Earlier this year at a public hearing in Charleston in the House of Delegates, as I was speaking against a bill handing our property rights to corporations, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, John Shott, interrupted the measly 1 minute and 45 seconds alotted to members of the public, and had me removed from the chambers.
He did that because I was listing off the campaign contributions the delegates had received from the same corporations that would be seizing our property rights.
That video went viral.
Now, by having me removed, Shott probably couldn’t have brought more attention to the issue of money buying politicians if he’d read out those donors himself.
If he’d let me finish out my one minute and 45 seconds, it would have been a blip on the radar, if that. We know that because Selina Vickers from Fayette County presented similar info last year in a different public hearing, but she didn’t get removed, and it didn’t go viral.
What went viral was John Shott’s bad judgment
And what didn’t go viral was the bad bill, and the theft of our rights.
That distinction is super important, because… the thing is, both party platforms call to protect property rights. Both.
Yet year after year some version of this Forced Pooling bill has been pushed. This year the version was called “Forced Pooling Lite” by the industry, and “co-tenancy” by the bought politicians trying to rebrand “Forced Pooling.” And this year, lobbyists finally bought enough politicians to get it passed.
John Shott got mortified at being confronted with that financial public info, abused his power as Chairman, made a really stupid decision, the video went viral… but the bill passed anyway.
And that’s what didn’t go viral.
You may not even have heard that they actually passed that bill assaulting our property rights. They did it at the bidding of those lobbyists that poured money into their campaigns.
But our government should NOT be for the lobbyists, corporations, and shareholders.
It should be OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people.
It should be for us, for all of us.
We should be able to grow tomatoes in our gardens without worrying that some corporation can decide to invade us in order to funnel more money to out-of-state shareholders that are throwing cash at them.
Since property rights for regular people is something that cuts into the corporate bottom line, that’s why corporations and lobbyists buy legislators.
What doesn’t go viral
As for me, I happened to be in the right place at the right time… or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on how you look at it. That so many people paid attention to what happened was lucky for me in a few ways. I got a bunch of small donations from regular people; that’s important since I don’t take corporate PAC money.
And I’m more or less a nobody just trying to protect my garden: I could never have bought that amount of press coverage, not for ANY amount!
But what I REALLY want people to see is not just what went viral when I got removed in John Shott’s fit of pique. I want you to see what doesn’t go viral.
I want you to see that the incident in question is not about what happened to me. It’s about what’s happening to all of us, what’s happening to our rights.
It’s about the fact that those legislators still chose to take away our rights after all the outrage they saw. Understand, that’s how confident they are that their corporate money will get them re-elected. They just assumed voters would forget, so they passed it anyway.
That’s how confident they are that we don’t care enough to show up and vote.
We’ll continue to lose our rights if we don’t vote
Y’all, it’s not even the first time in recent memory we’ve lost property rights.
And that didn’t go viral, either.
“Less than two weeks after taking office,” the Gazette-Mail explained, “Gov. Jim Justice’s administration quietly deleted permit language intended to protect residents in West Virginia’s natural gas regions from excessive noise and bright lights from compressor stations and other facilities that are springing up across those communities.” The DEP removed protections for citizens that said these companies “shall not create a nuisance to the surrounding community by way of unreasonable noise and light during operations.”
Even more damning: that change was made “in direct response to a request” from an industry lobbying organization, WVONGA. That’s the group backing my opponent, backing John Shott, backing all those delegates who voted to take your rights away and hand them to corporations.
The industry didn’t want to have to spend the money it would cost protecting our property values.
It’s cheaper for them to lobby than to respect the rights of regular people. It’s cheaper to buy a few made-up awards for delegates, take them out for steak dinners, and generally suck up with brown nosing and a million fake compliments to distract from what’s actually happening at home, just a few hollers over, to someone who’s desperate to save the property he inherited from his grandpa, to save the spot he wants to put a hunting cabin some day.
Normalized abuses are what doesn’t go viral
Here’s what else doesn’t go viral.
Not a single representative of ours spoke up for us—not a Democrat, not a Republican— when the government permitted a company to add 600 trucks a day to our already beat-to-death asphalt and gravel. Yet all those Facebook photos of gravel-road-rivers, car-eating potholes and the damage to our cars did NOT go viral.
And not a single representative of ours spoke up for us—not a Democrat, not a Republican—when Antero decided to site its frack dump within the peripheral zone of concern for the only drinking water intake in the entire county. They could have put that dump in a place that wouldn’t have risked our water, but it’s less expensive to put us at risk, they said.
And not one “representative” spoke up for us.
That didn’t go viral because those abuses are normal. There was no shocking video to get shared around. No lawmaker lost his temper.
That’s where the dirty money pays off.
Where the lighting strikes
What I’m getting at, y’all, is that the lightning strike that heralded a shower of campaign donations from regular people was nice for me. It was great. I am SO appreciative.
… but there are other candidates fighting for the same things. The difference is they just didn’t have the stupidity of a middle-school freak out leveled at them on-camera.
And frankly, the next time someone goes to a hearing and lists off corporate campaign contributions, it’s unlikely that John Shott or anyone else will throw another temper tantrum and eject someone, because they’ve seen what that does.
Instead, some poor soul will stand there at the podium with shaking hands, reading from a sheet of paper, begging for property rights protections for himself, or his grandma, or his neighbor. And that person will go up to speak… and then sit down, completely disregarded.
It will not go viral.
And nothing will have changed. We’ll continue to lose our rights.
They don’t work for the public
Public hearings right now are just hoops the corporate-owned politicians jump through before they do what they’re gonna do anyway, so they can collect those big checks, and be treated to those steak dinners by fake friends.
Let me repeat that: the public hearings are supremely unimportant to bought legislators, because it’s not the public putting these legislators into office.
It’s the lobbyists; it’s the shareholders. It’s the people who don’t care where the frack dump goes so long as it makes them as much money as possible. It’s the execs who want to buy legislators who will pass laws to protect them as they assault your property rights and property values, as they seize your mountain.
Lobbyists: That’s who puts them into office, so that’s who they’re working for.
Going through the motions
That’s why, for bought legislators, attending public hearings is just jumping through a few necessary hoops, ticking off boxes.
As an example, one of the delegates I called out at the public hearing wasn’t even there for it. Charlotte Lane breezed in late as I was sitting in the lobby area after having been removed. I was waiting to be allowed to collect my purse and coat so I could come back home.
Evidently Lane already knew how she was going to vote; she didn’t need to hear from The People. After all, she’d already heard from those who put her in office: corporate lobbyists.
That part—that part where she came in late—didn’t go viral either.
But these outrages don’t have to go viral to come into the voting booth with us this fall.
West Virginians deserve good neighbors, not corporate invaders.