Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. gave a devastatingly inspiring speech at the April 28, 2014 Goldman Prize ceremony in San Francisco. He connected many of the dots among democracy, the environment, poverty, corporate power, big government, and the 'carbon cronies'. Fracking is a symptom of unbridled corporate power controlling our government and deployed against our communities, our natural resources, and people.
The speech is so relevant to our work that we have transcribed it:
"I have to start by apologizing because I knocked out my voice, and I am most disappointed about that because I can't give a proper tribute to the honorees tonight, these extraordinary heroes, or to the Goldman family who I love. And I loved Richard & Rhoda Goldman.I spoke at the first Goldman award years ago, the first time it was created. And I've known them ever since. I grew a very close friendship with them, as did my mother. I am so happy that their family has continued their commitment.Richard & Rhoda understood, they were very very rare people,They understood the connection between the environment, and democracy, and poverty. And they understood that these issues had to be solved from the grassroots.
And here in our country, where the environmental movement really began, after Rachel Carson, but in 1970 on Earth Day. And I remember what it was like before Earth Day. I remember the Cuyahoga River burning for a week, nobody able to put it out for a week, with flames that were 8 stories high. I remember Lake Erie being declared dead. I remember that I couldn't swim in the Hudson, or the Charles, or the Potomac growing up. I remember the Eastern Peregrine Falcon going extinct in 1963, the same year that my uncle was killed, from DDT poisoning.
And this accumulation of insults in 1970 drove 20 million Americans out into the streets. The largest public demonstration in American history. Ten percent of our population. Demanding that our political leaders...
I have no idea if you can understand anything I'm saying. Do I [applause] Do I sound like I am yodeling?
Anyways, ten percent of our population. And it frightened the leadership, the political leadership, of this country. This vast democratic outpouring - Republicans, Democrats, Nixon was president then - created over the next 10 years: created the EPA, 28 major environmental laws: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, RCRA, CERCLA, the Safe Drinking Water Act. And those are the, and the mechanisms that those acts had in common was their effort to restore democracy by protecting the allocation of the public commons.
The shared resources of our society: the air, the water, the wildlife, the fisheries, the public lands - those things that couldn't be reduced to private property ownership but by their nature are the property, the assets, of all of our community.
And it took the industry, the polluters, off guard. They let us do this, but they quickly regrouped. And they mounted a campaign to crush us and to crush these laws, and to crush democracy, and to crush the transparency. And anywhere you see large scale environmental destruction, you will see the subversion of democracy.
You'll see the capture of the agencies that are supposed to protect us from pollution, the people from pollution. They become, those agencies become sock puppets of the industries they are supposed to regulate.
You'll see the corruption of public officials. You'll see the disappearance of transparency. The subversion of the press that is supposed to again inform us and preserve democracy.
You'll see the destruction of democracy at the local level. The end of planning laws, and zoning laws, and of the capacity of the public, and hearings and permit hearings, to participate in the political process and the allocation of their commons.
And those industries, people like the Koch brothers, and Exxon and all these other energy companies, the carbon cronies, in an effort to create a corporate kleptocracy in this country. And change this from a democracy to an oligarchy of the wealthy, of the few. And they have attacked wholesale our environmental laws. And they did it in a number of ways, that you know about: campaign finance laws, and all of these laws that injure our environment.
And they created hundreds of think tanks on Capitol Hill, that are these phony think tanks. They are supposed to be, they claim are, free market think tanks. But they don't want free market capitalism. They hate free market capitalism. What they want is a ruthless, merciless, savage capitalism for the poor; and socialism for the rich, for them. [applause]
And they want a ticket to steal what belongs to us: the air, the water, the rivers, the shorelines. You know everybody, these are ancient laws that protected them. The Code of Justinian. The Magna Charta. All the way back through our history.
The law was that everybody has a right to use the commons. Nobody has a right to use it in a way that will diminish or injure its use and enjoyment by others.
And they mounted a wholesale attack on those things. And today, they are continuing this attack. They see the biggest threat to them is solar energy, wind energy, renewables, which are now at grid parity....
.... They [the carbon cronies] see the biggest threat to them is solar energy, wind energy, renewables that are now at grid parity. We can beat them in the marketplace but they won't let us. They are preserving these huge subsidies of hundreds of billions of dollars that go to the carbon industry and to the incumbents. And the New York Times just reported this week something that we've been saying, because I'm in these industries, that the Koch brothers are using these phony think tanks like the ALEC, the American legislative exchange council, the competitive enterprise institute, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, to go state by state and put taxes, excise taxes, on solar panels when they put them on their homes.
They went to New Jersey and made it illegal to sell Teslas and other electric cars in the state of New Jersey.
They've made it almost impossible to build transmission lines in this country. And made it very easy to build pipelines. There have been 16000 miles of pipelines built in this country over the last 12 years and only 600 miles of transmission.
Because they are trying to destroy this industry because they know we can beat them.
But this [renewable energy] is a democratic industry. The political system of a country reflects its economic organization. And when you have a few people like the Koch brothers, Rex Tillerson controlling all the oil and the coal the political system will begin to resemble an oligarchy. When you spread that out and let millions of people participate in the process of generating energy we will become more and more like a democracy. The kind of democracy, the kind of democracy that we are supposed to be and to all these winners I'd say the last thing you'll hear from the tea party is that the big enemy of democracy is big government.
And I agree with that. Big government is a threat to democracy. When there are drones spying on us, and they are opening our mail and reading our text messages, and torturing people and putting them in jail without a trial at suspending habeas corpus.
And tell the American people that the Bill of Rights and the Constitution are luxuries that we can no longer afford.
Big government is a threat. But that is not what the the tea party cares about. They don't care about any of those issues. They just don't want to pay their taxes.
And they don't want a black person to be president of the United States. And I'm just telling the truth.
You know Clive Bundy did not surprise me. I knew that this was, that this was, that this whole tea party movement came out of a nostalgia for a plantation economy. That's where it came from. Why is it that they all come out of those dozen southern states that were part of the confederacy. This is a resurgence of the confederacy. That's why they....well I am not going to go on, I've got to shut up.
I'll just say this, so big government is a threat to American democracy. But the much bigger threat is excessive corporate power.
And if you look throughout our nation's history, our most visionary political leaders -Republican and Democrat - have been warning the American people against the domination of corporate power.
Teddy Roosevelt, a republican, warned the American people. He said this country would never be destroyed by a foreign enemy like Osama Bin laden but he warned us that our beloved democratic institutions would be subverted by 'malefactors' of great wealth who would rob them from within.
Dwight Eisenhower a republican, in his most famous speech ever warned the American people against domination by the 'military industrial' complex. Which he meant the oil companies as well.
Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican and the greatest in our history, in 1863 at the height of the civil war said: "I have the south in front of me and I've got the bankers behind me. And for my country, I fear the the bankers more."
And Franklin Roosevelt said in 1942. He said that the domination of government by corporate power is the essence of fascism.
And Mussolini, Benito Mussolini, echoed that with the insider's view of that whole system. He complained that fascism should not be called fascism. It should be called corporatism because there was the merger of state and corporate power.
What we have to understand in this country, and around the world, and what all of these honorees understand intuitively is that the domination of business by government is called communism and domination of government by business is called fascism.
And our job is to walk a narrow lane which is free market capitalism and democracy. And we need to keep big government at bay with our left hand and big business at bay with our right.
And we need a strong and independent press that is wiling to speak truth to power. And we need an educated and informed public that is able to recognize all the milestones of tyranny. And that is what these honorees have spent their lives doing, reminding us what democracy is and that we cannot let it go.
Thank you very much for having me.
Posted on November 1, 2015
by David Slottje