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Author: Nikolas Bowie
Date: Nov. 2021
From: Harvard Law Review(Vol. 135, Issue 1)
Publisher: Harvard Law Review Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 28,365 words
Lexile Measure: 1960L

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Democracy can take root anywhere, from community gardens to the most toxic workplace environments. It's planted whenever people treat one another as political equals, allowing everyone in the community, or demos, to share in exercising power, or kratos. (1) Where democracy is allowed to blossom, it can undermine social hierarchies that have long seemed like natural features of the landscape. (2) And it's perhaps for this reason that when property owners see democracy growing where they don't want it, they often suppress it like a weed.

Generations of farmworkers have confronted this problem while trying to cultivate democracy in American soil. A group of wealthy planters seeded a perennial ideal when they first proclaimed that "all men are created equal." (3) Yet they faced the violent resistance of a British monarch whose supporters claimed that sovereignty was an inherited part of his estate. (4) The farmers who fought the American Revolution nurtured the ideal of political equality in the name of "Democracy in America." (5) Yet they were fenced in by constitutional barriers designed to protect property from their rule. (6) Enslaved field hands waged a civil war and a general strike to graft "abolition" onto American democracy. (7) Yet a counterrevolution of property lynched the victors, disenfranchised them, and codified their inferior status for the next hundred years. (8)

In each case, like an herbicide to protect property from the "excess of democracy," (9) antidemocracy has sustained social hierarchies from the spread of political equality. Whether it comes in the form of violent repression, vetoes of legislation by unelected officials, or practically un-amendable constitutional restrictions, antidemocracy has had a long half-life. (10)

Even in the middle of the twentieth century, when women and people of color successfully expanded the right to vote, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and farmworkers in California learned that democracy on Election Day means very little when antidemocracy suppresses political equality elsewhere. Then as now, immigrant farmworkers were disenfranchised, and even citizen farmworkers spent their waking hours dominated by employers who could fire them for any reason. (11) When farmworkers acted collectively to resist workplace oppression, employers and their political allies used violence, arrests, and injunctions to disrupt farmworker organizing. (12) When farmworkers used their numbers to elect their own political allies, employers took advantage of antidemocratic checks in the political process to cement their own power. (13) And when farmworkers succeeded in winning compromises with employers--in the form of contracts, legislation, and constitutional changes--these successes entrenched whatever antidemocratic practices were allowed to fester, even, most harmfully, within Chavez and Huerta's own union, the United Farm Workers. (14)

In a recent case involving the United Farm Workers, the Supreme Court gave property owners yet another tool to suppress democracy. In Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, (15) the Court held that the U.S. Constitution requires the government to compensate property owners whenever a law interferes with their "right to exclude." (16) The decision immediately endangered one of Chavez and Huerta's political successes: a California regulation that required...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A683074833