB 33? Or HB 242 that prohibits cities from banning single-use plastics?

How did we allow a group like the Heritage Foundation to spend millions of dollars rolling out over 250 bills nationwide to restrict access to voting? The most ridiculous of all making it illegal to distribute bottled water to voters waiting in lines in Georgia.

One question I often get asked after some of my environmental presentations is what can we do to stop the destruction of our planet? I recall this powerful quote from Ansel Adams, “It is horrifying when you have to fight your own government to save the environment.”

Unfortunately, this is what we often find ourselves doing: fighting our government on the local, state and federal levels to represent “we the people” rather than having corporations become their clients.

Citizens United has opened the door to corporate money influencing politics in our country. The case of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission in 2010 ruled that “due to free speech, government is prohibited from restricting independent expenditures for political campaigns by corporations and PACs or political action campaigns.”

Now vulgar amounts of corporate money are being funneled into our political processes. Any transparency disappeared as “dark money,” contributions whose sources of funding can be secret, became the norm in ballot issues and local legislation.

Open Secrets reported in the past decade since the Citizens United ruling, “Election-related spending from nonparty independent groups ballooned to $4.5 billion.” The two decades prior saw spending just over $750 million.

Open Secrets also reported in 2020 that contributions from oil and gas companies to both parties was substantial. The Republicans in the House of Representatives received $13.6 million while Democrats got $3.5 million. In the Senate Republicans received $10 million while Democrats got $1.3 million. Now who do these politicians work for? Which bills do they support? You can bet their decisions favor pro-fossil fuel industries.

The debacle that resulted from Ohio’s HB 6 is a prime example of the outcome when money buys decisions. This bill referred to as the worst energy bill in history “subsidizes four uncompetitive power plants, removes all incentives to build more renewable energy projects and cancels efforts to help customers use less energy.”

According to an 82-page federal compliant filed last July, Larry Householder and his allies accepted “more than $60 million in bribe money from FirstEnergy Corporation to secure the company a $1.3 billion public bailout.”

Do politicians regret this recent scandal? Ohioans quickly found out the answer to this question. During a June 16 vote by house members to expel Householder from his Ohio office, 20 Republicans voted he shouldn’t be removed. This includes Brett Hillyer from Uhrichsville and Don Jones of Freeport.

In the U.S. we have an illusion of freedom. We base our success on increases in GDP with little regard to true happiness and freedom or the catastrophic effects of fossil fuels on our planet’s climate. We are told these corporations will “give us” jobs, but what they do is use our resources, our air, water and land and even our bodies to externalize their costs and wastes.

Demands for environmental justice are being crushed under a mountain of new laws that take away our rights to protest and protect ourselves. Until we reverse the Citizens United decision, corporations will have the best politicians their money can buy. It is unlikely the poor citizens of the U.S. will be able to secure any politicians who serve the people.

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