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Vision: How Small, Mostly Conservative Towns Have Found the Trick to Defeating Corporations

As the Right pushes privatization as a solution to the economic collapse, one organization is teaching communities how to defeat corporations.
 
 
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California's treasurer just announced that the state may need to begin issuing IOUs if the governor and legislature can't close the budget gap. And California's not the only place that's hurting. The Great Recession, hit not only businesses and individuals, but governments as well. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that 31 states are facing a combined shortfall for fiscal year 2011 of nearly $60 billion.

So, what's being done? "Cities and states across the nation are selling and leasing everything from airports to zoos -- a fire sale that could help plug budget holes now but worsen their financial woes over the long run," the Wall Street Journal reports. "California is looking to shed state office buildings. Milwaukee has proposed selling its water supply; in Chicago and New Haven, Conn., its parking meters. In Louisiana and Georgia, airports are up for grabs."

If this seems shocking, it shouldn't. For the past 30 years, there has been a deliberate effort to deregulate industry and to choke off federal support for public services and public spaces, paving the way for greater corporate control. The push to privatize is nothing new, it's just that our economic crisis is the latest opportunity. This fire sale is ignited during times of crisis -- what Naomi Klein referred to in The Shock Doctrine as "disaster capitalism," courtesy of Milton Friedman and his Chicago school disciples. "For more than three decades, Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy," she wrote, "waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock, then quickly making the 'reforms' permanent."

The goal is the same as it's been for decades: "The elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending," writes Klein. One of the places where this strategy can be most detrimental is the corporate takeover of public water sources and infrastructure, which is elemental to our survival.

But there's a glimmer of good news. Across the country, small, disparate groups of people are wising up and taking action to combat corporate control by using a new strategy. And these citizens are winning. One of the first rallying calls has been against the privatization of public water infrastructure and attempts by corporate water bottlers to pilfer spring water, as well. Communities are welcoming " Democracy Schools," run by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, into their towns, in an attempt to better understand the laws that protect corporations and the ways to defeat them.

It's too early yet to call these small revolutions a movement, but something is afoot, mostly in America's rural towns, and if it continues to grow it may very well prove transformative.

Water For Sale

Falling on hard times, Coatesville, Penn. decided to sell off its drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in 2001 and invest the money in a trust fund to be used for city services. But privatization hasn't been the economic boon the city was hoping for. After even tougher economic times hit Coatesville, the trust has already been drained by two-thirds and residents have seen their water and sewer rates jump 85 percent since American Water, the larger water corporation in the country, took the helm. Last year the company even proposed a 229-percent rate hike for sewer services, forcing the city to cobble together money for legal fees to fight back.

The story of Coatesville is a wake-up call of sorts. Most of us don't think too much about where our water comes from, and it's usually one of our least expensive monthly bills. And right now, the vast majority of us (80 percent) get our water from a public utility. But this figure has multinational water corporations drooling -- the U.S. is a huge market that could be exploited if Americans can be persuaded (or tricked) into giving up control of their most important resource.