Property Rights Foundation of America®

Speech from the Ninth Annual National Conference
on Private Property Rights

Welcome — Rules of Engagement for Defending Our Private Property Rights

Carol W. LaGrasse, President, Property Rights Foundation of America

Welcome! It is wonderful to see you all. Welcome to our Ninth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights. I hope that you have a wonderful day.

Instead of doing a lot of introductions and accolades for you—who really make this event entirely possible, I would like to go right into the meat of this conference, which is called the "Rules of Engagement for Defending Our Private Property Rights." The Kelo vs. New London decision is the framework for this event. As you know, people are shocked and angry. We are realizing that now it is perfectly legal, in spite of the Constitution, for government to condemn the house of one person and transfer it to another so long as government has a plan, and that is essentially a quote, for economic development such as to raise tax revenues. As I wrote recently, this and other Supreme Court decisions convey a trend that the administrative state has come. In spite of the excellent work of many of us, the blow that the Supreme Court delivered went to the heart of private property rights.

Today, we have top leaders in the property rights arena to speak on the great trends and the work on the ground, to inspire us with national leadership in court and in the voting booth, and with creative local leadership facing off repressive government hand to hand. As you know, sometimes that is the hardest thing to do, to advocate for freedom right in your own town. Today, I would like to ask you to look for messages that will give you rules of engagement for the hard work that you are doing as a citizen. The speakers will give you many worthwhile lessons. And now I would like to give you my rules of engagement.

First of all, fight to win. Set your goals. Speak your issue clearly to be heard by the government and by those who can follow you.

After I gave my testimony about eminent domain on Tuesday to the New York State Senate, my husband Peter said, you were the only one of the seven invited speakers that made the chairman more and more uncomfortable. Finally, Peter said to me, when you got to the topic of using the black people as an example of those most hurt by eminent domain, the chairman looked as though he were going to back right out of his seat, he was so furious. So don't back off. Go right to the heart of where you can hit them. And also speak clearly so that the people can follow you. They must know exactly where you are.

Apply your efforts with sophistication. Use your emotion but don't ever be run by your emotions. Intensity frightens the opposition, the people who want to just dismiss you. They see the force behind your words.

Don't let seemingly friendly, but despotic, officials suck you into their turf. They may want to meet with you. Watch out for the trap of meeting with people privately. Be a threat. Target the incumbent on the fence when it will be the effective thing to do, and embarrass them. Run for office if that is something that would be effective. Select whom you target. Don't burn your bridges when you may need those you've cut off, but don't be afraid to hit right on target. Drive the point home. It isn't just the first shot.

Negotiating and compromise are sometimes very important, but make sure you always gain. Never move the line back toward you. When you organize to defeat legislation, don't kid around. Do the work. Sacrifice. Use the tactics to win. One little letter to the editor is great if you are one of the great mass of people and it is added to theirs, but if you are the only one working and you are just going to write one letter to the editor, forget it. It isn't going to do a bit of good.

Use every resource. For example, don't pooh-pooh the media—yes, they are liberal—or the legislature. They are all entities that you can use to be effective.

There is room for every style. Lawsuits, mass protests, motorcades, letters to the editor, visits to legislators one on one or in large, disruptive groups. I don't mean shouting, but I mean just so many that they can't fit in the office and they fill the hall. Clever devices like the insulting T-shirt that Jim McCulley, who is going to speak today, and his crowd developed referring to the Adirondack Park Agency as the "Adirondack Porn Agency." There were thousands of these around the Adirondacks this summer and fall. Don't be deluded, though, that one arrow, however good, is going to win the war.

Build on opportunistic actions of others. For instance, that "Adirondack Porn Agency" T-shirt and a lot of other things we did after the Adirondack Park Agency leadership was exposed for having, shall we say, pornographic views of women on the hard drives of their office computers did a lot of good for us.

Get accurate information. Distribute information that is devastating to the opponent. Get it out right away.

Never waste a public hearing. This is one of my favorite themes. The hearing is called for you. Use it to your advantage. They are your audience. Whenever you speak, say exactly what you intend to convey. Don't sanitize your speech because you have heard three or four people speaking before you and you may think, my words don't seem to be along the right drift. Say it. Get it out. You will change the whole hearing or whatever meeting it is.

Join hands with others, but watch out for advantage seekers. They jump in on other people's causes and try to take over. They will ruin your thing. Watch out for whackos. Watch out for disruptive people, those who get in there and just make muck out of anything you are trying to do. And there are people who will betray your goals. Don't get sucked into busy work. Once you are really working away on something, all of a sudden, oh yeah, your group gets formed and they want to have meetings, meetings, meetings that accomplish nothing. Watch out.

Newsletters. A newsletter is often very desirable. Again, watch out. Say, there is somebody there who wants to do a newsletter. Good. But the newsletter is worthless if it just rehashes the work of other people, work that has already been published by sources outside your organization.

If you are in for the long haul, set yourself up to sustain your efforts. Keep a clear eye forward in every circumstance. Be aware of your surroundings, whether you are working on a local, state, or national level amid great trends.

Celebrate and defend our heritage. Our freedom is what we are working for. The preservation of our local culture, whether it is urban or rural, is what we are working for. Don't ever leave that out of anything you are saying.

Don't excuse inaction by blaming the socialists, the judges, the environmentalists, the planners, or the old Northeastern wealth. Certainly, don't blame some boogey man over there, far away. Apathy and acquiescence by the great majority allow those people that are enemies to gain the upper hand.

You may want to change things. You must therefore lead. I often repeat that. If there is something going wrong in your particular locality and, oh my, you say, this is really a grievance, well, guess what! You are the one who is going to have to change it. Nobody else will. You people here today, who are leaders, you can say that to someone else. You know, great, you can complain to me, but I am not your saint and martyr. We need you. Take over. Do it.

Never underestimate what you can do, such as pressure the town board or the state legislature to act in the face of Kelo vs. New London or whatever cause you have for private property rights and freedom. Carry your goal to the level of an accomplishment. The accomplishment will bring better protection of individual rights.

So today is an opportunity for you. Welcome and have a wonderful day! Thank you.

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