Share |

The Road to Resilience

Ultimate Civics!

Most of us remember, however vaguely, being taught in grade school that our government has an ingenious system of checks and balances between the three branches of government that insures that no branch wields excessive power.  I, at least, don’t remember going over the US Constitution line by line, and, in fact, would have been bored to death if we had.  Now, however, as the old R&B song goes, “You don’t miss your water ‘til your well runs dry.”  Well, brothers and sisters, I find myself wondering where all those checks and balances are when we need them.   I thought that the system was running on automatic, but we now find that everything is catawampus and hell bent on going down in flames, and, as near as I can tell, there are no adults in charge.  

There are lots of people out there propounding what the Constitution says, and it’s hard to imagine that they are talking about the same document. I don’t know about you, but I have uncomfortable thoughts wondering exactly what the Constitution says and what it doesn’t say.  There are only two entities mentioned in the Constitution:  we the people and the government.  It doesn’t say anything about corporations even though corporations were well known at the time it was written.  In fact, corporations played an integral role in the forming of the colonies.  The Virginia Company was just that:  a corporation with investors in England.  Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Bay Company were two more.  So why were they not mentioned in the Constitution?  The founding fathers were well aware of the dangers of corporate power and laws were passed (though regrettably not in the Constitution) to limit corporations from wielding the power they in fact were already wielding in England at that time.  The Boston Tea Party was a protest against an instrument of the King’s oppression—the East India Company, the largest corporation in existence at the time.

As we know now, despite the precautions taken by our founding fathers, corporations became people and “those people” are now firmly in control of the government, even though they are not real people.  A study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page that I cited a year or so ago shows fairly conclusively that real people have practically no influence whatsoever on government policy being determined today.  I quote:
When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

How did that happen?  Was the whole democracy thing a tongue-in-cheek prank played on us?  

It appears that we need a refresher course in civics and Islander Riki Ott has put a lot of energy into designing that course.  She didn’t start out on that mission.  She got a PhD in Fisheries Marine Toxicology at the UW in 1985 and decided to take one summer off before starting a career path in her field.  She signed on as a deck hand on a fishing boat and wound up in Prince William Sound, Alaska.  She loved it so much, she and a partner bought a boat and became commercial salmon fishermen.  Off-season, she began to volunteer for Cordova District Fishermen United.  When they heard she had a PhD in oil pollution, they voted her on the board and set her loose on the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal in Port Valdez.  It was discharging oil into the Sound, but they couldn’t prove how.  She developed a case and began testifying before the state legislature and US Congress.

Ironically, on March 23, 1989, she testified that it was only a matter of time before a big spill occurred—literally four hours before the Exxon Valdez wrecked on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound and caused the largest marine oil spill in US history up to that time!   She became an expert witness and continued to help the Cordova fishermen and community deal with the disaster and chronic oil pollution from the Alyeska terminal.  Her case, dubbed “Ballast-Watergate,” broke in 1991; federal and state policies changed to stop the illegal discharge practices. In the twenty years it took to resolve the Exxon Valdez litigation, she found her calling:  awakening citizens to their own potential to effect change and sharing skills to engage in fossil fuel transition and strengthening our democracy.  In going further “upstream” in the prevention business, she recently developed a curriculum for middle school to foster a savvy and effective citizenry that knows how to get results from government.

On Thursday, June 22, 7–9 pm, at the Library, join Ultimate Civics national instructor and Islander Riki Ott for an interactive evening and refresher course (or first time instruction). Her plan for the evening:
1)     review basic concepts and structure of democracy in principle and practice;
2)     explore how internal weaknesses from fear, discrimination, and greed have shaped our society;
3)     examine shifts in the balance of power between real persons and artificial persons; and
4)     learn tools and skills to protect our liberties in a constitutional democracy.
Obviously, we will only get an overview in two hours, but enough to decide whether we want to learn more and maybe see that our kids are empowered with this knowledge as part of their school curriculum.  Open to all patriots 12 and up!

More info: