Speech from the Eighth Annual New York Conference
on Private Property Rights
(2004)

Welcome
Challenges to Our Vision
Carol W. LaGrasse

Welcome, everyone, to this, our Eighth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights. Thank you for coming. It is very exciting to see people here who are gathered from the leadership of the property rights movement from all over the country as well as from across the entire state of New York. I think that about half the people here are from New York, and the rest of us are from everywhere from Maine to the State of Washington.

As you know, this has become a long-term battle. Some of us have been watching the erosion of our freedoms, particularly our private property rights, for an entire adult lifetime. We have made some progress, but we have watched a general malaise set in and we have witnessed terrible repression. So the answer, as it is to anything that anyone wants to achieve in life, is the same type of tenacity that we use to succeed in business, church work, community work, but also in the areas of improving our nation’s government, our town and state government.

We come today to be inspired by experts, to learn from these experts, to be inspired by sacrifices, and leadership, the faith and belief that we all share in a basic system of morality that has a real basis. It isn’t just something that we arrive at a particular time and place to suit some particular issue, but our principles carry through no matter what we face. I think that those principles will shine through and that someday we will see greater victories than the small ones that we have achieved in the past. We are hoping to make changes, greater changes, than we have achieved in the past, and we are hoping to gain back some of the freedoms that we have lost.

Now, as I mentioned, we have come long distances. Maxine Keesling has come all the way from Washington. I thank you. Kit Shy is here from Colorado. Craig Call has come from Utah and, after he decided to attend, he volunteered to be a speaker. Diane Gilbert and her organization have come from New Hampshire. Dale Anderson and Fred Grau have come in from Pennsylvania, and Jane and Holt Hogan have traveled from Virginia. Emily Ford and her husband have come in from the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border. So many people have come from all over the country—and even to travel from the other end of New York is no small task. We have people from Long Island, from Brooklyn, and from Allegany at the other extreme of New York...People who have made a big difference, people who have changed the course of events.

I want to thank the co-sponsors by name. The Property Rights Foundation of America could not carry on this event without some generous donations—the American Association of Small Property Owners with Pat Callahan here representing them, the American Land Foundation based in Texas, Civil Property Rights Associates based on eastern Long Island, the Forest Landowners Association—represented by Scott Jones, Freedom 21 Santa Cruz—which is represented by speaker Michael Shaw, Homeowners Against Rent Kontrols—whose president is Adrian Tiemann and who spoke at earlier conferences about rent control and about producing a good newsletter, LandGuard—which I will tell you more about at lunch time, the Liberty Garden—which is Michael Shaw’s achievement of private conservation, the New York Farm Bureau—which has had a representative to speak at many of our conferences, Speak Up America News—known as suanews.com and which some of you may know more as Chuck Diaz’s organization, and The JM Foundation—the Jeremiah Milbank Foundation—which has benefited this work for its ten full years of existence. The JM Foundation was founded to help the disabled with rehabilitation.

The lunch is made possible by the co-sponsorship of the LandGuard organization. The entire conference is being taped. Pat McHale, who is at the back of the hall, can take orders of the tapes of the conference. The evening hors d’oeuvres at five o’clock, which were not on the original publicity, are made possible by the generosity of all of the co-sponsors. It will be about an hour for light refreshments. And all of this is made possible by all of you. Many people say that after they come to the conference they find it very inspiring to be with such other wonderful people who have the same vision and principles and hope for the future.

The theme of my talk is about how we have to counteract those people who are “doing good.” I remember as a kid that they would make fun of do-gooders, but I never knew that do-gooders would become quite so powerful through enforcing goodness on the rest of us. I don’t really think of them as do-gooders anymore. But, you know, they want to build a trail through your backyard. They want you to divest the title and the equity to your land as a conservation easement. They want to put in these things that they say are perfectly innocent, like scenic byways, UNESCO biosphere reserves, National Heritage Areas, and through these laws get control of areas of land, use these schemes to enact regional zoning and a lot of other things that will hurt the people in the areas. They want to buy up land for the government, and take away your freedom to use the land.

They want to basically kick the hunters off the land, but they pretend they want to open land to hunters by buying more land for the government. They generally want to simply restrict rural land, make it so that the ordinary rural people—the ones who in the old days you could see hoeing in the field, repairing all the farm equipment, who do just about anything that life places before them—can’t go on living in their towns. They are not worthy of even being in rural America anymore. These do-gooders want to put a lot of preserves out there and a relatively small amount of very elite housing.

Of course, we know the organizations that are involved in this. One of them, as you know, is being investigated by the IRS-the big honcho, The Nature Conservancy, because they would acquire these lands and then they would somehow make deals with their own board of directors and they would find that their friends had beautiful estates on land protected with the donations of generous, ordinary people, and with government money.

So that is what we face and there is so much more of it, but that is rural America. I come from the city, and I don’t think that you ever really change. When I was a little girl, they were tearing down the brownstones, the attached masonry buildings, in East Harlem. I could kind of view the East Harlem area from the hilltop on College Point on the North Shore of Long Island where I lived. This was about 12 miles as the crow flies, maybe a little less. And then what you saw were these ugly, impersonal, tall brick structures where everybody lived in a nondescript apartment building that would go up in place of the brownstones. And I remember as a young girl thinking to myself, gee, it must be pretty harsh when they take the people away from their neighborhoods where the kids all grew up together and the families were raised together and they make them move into these impersonal areas, but I didn’t really know anybody there. I just remember thinking that, and I also didn’t know that it was going on all around the country. And it happened. It just went on and they tore down neighborhoods in hundreds of cities in this country. They really destroyed, I should say, thousands of neighborhoods, they destroyed all the black folk’s ghettoes. Now I don’t like the word ghetto because you would say that my mother and father grew up in a German ghetto. It is just an area where a particular people of particular ethnic backgrounds live and share their ethnicity and offer support for each other. But they destroyed all of that for the black people. They didn’t go after the people who were of, say, Irish extraction or German extraction, when I was a kid, or the Italians a little later, but they somehow did it to all the blacks. They didn’t like their run-down houses but they weren’t really that bad. They were just a little bit more run down or at least the government used it as an excuse that they were run down.

That happened when I was young, and now there is a new wave of it and it is hitting people like us. Of course, I have noticed that we are all not of black extraction, so to speak. And these people today are in little downtowns and small villages or in downtowns in big cities, and the whole characteristic of urban renewal has changed. It used to be that if a big real estate company, a mogul, in New York City wanted to put up expensive apartments, then the mogul had to buy out everybody. But what happened was he couldn’t always buy everybody out for various reasons. Maybe just to be stubborn and get more money, there were these people called “holdouts.” That is a name that actually is used, and so you would go into New York City and you would see a corner cut out of a large newer building and that is a holdout. There are a lot of them in New York City. Now they don’t bother with that. Some urban development corporation condemns the property for the developer, see, and this has gone berserk. But it isn’t just in places like New York City. It is in all these little downtowns.

This fall the Property Rights Foundation of America was privileged to be able to submit a friend of the court brief to the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to hear Kelo versus New London, and the Supreme Court is going to hear that case. That is a case where some people in the Fort Trumble neighborhood on the waterfront in New London don’t have the right kind of places to bring in enough tax money into the city of New London, and their property is all being condemned for urban renewal. The Supreme Court will decide the issue of whether economic development is adequate as a sole ground for condemnation of private property. Imagine that! We have to go to the Supreme Court to decide if economic development can be used to take one person’s property to give it to another. I have to just keep smiling because it is unfathomably evil. There is a word you don’t use these days. Well, also keep in mind, that, for the people who believe in diversity, these condemnations destroy the diverse urban culture.

Patty Hagan is here someplace. Patty Hagan has been in the papers in the Brooklyn Heights Press, which I get; that is why I thought I recognized her face. She was just one of two or three people who originally led the protest against the rabid re-development of downtown Brooklyn for the stadium which is to bring the Nets in from New Jersey and kind of undo the ethnic neighborhood of that section of downtown Brooklyn. Well, of course, those ethnic neighborhoods—we, I mean, my family has been here in the United States now for four generations, so certainly people who have come from places like Korea and Thailand and India, I mean, they are not, they don’t deserve the same rights as I, right? I mean, they are newcomers and their skin is, I think, it is a bit darker than mine, and they haven’t developed the smoothness for the English or American tongue, and their voices have a certain inflection and their grammar has certain deficiencies, and they have customs that aren’t quite like mine. Their stores carry foods that, my goodness, how can they eat that stuff, you know. You know, they really don’t deserve to be treated quite with the same degree of acceptance as us—and rights? Rights, well, hell, they are lucky they got into the United States of America, right? I mean, they came here for freedom, but they can’t expect all of it right away…So let’s get rid of them. I mean, heck, they hire their own kind, you know. No one else wants to work for those rates, and they work hard.

Well, I seem to remember that around the corner from my family in the old days was an Irish family that was somehow connected to us through some kind of in-law relationship. Some of my relatives, we Germans, had actually married Irish. Imagine that! The Irish family had a corner store and they worked these 12-hour days. Well, you know, these so-called “ethnics” today do that, too. And you know what? At nighttime, instead of these big downtown developments, where everything is dark, the neighborhood is thriving with life. I remember when Pete and I used to walk to the church in East Harlem to tutor, out there on the street would be the Hispanics, and they would be playing cards. Darn it, at all hours of the night! We talked about the Jane Jacobs idea, you know, having active street neighborhoods. Well, who ever heard of such a thing? These people don’t make the kind of active street neighborhoods that we want, right? Oh, that’s bologna, you know. So interesting.

And, of course, New York has always been the great American gateway, and each group of immigrants who have come in have always been “less” than the ones before. But, my goodness, without the immigrants coming into the State of New York, do you know what our decline in population would be? We have lost millions of people, but the immigrants come in and the people leaving New York get replaced with those who have the thirst for economic and personal freedom in the United States of America. So those are the people who get mistreated when private property rights aren’t respected.

Patty, I want to thank you publicly. You are the first person from Brooklyn that isn’t related to me that spoke about private property rights as a real American right.

All of these schemes to take away private property rights, they can all be controlled, they can all be brought into alignment. This is not being naive. For us it may seem naive, but it is not naive to believe that we can do this, that we have the ability. I always say, and I will say it again this year, that everybody who is sitting here has exercised tremendous leadership and brought about tremendous change. We are catalysts on our own. Just like my silly engineering illustration, we are like a lever with a very, very small force on the end of a great big rod. You can move something very large, a very large boulder. Or like the way you can pick at a crack in a huge rock just by hammering and hammering away. You don’t have to have the power to break it with your raw hands. We can do this. We can do it with our ingenuity, with our creativity, our guts. We can accomplish these things and we can bring more and more people to work with us because the basic idea of private property rights can be conveyed to anybody. There is no one who can’t understand that somebody shouldn’t take away from you the fruits of your labor, that your individuality is your most fundamental possession. And that what that individuality creates, if that is divested from you, then how can you be a true person? We can say that to anybody, and that is what we are really here to affirm today: how private property rights are the absolute essential to freedom.

So it comes down to unity, it comes down to the old platitudes-this creativeness, this faith. Golly, just the belief, the enthusiasm that there is nothing that we can not do because we understand that it is right and we use our intelligence to enact those things that are right.
I want to thank you for coming to our gathering. I want to thank you, so many of you, for taking the trouble to visit your Congressmen, to visit your representatives, to be leered at, to be treated like someone who isn’t of value when you visit your mayor or whoever it is. Some of you, for standing up when just trying to use your property, you are considered to be some greedy person who wants to “make money.” You have stood up, you have conveyed something, you have gone against the stream, and every time you do this you have accomplished something for freedom.

We will go on, we will succeed, we will see in our lifetime that many of our efforts have brought fruit.

Today, I hope that you will all take advantage of meeting each other, of making plans to work together, of sharing what you have learned, doing outreach for the Property Rights Foundation of America, for the other organizations that are represented here, to bring other people, whether it is your representative or your friends, into our effort for freedom. And I just hope you have a wonderful day. Thank you.

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