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Democracy 101 

by Paul K. Haeder & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & f taking control of a community's direction was just a matter of rolling up your sleeves and sacrificing some nights and weekends, there would be no trouble from Wal-Mart or super-sized housing developments. No, it takes more, and this weekend, activists can learn how to maneuver through the increasingly complex web of laws that dictate whether you can beat a corporation intent on locating in your back yard.

Democracy School is coming to River City so you can learn the nuances of the commerce clause of the Constitution and how corporations are being granted rights that, early in this country's history, applied only to people. Specifically, this session was called to arm citizens with the know-how needed to fight proposed Wal-Mart in south Spokane and the proposed Sam's Club in north Spokane.

The Democracy School is a national movement cultivated by Alabama-born lawyer Thomas Linzey, who founded the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in 1995. Initially, CELDF worked with activists according to a "conventional" formula. "We were launched to provide free legal services to community groups, specifically grassroots community environmental organizations," Linzey says. "That involved us in permit appeals and other typical regulatory stuff."

Then CELDF took a bigger step: Linzey and others confronted rural governments that were buckling under the pressure of agribusiness corporations that wanted weak waste-disposal laws and the overarching power to stop townships and counties from passing stronger environmental laws. The companies didn't want constraints on their practices of dumping toxic hog waste and untreated sludge. After experiences like those, the CELDF members wanted to share what they'd learned.

"I've had the opportunity to listen to Linzey, and it was enlightening and educational," says Patty Gates, executive director of the Spokane-based New Priorities Foundation. "The weekend [Feb. 24-26] is intended to give community members the strength to assert their 'inalienable rights.'"

Rogers High School teacher and activist Brad Read attended a Democracy School last summer, and even with all of his own social justice and community action experience under his belt, Read still came away inspired: "[Democracy School] articulates clearly the need not to fight temporary battles that at best give us Pyrrhic victories," he says, "but to understand the full context in order to build a movement to claim -- not re-claim, because we've never really had it -- real decision-making power that, at least in the rhetoric, lies in the hands of the citizens of this alleged democracy."

The Democracy School will take place at the WSU-Spokane Riverpoint campus, beginning on Friday, Feb. 24, at 7 pm and ending Sunday, Feb. 26, at 3 pm. A $150 fee covers the cost of materials, breakfast and snacks, lunch and a dinner on Saturday. Space is limited; call the Center for Justice at 835-5211.
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