Monday, October 23, 2006

"Democracy School" Workshops Challenge Corporate Rule

Time to Learn A New Strategy?

Ellen Hayes and Steve Kowal, two graduates of the Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program at Antioch University New England, have recently started a movement-building organization called Advocates for Community Empowerment (ACE). The mission of the organization is to help empower New England communities to go beyond conventional regulatory strategies and secure a truly democratic future by enacting enforceable by-laws and ordinances that place control in the hands of ‘we the people” while stripping corporations of their illegitimate power to usurp people's rights to a clean and healthy environment. This strategy has already been used to good effect in western Pennsylvania through the efforts of Tom Linzey and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).

As one of the activist training tools for learning to apply this new strategic model in various local communities, Ellen and Steve will soon begin offering the "Daniel Pennock Democracy School" weekend workshop developed by Tom Linzey of CELDEF and Richard Grossman, a founder of the Program on Cororations, Law, and Democracy (POCLAD). The "Daniel Pennock Democracy School" was named after a teenage Pennsylvania boy who died as a result of corporate land-applied sewage sludge and teaches the hidden histories of corporate power in this country and outlines CELDF's promising new strategy for making our people's movements much more effective at securing real democracy.

"Democracy School Changed Our Lives"

Ellen and Steve both come from corporate sales and business backgrounds, but each independently sought out Antioch’s Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program because of their concerns about the social and ecological consequences of a political economy dominated by transnational corporations. This concern only deepened for them when Hayes and Kowal were exposed to the work of Richard Grossman and Thomas Linzey in the EAOP's course on "Corporate Power, Globalization, and Democracy." As Hayes observes, “I nearly fell off my chair when I heard Richard Grossman speak at an event I was attending as part of my class project. It seemed as if the knot in my stomach and the confusion in my head resolved into an overarching understanding of how our society has come to its present condition.”

Inspired by their own attendance at a Democracy School soon after, Hayes and Kowal soon included the Democracy School's teacher training program with CELDF as part of their EAOP master’s course work. Now, with the formation of ACE, Hayes and Kowal are bringing this “revolutionary” strategy to northern New England.

As Steve Kowal explains: ”When I decided to begin my studies with the EAOP program my goal was to find a methodology of activism that would be rooted in fundamental change rather than in the endless “hamster wheel” environmental efforts to 'Stop this' or 'Save that.' When Steve Chase introduced me to the work of CELDF, I knew immediately their's was a strategy that could make a difference. I hope our work in New England with ACE provides inspiration and real aid to communities who want to preserve their way of life and their environment. We hope to inspire citizens by pulling back the veil of corporate power and empowering them to take progressive steps to assert their rights as 'we the people.' We hope our new movement-building efforts and our partnership with CELDF can spread this new organizing model throughout New England.”

The first couple of Democracy Schools to be taught by Ellen and Steve, with assistance from Tom Linzey and Richard Grossman, will focus on the concerns of activists from communities facing the adverse effects of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and incineration, particularly incineration of Construction and Demolition (C&D) debris. These Democracy Schools will be 16 hour intensive learning opportunities for community activists, selectmen and concerned citizens who want to enact positive, fundamental protection for their communities and environment. They will both explore the limits of conventional regulatory organizing and introduce participants to CELDF's new organizing model that helps empower citizens to confront the usurpation by corporations of the rights of communities, people, and the earth.

For more information on ACE, or bringing a Democracy School workshop to your community, visit ACE's new webpage. If you live outside of New England, you can also check out the webpage of CELDF as well.

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