Speech from Proceedings of the Seventh Annual New York Conference
on Private Property Rights
(2003)

WELCOME

OUR INALIENABLE HERITAGE

Carol W. LaGrasse

 

Welcome to the Seventh Annual New York Conference on Private Property Rights. Thank you for making such journeys to come to Albany for this celebration of “Our Inalienable Heritage,” our fundamental right to own and use private property to the fullest extent guaranteed in the United States Constitution.

In addition to the travels by the illustrious speakers, you, the heroes in the audience, have traveled from all the eastern and western, southern and northern, extremes of this State of New York, and from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. to join us today. Thank you!

“Carol,” you say, “when I look at the program, it looks like a roster of our loss of our rights!” Yes, this is why we are here...To take a look at the ways that our rights are being eroded and, by so doing, recognizing what courses must somehow be taken to set the history back on a path toward justice. And, many of our speakers are doing just that — explaining where the corrective path is being taken, and encouraging us with this news. But, with good news, comes the responsibility that we have to support the directions that inspired leaders are taking in every way humanly possible.

One of the points that I have been making for these almost-ten years since the founding of the Property Rights Foundation of America is that the soft sell used by the moneyed interests who want total power is a great threat. The many themes of the gradual, confusing, non-threatening approach are part and parcel of subjects to be considered during this gathering today. Think of them: land trusts, which are widely considered to be “motherhood and apple pie”; conservation easements — sold as a way to save farms, forests, nature itself, the rural life, and even prevent sprawl; scenic byways — innocent-sounding measures to promote beauty and tourism; trails — healthful ways to recycle deserted canals and railroad routes, and open up woodlands to recreationists; similarly for greenways such as the National and American Heritage Areas and Rivers; and protective measures against invasive species to protect our native plants, which can be popularized at first by utilizing the leadership of non-profit organizations and volunteer service of students.

Long-term measures that are couched with such appeal have the same results as immediate police measures, and are actually more effective, because they involve the local elites under an array of pretexts. For instance, it is a supposedly good thing to rid the downtowns of our villages and cities of older businesses, because downtown decay must be eradicated and these areas are supposedly blighted. Therefore, we can gather the people of the village or city in support of condemnation of these properties to replace them with modern commercial development. And, by the way, this will bring in more tax revenue for the municipality. And more power to the people governing the municipality...

And, for trails, byways, and heritage areas, local elites — the elected officials, regional economic development organizations — also gain revenue and power from these projects. They fail to see themselves as hacks for the National Park Service and the wealthy non-profit organizations, the groups which engender the schemes and bring the locals in to create an appearance that the projects are of local genesis and significance. And what’s the harm if there is less tolerance for rural people who may not have the most beautifully maintained houses and businesses? Others will take their place, and the value of real property will increase.

People are beginning to realize that something is afoot.

The rural battle for private property rights is epitomized by the actions of the National Park Service, an incredibly powerful agency which has never been surpassed in this country in its hostility to private property, has an obvious agenda to institute national land-use planning.

The goal of landscape preservation, as it is called professionally, was neatly outlined about a decade ago in a book Greenways for America by Charles E. Little, forwarded by Patrick Noonan (formerly president of The Nature Conservancy) of the Conservation Fund (the premier greenways non-profit, which sponsored the book) and also funded by the Rockefellers American Conservation Association and the National Endowment for the Arts. The book advocates linear, unsegmented commons (p. 35), even though title to ownership of such lands may be lodged in private hands, because the public’s interest in their use and conservation is generally understood. (p. 34) Trails lead to greenways, he explains. (p. 135) And greenways can lead to the elusive goal of comprehensive land-use planning. (p. 135) Regional greenways are the possible answer to clean up “the mess that is manmade America.” (p. 136) “...the idea of establishing such an infrastructure might very well give us a new and less controversial approach to regional planning by providing a geophysical framework for it, which...is the framework of the landscape itself.” (p. 136, italics added)

The rural themes are very close to the urban ones. And the themes are age-old, unbounded by geography. It is always the tyrant, the powerful, who wants to take more power and wealth, and in the preservation movement, they have created an intellectual scripture, so to speak, to justify repression of the rural population to satisfy their tastes and goals.

But our country was founded under different assumptions. Our fundamental rights do include the right to own and use private property. Everyman has this same right as the ruler. Eminent domain has to be for public use, not for the distorted goal of some amorphous public purpose preferred to the present. A great groundswell, instigated significantly by our keynote speaker today, is rising against this massive taking of private property, even though supposedly compensation is given.

In rural America, similarly, a movement has arisen against the “takings” of wetlands, the “takings” to protect endangered species, condemnations of property for trails and parks, and the many insidious programs that are paving the way for the more gradual eradication of the rural American population. Our movement has seen through the insidious programs lie conservation easements and organizations like The Nature Conservancy, and we are making our voices heard.

Thank you for your great outpouring of support by making your presence felt today. I hope that the efforts of the speakers and each of you will strengthen you in your ideals and practical knowledge, so that you find satisfaction in being more able to defend our inalienable heritage — private property rights.

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