Every so often an idea comes along that rings with such clarity and purpose that it ignites the imaginations of millions of people. That spark of excitement becomes hope, hope becomes action, action becomes community, and that community grows to become a movement. Marine biologist, author, fisherma'am, and Exxon Valdez survivor, Dr. Riki Ott has such an idea.
Exxon's recently reported record profits marks a new height of American corporate corruption and influence over our federal government--corporations find more protection under the law than American citizens, health and safety regulations are stripped away to serve profits ahead of people, politicians serve only their corporate backers, and our environment is falling victim to the lustful greed of this disaster capitalism. How did it come to this?
Dr. Riki Ott is launching the movement for the 28th Amendment to the Constitution: Separation of Corporation and State. In the video above, she explains what a 28th Amendment will accomplish, how it is possible, why it is necessary for our democracy.
In Riki's own words:
In my book, Not One Drop, I answer the question I frequently heard on the streets in Cordova. (It's a small town where people often visit in groups on Main Street or at the post office.) How did corporations get so big where they could manipulate our legal system?
As survivors of the Exxon Valdez spill and 20-year lawsuit, practically everyone in town has first-hand experience with a legal system that failed to deliver justice and Exxon's promise to make us whole.
In researching our nation's legal history, I found the answer. In this 4-minute video, I explain the solution--passing the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution: separation of corporation and state.
Please listen. Then ask others to listen. In Not One Drop, I explain this idea more fully. Together we can build a movement to restore government of, for, and by the people.
There's even a Facebook group dedicated to the movement.
TRANSCRIPT OF VIDEO:
I am a survivor and witness of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It happened in my backyard, Prince William Sound, Alaska.
We have been in a lawsuit now for nearly two decades, and Exxon has managed to drag this out while it has managed to increase its profits to, basically, obscene levels: over $40 billion in net profits now. How did things get this bad?
The conclusion that I came to in Not One Drop is that we need the 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution: the separation of corporation and state.
Starting in 1886, judges started recognizing corporations had rights accorded to people. The first one was the 14th Amendment. And nowhere in the Constitution, nowhere in the Bill of Rights, do we find the word "corporation." This is totally judicial fiat. What this has done is allow a consolidation of wealth and power to the corporations that now threatens to destroy the republic. We want separated church and state—we now need to separate corporation and state.
On March 24, 1989—which is when [the] Exxon [Valdez] grounded and spilled 11–38 million gallons of oil in Prince William Sound, I was commercial fishing. I held a commercial fishing permit, and I fished salmon. I also held a Masters and a PhD in marine toxicology. Exxon came to Cordova, Alaska, stood in our high school gym, and promised us, "We will make you whole." Instead, Exxon worked behind the scenes to eliminate thousands of business claims. Exxon threw an army of attorneys at this case. And it's not just the Exxons of the world, it's any of these big transnational corporations have the ability, because of their wealth and power, to completely overwhelm small communities that get in their way.
If we had had the 28th Amendment to the Constitution, Exxon would not have been able to use the 5th Amendment and the 7th Amendment.
The 7th Amendment is that facts tried by a jury cannot be undermined or revisited by higher courts. So in this case, a jury of peers, ordinary people, determined that the price that Exxon had to pay was one year's net profit. Exxon challenged the amount, and also that punitive damages should be held at all.
Exxon also used, in a related lawsuit, the 5th Amendment. The 5th Amendment is a takings—takings of property. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, there was a federal law passed (the Oil Pollution Act of 1990) that essentially banned the Exxon Valdez from Prince William Sound. It banned any tanker that has spilled over a million gallons from transporting oil in Prince William Sound. Exxon said, that is a takings of our future profit: that's illegal under the 5th Amendment. If Exxon was not a person, Exxon would not have been able to apply the 5th Amendment.
Five years after the Exxon Valdez ran aground, we had our hearing, and the jury awarded us—the fishermen, the natives—$5 billion in punitive damages and $287 million in compensatory damages. Exxon appealed that $5 billion for over fourteen years, and ultimately, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals finally threw its hands in the air and cut the 5 billion in half. The Supreme Court, in June of 2008, slashed the $2.5 billion to $507 million.
If we're planning on passing a livable planet onto future generations, the democracy debate needs to be entwined with the sustainable future debate, and I believe now that the best way to do that is to pass the 28th Amendment to the Constitution—separation of corporation and state—and strip corporations of their personhood.