About the author
A lifetime of observation and curiosity about the way people seem to fall into rigid social categories in industrialized countries eventually led Ben to write this book. A few years before he ventured into the work of community rights organizing he wrote a short essay titled “The Hungry, the Haunted and the Hunted.” Roughly speaking, the Hungry are the minority of aggressive accumulators of material and political advantage who rationalize their exploitation of others as “in the public interest.” The Haunted are those people with the appetite for serving the Hungry, to benefit from proximity to their power. The Hunted are the multitude of people who are preyed upon and treated as subordinate, their bodies and minds exploited for cheap labor and their souls committed to indoctrinated obedience.
Ben was raised in the blue-collar milieu of 1950s and 60s Philadelphia. He noticed the inflexibility of social class lines from the down-side looking up. Curiosity about the causes, source and perpetuation of that unjust pattern moved him to inquire into how beliefs can overwhelm self-trust in the evidence of our own eyes and ears. That eventually led him to study the way history reflects the past through perceptions biased by class identity. He learned that, hidden deep in the loam of the past, constantly evolving techniques of deception have served the agenda of power and contradict the legends of the founding of civilizations. He learned that privileges for some and servitude for the many is an arrangement that has supported the building and maintaining of empire, and that it is a dynamic that is opposed to democracy and justice.
Ben has continued to decolonize his own mind, to reject the façade of nationalism and the smokescreens of power. In 2004 he joined the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and since then has advised and organized in hundreds of communities, many of which adopted CELDF-drafted local laws that codify the rights of human communities and the rights of nature, while advancing social justice and prohibiting activities that violate those rights.
In 2006 Ben worked closely with community leaders and elected officials in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania in a campaign that resulted in the Borough becoming the first community on earth to enact legally enforceable rights for nature. Because of that groundbreaking work, CELDF was invited to Ecuador in 2008 and asked to draft language for the country’s Constitutional Congress that would enshrine the rights of Mother Earth. Ecuador’s new national constitution was adopted with overwhelming public support, becoming the first nation on earth to recognize legally enforceable rights for nature.
Ben advised Pittsburgh City Council and district community groups in drafting the city’s Protection from Natural Gas Drilling Ordinance. It directly challenged corporate rights and the state’s industry-friendly preemption of local bans on fracking. The measure also included legally enforceable rights for nature and expanded the rights of residents to include clean air and water, and the right of local self-government. The city’s law has served as a template for scores of other municipalities to emulate.
Ben is National Organizing Director for CELDF.