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Open Letter to 15 of the Biggest Environmental NGOs

(Signed by over 400 grassroots leaders, sent 11-17-94, never answered)

In July of 1994, the leaders of 15 of the larger environmental groups sent a mass mailing to their joint membership about the sad state of the struggle to save the biosphere.

The following letter is a challenge to those leaders by a group of other environmental leaders. It asks them to change their focus to the real problem -- Corporate influence on legal systems world-wide.

173 grassroots leaders initially signed on to the letter and were then joined by about 240 more. Except for a polite reply from the Sierra Club, there has been no other response in word or deed.


Date: Thu, 10 Nov 94 15:45 EST
From: Richard Grossman, Peter Montague, Ward Morehouse
To: Leaders of the nation's 15 leading environmental groups
From: Signers listed at the end of this letter

Ted Dansen, President, American Oceans Campaign;
Roger E. McManus, President, Center for Marine Conservation;
Rodger Schlickeisen, President, Defenders of Wildlife;
Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, Executive Director, Environmental Action Foundation;
A. Jane Perkins, President, Friends of the Earth;
Barbara Dudley, Executive Director, Greenpeace USA, Inc.;
Jim Maddy, President, League of Conservation Voters;
Peter A.A. Berle, President and CEO, National Audubon Society;
Paul C. Pritchard, President, National Parks and Conservation Association;
Jay D. Hair, President and CEO, National Wildlife Federation;
John H. Adams, Executive Director, Natural Resources Defense Council;
Carl Pope, Executive Director, Sierra Club;
Victor M. Sher, President, Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund;
G. Jon Roush, President, Wilderness Society; and
Susan Weber, Executive Director, Zero Population Growth:

We are responding to your "Dear Environmentalist" letter of mid-July, which you sent to the combined membership of your groups.

We would like very much to meet with you about the problems you raised. We want to talk about something your letter did not mention: the source of these problems.

Some of us are associated with national environmental organizations, while others are actively engaged in community struggles for environmental justice and democracy. We are of diverse colors and backgrounds, live in different regions, and include trade union and religious and electoral activists, as well as survivors of industrial disasters, and shareholder rights advocates.

In your letter, you wrote:

"...we have never faced such a serious threat to our environmental laws in Congress. Polluters have blocked virtually all of our efforts to strengthen environmental laws...[and] they are mounting an all-out effort to weaken our most important environmental laws."

We know this is true. We also know that while such assaults are under way in Congress, people in neighborhoods across the country are suffering injuries to health and life -- from chemicals, radiation, incinerators, power plants, clear cutting, highway building, disinvestment, and so forth. We also know that dignified jobs doing socially-useful work at fair pay are scarce and getting scarcer; that wages are declining; that democracy is too often a delusion at local, state and federal levels.

And we know that nature is under attack, that many species, ecosystems and wilderness areas have been ravaged.

What prompts us to send this letter to you is our conviction that you have not identified those subverting Congress as our real adversaries in the struggle to save our communities and the natural world: the leaders of today's giant corporations, and the powerful corporations they direct.

We believe the Earth has never before faced such large-scale devastations as are being inflicted by handfuls of executives running the largest 1000 or so industrial, financial, health, information, agricultural and other corporations. And not since slavery was legal have the laws of the land been used so shamelessly to violate the democratic principles we hold dear.

This was not supposed to happen. It is true that the grand ideals of the American Revolution have not yet been fulfilled, and that many people are still struggling, to gain the legal rights and constitutional protection for which so many fought against tyrannical English monarchy. But for several generations after the nation's founding, the role of corporations in both government and society was strictly limited by law and custom. A corporate charter was considered a public trust. Corporations had no rights at all except what the people chose to give them.

Ironically, however, corporations have achieved a level of constitutional protection which many citizens still do not enjoy. The leaders of giant corporations govern as monarchs of old who claimed legitimacy under divine right theory. Yet your letter never once refers to multi-billion dollar corporations such as Exxon, Philip Morris, General Electric, Union Carbide, Weyerhaueser, WMX Technologies (Waste Management).

You write of lobbies, special interests, polluters and radical property rights advocates. But the work of these lobbies, polluters and radical advocates -- in Congress and in our communities -- is the work of corporations that manipulate assets beyond our imaginations while hiding behind limited liability, perpetual existence, and our Bill of Rights.

To a large extent, corporations have been given these legal rights and privileges not by our elected representatives, but by appointed judges. This did not happen by accident: Corporate leaders funded scores of research, propaganda, and lobbying organizations (using pre-tax dollars, which means that corporate lobbying and propagandizing are subsidized by us). You know the list: the U.S. and state chambers of commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, The Competitive Enterprise Institute.... With "Wise Use" groups, and the help of foundations such as Olin, Scaife, Bradley and Smith Richardson, along with legal think tanks, corporate executives violate elections, buy and sell our legislators, and intimidate citizens.

We believe that it is too late to counter corporate power environmental-law-by-environmental-law, regulatory-struggle-by- regulatory struggle. We don't have sufficient time or resources to organize chemical-by-chemical, forest-by-forest, river-by- river, permit-by-permit, technology-by-technology, product-by- product, corporate disaster-by-corporate disaster.

But if we curb or cut off corporate power at its source, all our work will become easier.

One major source of corporate power goes back to 1886, when the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that corporations are persons under the law. This legal doctrine of corporate personhood guarantees constitutional free speech and other protection to corporations, thereby preventing our elected legislatures from limiting corporation interference in elections and lawmaking, in our courts, and in policy debates. Other court-made legal doctrines give corporate leaders legal authority to make private decisions on very public issues: energy, chemical and transportation investments, product choices, forest and mineral use, technology development, etc.

How would restricting corporations' constitutional protection enable us to stop corporate-led environmental destruction? Look at takings, for example.

When government wants to use an individual's property for a park, or for a sewage treatment plant, that individual has every right to petition for redress, for "due process of law." But corporate leaders claim this constitutional right of redress for their corporations, arguing that laws and regulations to protect public health and the environment, to protect workers' rights, are takings "without due process."

They can do this so effectively because a century ago, corporate leaders convinced courts to transform our laws. Ever since, wielding property rights through laws backed by our government has been an effective, reliable strategy to build and sustain corporate mastery.

So it is understandable that many people today believe we have no choice but to concede property (such as takings), free speech and other rights to corporations, and to continue addressing corporate harms one-by-one.

We disagree: we believe we have a social and political responsibility to reject concocted constitutional doctrines which enable undemocratic corporate dominion.

We support without reservation people's rights for redress against government takings, and peoples's protection against tyranny as provided in our Bill of Rights. But we do not believe corporations share such rights with flesh-and-blood people.

We have no illusions that reclaiming people's rights from the fictions which are corporations will be easy: as Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter observed, "The history of constitutional law is the history of the impact of the modern corporation upon the American scene."

But what's our alternative? The REAL takings going on today are corporate takings -- of our lives, liberties and pursuits of happiness, and of other species -- without due process of law.

The REAL takings today are planned and executed by corporate executives who are protected by the legal shields which are giant corporations, and who are showered with honors by our corporation-controlled culture.

Corporate tactics such as takings, risk assessment, unfunded mandates -- at a time of escalating grassroots opposition to NAFTA, GATT and to corporate investments around the globe -- provide opportunities for your organizations to go on the offensive. You can educate your members that the authority to define corporations still rests with the people.

You can help us change the legal doctrines and laws which give corporations overwhelming advantage over people, communities and nature. Together, we can get the giant corporation out of our elections, out of our legislatures, out of our judges' chambers, out of our communities, and off our backs.

But if you do not write and talk about today's large corporation; if you do not educate and mobilize your members as you know how to do, our legislatures will face crisis after crisis like the one you described in your letter. Corporate leaders will strengthen their grip on the law and escalate their takings across the Earth.

Together, we can end the nation's long silence about corporate power and manipulation. We can work together to save our democracy in order to save our communities and our natural environment.

We want to meet with you to plan strategies for confronting corporations.


Jim Ace
Wetlands Rainforest Action Group
New York, New York

Frank T. Adams
Arlington, Massachusetts

Larry Agran, Esq.
former mayor
Irvine, California

Anacostia/Rock Creek Earth First!
Takoma Park, Maryland

Diana Anderson
Citizens United for the Environment
Montague, Michigan

Eric Antebi
Somerville, Massachusetts

Auto-Free, D.C. #
Takoma Park, Maryland

Elizabeth L. and Quinn A. Baley
Fries, Virginia

Betty and Gary Ball, Board of Directors
Mendocino Environmental Center #
Ukiah, California

Joseph Barisonzi
International Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Harriet Barlow
Blue Mountain Lake, New York

Chris Bedford, Chair
Communities Concerned About Corporations
Hyattsville, Maryland

Ed Begley, Jr.
Environmental Affairs Commissioner
Los Angeles, California

Mavis Belisle
Peace Farm
Panhandle, Texas

Mike Belliveau
Citizens for a Better Environment
San Francisco, California

D.W. Bennett
American Littoral Society
Highlands, New Jersey

Harry Berggren
Ben Lomond, California

Nick Berigan
Madison, Wisconsin

Jim Berry
Center for Reflection on the Second Law
Raleigh, North Carolina

Thomas Berry
Riverdale Center
Bronx, New York

John Blair, President
Valley Watch, Inc.
Evansville, Illinois

Elizabeth Bos
Kentucky Environmental Foundation
Chemical Weapons Working Group
Berea, Kentucky

Robert Bottom
Louisville, Kentucky

David Briars
Craftsbury, Vermont

David Brower, President
Earth Island Action Group
San Francisco, California

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Chair
We the People
Oakland, California

Jerry Brown, President
Coosa River Basin Initiative
Rome, Georgia

Pat Bryant, Executive Director
Gulf Coast Tenants Organization
New Orleans, Louisiana

Peter Buckley
Mill Valley, California

Wally Burnstein, President
Food & Water
Marshfield, Vermont

Beth Burrows, President
Washington Biotechnology Action Council
Edmonds, Washington

Mary Jane Butters
Paradise Ridge Preservation
Moscow, Idaho

Cancer Prevention Coalition #
Chicago, Illinois

Amy Clipp
New Orleans, Louisiana

Liane Clorfene-Casten, Chair
Environmental Task Force
Chicago Media Watch
Chicago, Illinois

Michael Colby, Executive Director
Food & Water
Marshfield, Vermont

Will Collette
Citizens Coal Council
Washington, D.C.

Barry Commoner, Director
Center for the Biology of Natural Systems
Queens College
Queens, New York

Paul and Ellen Connett, Co-editors
WASTE NOT, Work on Waste
Canton, New York

Pat Costner
Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Charlie Cray
Chicago, Illinois

Joseph E. Cummins
Department of Plant Sciences
University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario, Canada

Ronnie Cummins, Director
Pure Food Campaign
Little Marais, Minnesota

Robert Reynolds Cushing III
Democratic Party
Hampton, New Hampshire

A. Winton Dahlstrom, President
Citizens United for the Environment (CUE)
Whitehall, Michigan

Carol Dansereau, Director
Industrial Toxics Project
Washington Toxics Coalition
Seattle, Washington

John Davis, Editor
Tucson, Arizona

David Dembo
Bhopal Action Resource Center
New York, New York

Peggy Douglas, Associate Professor
Environmental Studies Program
Antioch College
Yellow Springs, Ohio

George Draffan, Director
Institute of Trade Policy
Seattle, Washington

Antoinette Dwinga
Carnegie, Pennsylvania

Frank Eadie
Federal Land Action Group
New York, New York

Eco-Action #
Atlanta, Georgia

Editorial Staff
Eugene, Oregon

William N. Ellis, Executive Director
Rangeley, Maine

Rick Engler, Vice-President
New Jersey Industrial Union Council
Moorestown, New Jersey

Robert Engler
Professor Emeritus
City University of New York
New York, New York

Dr. Samuel Epstein
Chicago, Illinois

Mike Ferner
Toledo, Ohio

W.H. and Carol Ferry
Scarsdale, New York

Dr. Dale Fitzgibbons
Peoria, Illinois

Dennis Fox
Associate Professor of Legal Studies
Legal Studies Program
Sangamon State University
Springfield, Illinois

William A. Fontenot
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Theresa Freeman
East Calais, Vermont

Tracy Frisch, Coordinator
New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides
Albany, New York

Carl Gandola, MD
Cincinnati, Ohio

Ken Geiser
Sumner, Maine

Dr. Robert Ginsburg, Research Director
Midwest Center for Labor Research
Chicago, Illinois

Tom Goldtooth
Indigenous Environmental Network
Bemidji, Minnesota

Kathy Grandfield
The Good Neighbor Group
Sedalia, Missouri

Gary Grant, Executive Director
Concerned Citizens of Tillery
Tillery, North Carolina

Michael Gregory
Arizona Toxics Information
Bisbee, Arizona

Richard Grossman
Provincetown, Massachusetts

Hal Hamilton
Community Farm Alliance
Berea, Kentucky

James Hansen, Environmental Director
Wetlands Preserve
New York, New York

Nan Hardin
The Bridge Alliance
Newburgh, Indiana

Greg Helms
Environmental Defense Center
Santa Barbara, California

Diane Heminway
Western New York Director
Citizens Environmental Coalition
Medina, New York

Dave Henson
Occidental Arts and Ecology Center
Occidental, California

Hal Hinderliter
Pittsburgh Against Toxic Incineration
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

David Hunter
Trustee, Ottinger Foundation
Port Washington, New York

Robert Inerfeld
Somerville, Massachusetts

Dr. Olin Ivey, Executive Director
Georgia Environmental Organization
Atlanta, Georgia

Dick Kamp
Border Ecology Project
Bisbee, Arizona

Peter Kellman
American Federation of Teachers
North Berwick, Maine

Linda King
Environmental Health Network
Chesapeake, Virginia

Marie Kocoshis, Board Member
Group Against Smog and Pollution
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Charles Komanoff
Komanoff Energy Associates
New York, New York

Nina Laboy
South Bronx Clean Air Coalition
Bronx, New York

John LaRouche
East Calais, Vermont

Robert and Ethel Levy
Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Sanford Lewis, Director
Good Neighbor Project for Sustainable Industries
Waverly, Massachusetts

Susan Lieber
East Calais, Vermont

Thomas Linzey, Founder
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Jan Lundberg
Fossil Fuels Policy Action Institute #
Arcata, California

Karen Lynne
Kingman, Arizona

Lauri Maddy, Founder
Environmental Justice Action Center
Rose Hill, Kansas

Darryl Malek-Wiley
Mississippi River Task Force
New Orleans, Louisiana

Jerry Mander
Senior Fellow, Public Media Center
Program Officer, Foundation for Deep Ecology
San Francisco, California

Phyllis Marberger, Executive Director
Parents for Pesticide Alternatives
Snellville, Georgia

Steve Marsden, Executive Director
Siskiyou Project
Cave Junction, Oregon

Steve Martinot
Berkeley, California

Linda M. Masse
Magnolia, Massachusetts

Philip Mattera, Research Director
Corporate Campaign Inc.
New York, New York

Eileen McIlvane
Coalition for Jobs and the Environment
Abingdon, Virginia

Jeff Melton
Bloomington, Indiana

Chad and Christie Miano
Duffield, Virginia

Craig Miano
Dungannon, Virginia

Linda Moneyhun Miano
Health and Environmental Action League
Dungannon, Virginia

Steve Midkiff, Union Organizer/Pipefitter
Charleston, West Virginia

Peter Montague, Director
Environmental Research Foundation #
Annapolis, Maryland

Richard Moore
Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Ward Morehouse
Council on International & Public Affairs and Communities
Concerned About Corporations
New York, New York

Susan Moreland
Louisiana Environmental Action Network
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Daniel Moses
Green Party Candidate for Lt. Governor of California
Moss Beach, California

Kary Moss, Executive Director
Maurice and Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice #
Detroit, Michigan

Robert Mueller
Staunton, Virginia

Penny Newman
Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice
Riverside, California

Paddlewheel Alliance #
Louisville, Kentucky

Tony Palmeri
Communication Department
University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

John Passacantando, Executive Director
Ozone Action
Washington, D.C.

Chris and Tonia Pelton
Knoxville, Tennessee

Karen Pickett
Earth First!
Canyon, California

Brenda Platt
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Washington, D.C.

Anne L. Potter, Ph.D.
Portland, Oregon

John A. Redfield
Lori Papapietro-Redfield
Brattleboro, Vermont

John Rensenbrink
Green Horizon
Topsham, Maine

Mark Ritchie, President
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Joan Robinett
Concerned Citizens Against Toxic Waste
Harlan County, Kentucky

Christina Roessler
Washington, D.C.

Larry and Sharon Rose
Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County
Scarbro, West Virginia

Rhys Roth
Atmosphere Alliance
Olympia, Washington

James Sackor
Technical Community Assistance Project
Albany State College
Albany, Georgia

W.E. Sanders
Secretary-Treasurer, Local 4-449
Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union
Texas City, Texas

Jean Schweibish
Van Howell
The Foghorn, Inc.
Huntington, New York

Pete Seeger
Beacon, New York

Neil Seldman
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Washington, D.C.

Jim Sessions, Director
Highlander Research and Education Center
New Market, Tennessee

Janette Sherman, M.D.
Arlington, Virginia

Michael Shuman
Institute for Policy Studies
Washington, D.C.

Gar Smith, Editor
San Francisco, California

Jeff Smith
Students for Environmental Awareness
University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia

Jeremy Smithson
North Hollywood, California

Allen Spalt
Agricultural Resources Center
Carrboro, North Carolina

Cameron Spitzer, Member
Council of the Green Party
Santa Clara County
San Jose, California

Jennifer and Edmund A. Stanley, Jr.
Oxford, Maryland

Dean Steede
IWW Delegate, Indiana-Kentucky-Ohio Area
Cincinnati, Ohio

Janet Strahosky
Ohio River Basin Environmental Council
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Karlyn Sturmer, Executive Director
Action for Corporate Responsibility #
New Haven, Connecticut

Tom Swan
West Hartford, Connecticut

Terri Swearingen
Tri-State Environmental Council
Chester, West Virginia

Meg Switzgable and Thomas Brown
Foresight Films
Brooklyn, New York

Bron Taylor
Associate Professor of Religion & Social Ethics
Director, Environmental Studies
University of Wisconsin
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Brian Tokar
Central Vermont Greens
Calais, Vermont

Doug Tompkins
Foundation for Deep Ecology
San Francisco, California

Connie Tucker
Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice
Atlanta, Georgia

Karen Tuerk
Preserve Appalachian Wilderness:
Mid-Atlantic Biodiversity Project
Indiana, Pennsylvania

Mary Tutwiler
War on Waste #
New Iberia, Louisiana

Leif Utne
Somerville, Massachusetts

Alis Valencia, Editor
Berkeley, California

Susan and Ivan Varlamoff
Georgia Environmental Organization
Atlanta, Georgia

Stephen Viederman
New York, New York

Jim Warren, Executive Director
Durham, North Carolina

Betsy Wegner
Valley Watch
Evansville, Indiana

Belinda West
The Pigeon River - Douglas Action Committee
Jefferson County, Tennessee

Bill Willers, Executive Director
SWAN (Superior Wilderness Action Network)
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Craig Williams
Chemical Weapons Working Group
Berea, Kentucky

Diane Wilson
Calvin County Resource Watch
Cedric, Texas

Jeffrey Wilson
West Harrison, New York

Larry and Shelia Wilson
Yellow Creek Concerned Citizens
Yellow Creek, Kentucky

Matt Wilson, Director
Massachusetts Campaign to Clean Up Hazardous Wastes
Vote Yes on Question I to Limit Corporate Spending on Ballot
Boston, Massachusetts

Hazel Wolf, Secretary
Seattle Audubon Society
Seattle, Washington

Cindy Zipf
Clean Ocean Action
Highlands, New Jersey

# These organizations have signed on as an organization. All
other organizations are listed for purposes of identification

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