Ever wonder why you rarely see Robert Kennedy, Jr. on the TV? Possibly because he is the most knowledgeable and articulate spokesman for the environment there is, and he is unafraid to tell the truth about corporate greed. Prepare to be blown away when you read this.
Excerpts from an article that originally appeared on EcoWatch.
by Stefanie Spear
At this year’s Waterkeeper Alliance conference in Boulder, Colorado, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. delivered a provocative unscripted keynote that lambasted the carbon lobby for undermining democracy and subverting the common right to a healthy environment.
Speaking to a group of activists, including more than 200 Waterkeepers from 30 nations, Kennedy declared, “We are engaged, as Abraham Lincoln said, ‘in a great Civil War.’” This time, he said, “the conflict involves all the Earth’s peoples. It’s not just a battle to protect our waterways, our livelihoods, our property and our backyards. It’s a struggle for our sovereignty, our values, our health and our lives. It’s a battle for dignified humane and wholesome communities. It’s a defensive war against toxic and economic aggression by Big Oil and King Coal. It’s a struggle to break free of the ‘soft colonialism’ of carbon’s corporate tyranny and create an economic and energy system that is fair, rooted in justice, economic independence and freedom.”
“Polluters,” he explained, “assault soft targets first—and that means the poor.” He recounted how the majority of toxic industrial sites and noxious facilities are in lower income communities where residents lack political power or connections to protect themselves. He gave examples of these environmental injustices including, Emelle, Alabama, which is home to the largest toxic waste dump in America—one of the country’s most impoverished regions where one-third of the residents live below the poverty line and more than 65 percent of the residents are black—Chicago’s south side, which has more toxic waste sites than any other American community and East Los Angeles, a primarily black and Hispanic community, which is the most contaminated zip code in America.
“In these communities,” he said, “Not just the land and water, but the people have been commoditized—and everything becomes expendable in the drive for corporate profits.”
But he added, “It’s not just the poor who are under assault. The corporate hunger for profit is threatening all people with loss of their natural world and the other assets of their patrimony.”
Kennedy said that corporate efforts to privatize the commons are occurring in all parts of the world and that “environmental injury correlates almost perfectly with political tyranny.”
“In China, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, environmental destruction went hand in hand with political despotism and corruption,” he continued. “Thanks to the Pinochet regime, the forests and waters of Chile are no longer owned by the Chilean people. Every single river in Chile is now owned by a Spanish company, Endessa which plans to dam all of them for private profit. So the people of that nation no longer own their rivers, they don’t own their forests. Even the highways, railroads, utilities, airports, stadiums and prisons—all the public spaces that once formed our civic lives are being occupied by private and corporate wealth.”
To give context to the history, Kennedy talked about the many environmental insults in the 1960’s that spurred the modern-day environmental movement, including the 1963 extinction of the Eastern Peregrine Falcon from DDT poisoning, the burning of the Cuyahoga River, the Santa Barbara oil spill and the declaration that Lake Erie was dead, which all occurred in 1969. The Santa Barbara spill held the record for the largest oil spill until Exxon Valdez and the BP Deepwater Horizon. In those three examples, polluters had effectively privatized a major American river, one of the Great Lakes and all the beaches in Southern California.
In response to such insults, in 1970, 20 million Americans, 10 percent of our population, came out on the streets for the first Earth Day in “a democratic reassertion of popular sovereignty over the common’s, those crowds demanded that our political leaders return to the American people the ancient environmental rights that had been stolen from our citizens since the Industrial Revolution,” Kennedy said.
In response to this massive public outpouring, Republicans and Democrats working together passed, over the next 10 years, 28 major environmental statutes, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, RCRA, TSCA, FIFRA, The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act and Superfund. All of these statutes were intended to restore our rights to the public commons. What happened next? “These new prohibitions against corporate pollution hurt the industry’s bottom line. So the polluters fought back,” he declared.
Throughout the next three decades, polluters funded politicians including Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan, their appointed judges and various Republican Congresses chipped away at the new environmental laws. But then, according to Kennedy, the industry achieved its most brazen and stunning victory. Kennedy said, “In the year of the millennium, the most corporate friendly Supreme Court since 1933 stopped the 2000 election vote count in Florida and stole the presidency from Senator Al Gore, the greenest presidential candidate in our history. That decision turned the White House over to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, two Texas oilmen.”
Even as they dismantled America’s environmental laws by statute, Bush and Cheney stocked the regulatory agencies with industry lackeys and profiteering cronies who weakened and auctioned off America’s public lands and forests to the campaign contributors at fire sale prices, according to Kennedy.
But George W. Bush wasn’t done. He next appointed two ultra-corporatist U.S. Supreme Court Justices—John G. Roberts in 2005 and Samuel Alito in 2006. Kennedy said that it is wrong to think of these judges as traditional conservatives. “They are not. They are corporatists. If you analyze their decisions, there is no coherent conservative political philosophy. They have taken the ‘conserve’ out of conservatism. The only predictable outcome of their rulings is that ‘the corporation always wins.’”
The apogee of their unctuous worship of unsheathed corporate power was the Supreme Court’s 2010 5 to 4 decision in favor of Citizens United, which, as Kennedy proclaimed, “turned American democracy over to large corporations.”
The so called “Citizens United” decision is the “most sweeping expansion of corporate power this century. In an acrimonious split decision, the five ‘conservative’ justices declared that, in the eyes of the Constitution, corporations were people and money is speech,” continued Kennedy.
“And today it’s hard to argue that we still have a democracy in this country when you have the Koch brothers, the two richest people in America, who have pledged already to put nearly $900 million into this presidential election, which is comparable to the amount spent by either political party,” said Kennedy. “This year’s presidential election is going to cost $10 billion with half of that coming from 100 wealthy families. Nearly $1 billion is coming from two brothers.”
And, said Kennedy, “You will hear no criticism from the press, the supposed guardians of our democracy. And that’s because most of that money will go to media advertising—the 4th estate has been bought off.”
“Whether we recognize it or not, we are all locked in a life and death struggle with these corporations over control of our landscapes and political sovereignty,” Kennedy said. “If a foreign nation did to our country what the coal and oil barons do every day, we would consider it an act of war! They poison our rivers and aquifers, steal our fish, flood our cities and trample our democracy. They are pilfering our values, robbing our culture, impoverishing our lives, sickening our children and stupefying our minds with pollution. They subvert our heritage by privatizing our patrimony. They are turning America into a colonial economy.
“Under the colonial model multinational corporations exploit weak political systems to commoditize and privatize a nation’s resources. A robust democracy would never allow a foreign company to plunder the nation’s natural resources, poison her landscapes and subjugate her people. So colonialism requires the multinationals to weaken and capture the indigenous political system of the target nation. They do so by making alliances with local oligarchs with military and intelligence apparatus and conservative religious organizations and buying off the media. All these indigenous elites get a share of the profits in exchange for allowing the theft of their country’s resources. Pollution is not just theft—it is treason. The Koch brothers are not just America’s biggest polluters—they are thieves and they are traitors to our country and their crimes against America and humanity have made them the richest men on Earth.
Corporations are a useful economic tool. However, “corporations should not be running our government because they don’t want the same thing for America as Americans want,” he continued. “They don’t want democracy. They want profits. They want no competition. They are corrupting our democracy. They are stealing everything that we care about in this country.
“I believe in a true free market where you can’t make yourself rich without making your neighbors rich and without enriching your community, where we properly value our national resources and where we reward efficiency. But polluters make themselves rich by making everybody else poor. They raise standards of living for themselves while lowering quality of life for everybody else. They undervalue natural resources or take them for free. And they do it all by escaping the discipline of the free market. Polluters externalize their costs to artificially lower the price of their product. The 28 environmental laws that we passed after the first Earth Day in 1970 were intended to restore true free market capitalism by forcing actors in the marketplace to pay the true cost to bring their product to market. There is a huge difference between true free market capitalism—which makes a nation more efficient, more prosperous and more democratic—and the kind of corporate crony capitalism which we have today.”
After 45-minutes of some of the most powerful comments about the reality of the world today, Kennedy finished by telling the crowd, “But we are not going quietly. We’ve heard the summons to the barricades and we are filling the streets. We are the soldiers in a revolution against carbon. And this is an industry that no longer has a justifiable economic model.”
Pointing at the roaring crowd, he said, “Every single person here is willing to die with their boots on. That commitment is what brought you the Waterkeeper movement. We are going to keep fighting for these landscapes, for these rights, for these rivers and for all the values that we care for as a people and as a society.”