Written by: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
A corporation does not want democracy. It does not want free markets, it wants profits and the best way for them to get profits is to use our campaign finance system which is just a system of legalized bribery to get their stakes, their hooks into a public official and then use that public official to dismantle the market place to give them a competitive advantage and then to privatize the common, to steal the commonwealth, to liquidate public assets for cash, to plunder, to steal from the rest of us. Thatís why. From the beginning of our national history our most visionary political leaders.
And that doesnít mean corporations are a bad thing. It just means theyíre amoral and we have to recognize that and not let them into the political process.
Let them do their thing but they should not be participating in our political process because a corporation cannot do something genuinely philanthropic.
Its against the law in this country because their shareholders can sue them for wasting corporate resources. They cannot legally do anything that will not increase their profit margins and thatís the way the law works and we have to recognize that and understand that they are toxic for the political process and they have to be fenced off and kept out of the political process.
This is why throughout our history our most visionary political leaders republican and democrat have been warning the American public against the domination by corporate power.
Teddy Roosevelt and again, this White House has done a great job of persuading a gullible press and the American public that the big threat to American democracy is big government. Well, yeah, big government is a threat ultimately but it is dwarfed by the threat of excessive corporate power and the corrosive impact that has on our democracy. And you know, as I said, you look at all the great political leaders in this country and the central theme is that we have to be cautious about, we have to avoid the domination of our government by corporate power.
Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, said that America would never be destroyed by a foreign power but he warned that our political institutions, our democratic institutions would be subverted by malefactors of great wealth who would erode them from within. Dwight Eisenhower, another republican in his most famous speech ever warned America against the domination by the military industrial complex.
Abraham Lincoln, the greatest Republican in our history, said during the height of the Civil War "I have the South in front of me and I have the bankers behind me. And for my country I fear the bankers more."
Franklin Roosevelt said during World War II that the domination of government by corporate power is "the essence of Fascism" and Benito Mussolini who had an insiderís view of that process said the same thing. Essentially he said that - he complained that Fascism should not be called Fascism. It should be called corporatism because it was the merger of state of corporate power.
And we what we have to understand as Americans is that the domination of business by government is called Communism.
The domination of government by business is called Fascism.
And what our job is is to walk that narrow trail in between which is free market capitalism and democracy. And keep big government at bay with our right hand and corporate power at bay with our left.
In order to do that we need an informed public and an activist public.
And we need a vigorous and an independent press that is willing to speak truth to power. And we no longer have that in the United States of America. And thatís something that we all, puts us all, all the values we care about in jeopardy because you cannot have a clean environment if you do not have a functioning democracy. They are intertwined, they go together.
There is a direct correlation around the planet between the level of tyranny and the level of environmental destruction. I could talk about that all day but you cannot - the only way you can protect the environment is through a true, locally based democracy.
You can protect it for a short term under a tyranny where there is some kind of beneficent dictator but over the long term the only way we can protect the environment is by ensuring our democracy. That has got to be the number one issue for all of us; to try to restore American democracy because without that we lose all of the other things that we value.
Iíll say one last thing which is the issue I started off with which is that weíre not protecting the environment. What Justice Douglas understood.
Weíre not protecting the environment for the sake of the fishes and the birds.
Weíre protecting it for our own sake because we recognize that nature enriches us. It enriches us economically, yes, the base of our economy. And we ignore that at our peril.
The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment but it also enriches us esthetically and recreationally and culturally and historically and spiritually. Human beings have other appetites besides money and if we donít feed them weíre not going to grow up. Weíre not going to become the kind of beings our creator intended us to become.
When we destroy nature we diminish ourselves. We impoverish our children.
Weíre not protecting those ancient forests in the Pacific Northwest as Rush Limbaugh loves to say, for the sake of a spotted owl. Weíre preserving those forests because we believe that the trees have more value to humanity standing then they would have if we cut them down. Iím not fighting for the Hudson River for the sake of the shad or the sturgeon or the striped bass, but because I believe my life will be richer and my children and my community will be richer if we live in a world where there are shad and sturgeon and striped bass in the Hudson.
And where my children can see the traditional gear, commercial fishermen on the Hudson that I have spent 22 years fighting for their livelihoods, their rights, their culture, and their values. I want my kids to be able to see them out in their tiny boats using the same fishing methods that they learned, their great grandparents learned from the Algonquin Indians who taught them to the original settlers of New Amsterdam. I want them to be able to see them with their ash poles and gill nets and be able to touch them when they come to shore to wait out the tides, to repair their nets. And in doing that connect themselves to 350 years of the New York State history.
And understand that theyíre part of something larger than themselves; theyíre part of a continuum. Theyíre part of a community.
I donít want my children to grow up in a world where there are no commercial fishermen on the Hudson, where itís all Gordon Seafood and Unilever and 400 ton factory trawlers 100 miles offshore strip mining the ocean with no interface with humanity.
And where there are no family farmers left in America. Where itís all Smithfield and Cargill and Premium Standard farms raising animals in factories and treating their stock and their neighbors and their workers with unspeakable cruelty.
And where weíve lost touch with the seasons and the tides and the things that connect us to the 10,000 generations of human beings that were here before there were laptops.
And that connect us ultimately to God.
I donít believe that nature is God or that we ought to be worshiping it as God, but I do believe that itís the way that God communicates to us more forcefully.
God talks to human beings through many vectors. Through each other, through organized religions, through wise people and through the great books of those religions; through art and literature and music and poetry.
But nowhere with such force and clarity and detail and texture and grace and joy as through creation. We donít know Michelangelo by reading his biography; we know him by looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
And we know our creator best by immersing ourselves in creation. And particularly wilderness which is the undiluted work of the creator.
And you know [applause] if you look at every one of the great religious traditions throughout the history of mankind the central epiphany always occurs in the wilderness. Buddha had to go to the wilderness to experience self realization and nirvana. Mohammad had to go to the wilderness in Mt. Harrod 629, climb to the summit, rest one angel in the middle of the night to have the Koran squeeze from his body.
Moses had to go to the wilderness of Mt. Sinai for 40 days alone to get the Commandments. The Jews had to spend 40 years wandering the wilderness to purge themselves of 400 years of slavery in Egypt.
Christ had to go into the wilderness for 40 days to discover his divinity for the first time. His mentor was John the Baptist, a man who lived in the Jordan valley dressed in the skins of wild beasts and ate locust and the honey of wild bees and all of Christís parables are taken from nature. I am the vine; you are the branches. The mustard seed, the little swallows, the scattering of seeds on the [Fellowgram], the lilies of the field. He called himself a fisherman, a farmer, a vineyard keeper, a shepherd.
The reason he did that was thatís how he stayed in touch with the people. Itís the same reason all the Talmudic prophets, the Koranic prophets, the Old Testament prophets, the New Testament prophets. Even the pagan prophets like Aesop they did the same thing; they used parables and allegories and fables drawn from nature to teach us the wisdom of God.
And all of the Old Testament prophets, all the Talmudic prophets, all the New Testament prophets came out of the wilderness. Every one of them and they were all shepherds. That daily connection to nature gave them a special access to the wisdom of the all mighty. They used these parables and the reason Christ did that was thatís how he stayed in touch with the people. He was saying things that were revolutionary like all the prophets.
He was contradicting everything that the common people had heard from the literal sophisticated people of their day and they would have dismissed him as a quack but they were able to confirm the wisdom of his parables through their own observations of the fishes and the birds.
And they were able to say, heís not telling us something new; heís simply illuminating something very, very old. Messages that were written into creation at the beginning of time by the creator. We havenít been able to discern or decipher them into the prophets came along and immersed themselves in wilderness and learned its language and then come back into the cities to tell us about the wisdom of God.
You know, all of our values in this country are the same thing. This is where our values come from, from wilderness and from nature and from the beginning of our national history. People from Sierra Club have to understand this and articulate it.
Our greatest spiritual leaders, moral leaders and philosophers were telling the American people "You donít have to be ashamed because you donít have the 1,500 years of culture that they have in Europe because you have this relationship with the land and particularly the wilderness. Thatís going to be the source of your values and virtues and character.
If you look at every valid piece of classic American literature the central unifying theme is that nature is the critical defining element of American culture, whether itís Emerson, Thoreau, Melville and Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Jack London, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemmingway. All of them.
Let me just finish this thought. The first great writer we produced in this country, an international best seller, was [James Fenimore Cooper]. He wrote the The Leather Stocking Tales, The Last of the Mohicans, The Pathfinder, The Deerslayer, about this character Natie Bumpo who was a creature of the American wilderness. He had all the virtues that the European romantics associated with the American woodland; he was a crap shot, he was self reliant, he had fortitude and integrity and he was a gentleman and honest.
The reason they made him a bestseller in Europe was not because it was great writing; it wasnít. It was atrocious, but because they believed that there really was a new being being created out of the American forest. We made him a best seller in our country because we believe that about ourselves. A generation after that you had Emerson and Thoreau come along who have kicked off the traces of the European heritage and they embrace nature as a spiritual parable of all Americans.
They say if youíre an American and you want to hear the voice of God you have to go into the forest and listen to the songs of the birds and the rustle of the leaves and if you want to see the American soul you have to look at the mirror of Walden Pond. Our poets Whitman, Frost, Emily Dickenson, Robert Service.
Our artists, we have two schools, defining schools of art in this country: the western school - Remington and Russell - and the Hudson River School - Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Samuel F. B. Morris, etc. And all of them painted these stark, indomitable portraits. Storm King Mountain, El Capitan, the Sierra Nevada, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon. Any evidence of humanity is in ruins.
And there are other national schools of art that painted nature. The British have their still lives and the French and Italians and their garden scenes, etc. But thatís nature tamed.
The American artist chose to paint nature in its wildest state because they saw that as the way to capture the American soul.
As I said this is where our values come from.
These people on Capitol Hill they look out at our green landscapes and they see nothing but cash for their corporate contributors, quick cash. I saw a couple of days ago Donald Rumsfeld on TV and I saw him and I saw how articulate and eloquent he was. I know Donald Rumsfeld, he lives next to my house in Washington.
When I got out of prison in Puerto Rico a couple of years ago he actually was very kind to me. I met him at lunch and dinner a couple of times at my momís house. Heís a very charming guy, an affable. If youíre not in Abu GharibÖ but I saw him on TV in his suit and he looked so good and heís so eloquent and charming and stuff and I say, hereís a man whoís had the best of our country. Heís gone to our churches, had the best schools, the education, the contacts, the money everything. And then I see these letters that he wrote back and forth with Alberto Gonzales, heís emailed debating how much it was permissible for Americans to torture people. And I say to myself how did these people miss the whole point of America? How do they not know that torture is not an American family value?
And I say that this is an administration that represents itself as the White House of values but every value that they claim to represent is just a hollow faÁade, that marks the one value that they really consider worth fighting for which is corporate profit taking.
They say that they like free markets but they despise free market capitalism. What they like if you look at their feet rather than their clever, clever mouths what they really like is corporate welfare and capitalism for the poor but socialism for the rich.
They say that they like private property but they donít like private property except when itís the right of a polluter to use his private property to destroy his neighbors property and to destroy the public property.
And they say that they like law and order but they are the first ones to let the corporate law breakers off the hook. And they say that they like local control and states rights but they only like those things when it means sweeping away the barriers to corporate profit taking at the local level. And you and the Sierra Club know and I can give you hundreds of examples. Theyíre suing my cousin Arnold Schwarzenegger. Detroit is suing him for this - I know thatís not going to get a lot for applause in this room.
But you know what do you sign into law? The best automobile emissions bill that was passed by the Democratic legislature and now Detroit is saying theyíre going to sue them just because they recognize that the emissions here were not protecting the health of the people of their state. So they want ones that will. Now Detroit is saying itís going to sue them and the Federal government is now making noises that itís going to come into that suit on the side of Detroit. Thatís not local control.
We know and when Iím fighting these hog farms down in North Carolina and the first people they hear from when these local counties try to pass the zoning ordinance to zone out the big hog shows. The first person they heard from is Ted Olson up in the federal government saying thatís an interference with federal commerce and weíre going to come down on you like a hammer.
The same thing in West Virginia, when the localities try to zone out Massey Coal and Peabody from cutting down their mountain the federal government comes down and crushes them. So they donít like local control.
And you know all of these things they claim to love.
They claim to love Christianity but they have violated every one of the manifold mandates of the Christian faith. [applause] that we care for the environment.
We treat the earth respectfully and we treat our future generations with respect and all of these things, the values go along with the land we all know that.
Iíll close with a proverb from the Lakota people that all of you have heard, thatís been expropriated by the environmental movement to a large extent where they said we didnít inherit this planet from our ancestors; we borrowed it from our children.
I would add to that if we donít return to our children something that is roughly the equivalent of what they receive, not just in the quality of the environment but in the integrity of the values that have been handed down through generations of Americans.
You know, visionary Republican and Democratic leadership only to hit these destructive people who are now running our country. The worst administration that weíve had in American history and the greatest threat now to our country and our democracy. And all the values that cherish about America. And you know the way weíre viewed and the rest of the world we need to return those things.
I look at this White House and I ask myself - and this may be unfair - but I ask myself a lot of times, how did they get so many draft dodgers in one place? You know, the president, Dick Cheney five deferments; John Ashcroft, six deferments. Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Tom DeLay, all of their buddies. Dennis Hassert, Rush Limbaugh, well, you know, there are a lot of people who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War and I know a lot of them.
Most of them did it because they had moral qualms about that war.
But not these people.
These people love the war; they just wanted somebody else to fight it. And it occurs to me that the reason for that is that these are people who donít understand the values that makes America worth fighting for. But America is worth fighting for and itís worth dying for.
Those of us who know that itís worth fighting for have to take it back now from those who donít.
Thank you very much.
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