Rights of Nature: Opinion V. Fact
Communities around the globe are crafting laws that change the legal status of natural communities from being property under the law to living entities with inalienable rights and legal standing. Residents possess the legal authority to enforce those rights on behalf of natural communities. Gain a deeper understanding of these rights based ordinances being introduced and how the rights of nature are the legal underpinning to enforce the local laws to protect the health safety and welfare of all.
Kai Huschke of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
Ann Kneeland of Community Rights Lane County and legal council
Stacey Mclaughlin of Douglas County Townsfolk for Community Rights
Cliff Wilmeng of Colorado Community Rights Network
Now you can see what all the buzz was about!
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
By Thomas Linzey
Same story. Different day.
People are threatened by an activity that will injure them, and they work overtime to pass a law that bans the activity.
An affected corporation—or industry association—then sues the municipality, contending that the community can’t prohibit what the state allows, and that the ban violates the “rights” of the corporation.
The upshot of these machinations is that the municipality then either repeals the ban or is bankrupted trying to defend it. Most likely, the insurance corporation for the municipality brokers a deal in which the municipality agrees not to enforce the ordinance in exchange for the corporation dropping its lawsuit.
Day after day, issue after issue, community after community, this machine has been humming along happily (for some) ever since the late 1800’s. All under a structure of law so perfectly constructed that very few understand how it actually works in practice.
Under a structure of law that lawyers, law professors, elected officials, judges and established activist organizations call “democracy.”
Why the Corporations are Right
The law as it stands is pretty straightforward—communities are prohibited from banning what state government allows. That’s because our local municipal governments (the places where we live) have the status of “children” to the state “parent” under a legal theory called “Dillon’s Rule”—which means that state law, on issues deemed to be of statewide concern—legally overrides local laws. It means that communities can only do what the state legislature explicitly allows them to do.
All of which is privately enforceable by the corporations in any given industry—who can use these doctrines to haul our communities into court. It also means that by investing in the state legislature (a “right” protected under the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution), corporations can curb the actions of all communities within the State in one swoop simply by using State legislature to preempt all communities at one time.
It, of course, gets worse—federal and state civil rights laws treat “discrimination” against a corporation exactly the same way that the laws treat “discrimination” against racial minorities. Consequently, a community attempting to stop a corporation from engaging in a harmful activity that the state has permitted is treated as odiously by the law as a community attempting to ban African-Americans. It works this way because the law treats both corporations and minority members as “persons” for purposes of civil rights laws.
Sometimes, you just can’t make this stuff up. Unfortunately for us, those doctrines have been the law of the land for well over a century.
How did we get to this place? Simple. Corporations—and the people who own and run them—have been very busy manufacturing a structure of law that insulates them from community control. They had a lot of help, of course—mostly in the form of our early constitution-drafters who made critical decisions that elevated property rights above democratic ones. That structure created fertile ground for the trading, energy, agribusiness and waste corporations who then wrapped themselves in constitutional law, while the rest of us struggled for long years trying to secure constitutional protections for ourselves—for women, African-Americans, native peoples, immigrants and gays.
Now we’re faced with a situation in which a corporate few possess greater legal and constitutional rights than community majorities.
Why do we almost never win against corporations targeting our communities? It’s because we focus solely on trying to convince other people how bad an activity is, and the need to ban it. Meanwhile, over at corporate headquarters, they’re laughing at us because they’ve patented the structure of law that is routinely used to preempt and nullify what we do.
In short, they know that they can always play the final card.
How do we get our heads out of our asses?
So how do we change the rules? Well, first we need to understand our own history, and that we’re not the first ones to be faced with a gameboard that has no places for our piece. We need to understand how prior movements—when faced with a system of law that didn’t recognize women or African-Americans as “people”—successfully changed the rules of the game. We can then appreciate why traditional liberal, progressive “pressure” politics have failed so miserably, and why the natural environment is in worse shape today than it was prior to the passage of the “seminal” regulatory laws that environmental groups trumpet.
Second, we need to figure out which doctrines—what parts of the structure of law itself—allow the corporation to do what it does; and what parts authorize our own State government to enable the corporations to do what they do. And then, we must use what we know to build a movement that dismantles that platform of law by collectively refusing to obey it.
Indeed, widespread disobedience is the only thing that’s ever been powerful enough to change unjust laws. While we tend to think of civil disobedience solely in terms of laying down in front of a bulldozer, we must create a higher form—one that collectively harnesses the power of our municipal governments to turn them against the corporations (and our own State governments) and the doctrines that empower them.
Simply put, we must occupy the law.
Ten thousand communities joining together to use their lawmaking powers to frontally and directly challenge the existence of those doctrines could ultimately liberate communities from the state-sanctioned rape that we’ve endured for over a century. That grassroots disobedience to the functioning of the law must then stitch itself together to drive state and federal constitutional change that unrings the bell.
If we don’t, we better get accustomed to living on our knees.
The Longmont saga—opportunities lost
What’s happened in Longmont, Colorado is a perfect example of what activism looks like which fails to understand the tactical situation, and consequently, fails to directly challenge that platform of law.
While the original draft of Longmont’s “fracking” law contained everything necessary to mount a direct attack on preemption and corporate “rights,” the proposed amendment was then unceremoniously stripped of those provisions. They were deemed to be simply “too radical” by the drafters of the measure to be adopted by popular vote.
What could have the Longmont law looked like, if a different strategy had been pursued? Like the one created by the Pittsburgh City Council and now adopted by over a dozen other municipalities—which codified a community bill of rights recognizing peoples’ rights to clean air, pure water and a renewable energy future—and then banned gas drilling as a violation of those rights. The ordinance then stripped gas corporations in the City of the legal rights and powers that would otherwise be used to override the ordinance. The law also nullifies any State-issued permits that would allow fracking to proceed within the City.
Why? Because the overriding issue isn’t “fracking,” it is the denial of local self-government. By failing to address the latter, the focus on the former all but guarantees an organizing dead-end—the same dead-end that has been pursued by environmental and other groups for the past forty years.
Will they be overturned? Perhaps. But in many important ways, it doesn’t matter. While using our municipal governments to adopt local bills of rights is a novel approach, challenges to those laws inherently require the challenging corporation to validate each of the legal doctrines that allow them to override community lawmaking, and for a court to specifically uphold the application of each of those doctrines. In doing so, the process itself begins to reveal the otherwise-invisible apparatus which controls most aspects of our daily lives. The litigation thus becomes part of the organizing, rather than something best left just to the lawyers.
And it’s the very fact that the current machinery is invisible to so many people that allows it to function. Making it work in front of communities intimately affected by the corporate activity—with the eyes of the community on the legal system itself which then requires the injury to occur—will inevitably lead to a movement demanding structural change. It is that focus on structural change that will then take aim at driving changes to the state constitution that embed a right to community self-government at the highest levels. Communities in Pennsylvania, Washington, New Mexico and New Hampshire are now moving in that direction—building statewide organizations which grow stronger with each confrontation between resource corporations and municipalities.
Predictably, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association has sued Longmont using the same platform of law that corporations have been using against other communities for the last hundred years. Included in the lawsuit filed by the Association, on behalf of its member corporations, are claims of state preemption and violation of corporate “rights” that have been driven into both the state constitution and state law.
An opportunity has been lost to question (and openly challenge) the structure that provides the very basis of claimed corporate supremacy over Colorado communities. An opportunity has been lost to draw the parallels between fracking and the hundreds of other issues that communities face across the State—from water privatization and land development to the corporatization of agriculture.
An opportunity has been lost to make visible what has been so carefully camouflaged.
Movements build when opportunities are seized, not lost—when that which is hazy suddenly becomes clear. By framing the problem as “fracking,” and not as the corporate and governmental powers that force “fracking” on unwilling communities, it becomes easy for the gas corporations to divide, conquer, and then dissuade other communities from following.
It’s a revolt that never materializes.
It’s not too late for Longmont, of course. Both the State of Colorado and the corporate frackers, who will pile it on over the course of the next year, have drawn a bullseye around the people and natural environment of Longmont. As it all plays out, as it has a thousand times before in a thousand different places, let’s hope that a frontal challenge to the gas corporations—and the State government which has enabled and empowered them—isn’t far behind.
Sponsors to continue until initiative is before the voters
Support Local Food Right’s effort to put the Local Food System Ordinance before Lane County voters continues. Since Judge Charles Carlson’s ruling in February 2014 – finding that the former version of the initiative did not comply with pre-election requirements – the Local Food System Ordinance has been revised three times answering both the judge’s objections and County’s concerns. But the County Clerk continues to raise new issues. Support Local Food Rights has concluded that the County is simply unwilling to ensure the right of the people engage the initiative process to protect our community.
The County’s interference adds to the public’s growing understanding that communities are denied recourse when corporate interests are at stake – in this case, an ordinance that seeks to protect local family farmers and something as basic as the food we eat. We must exercise our right to pass our own laws because the system that is supposed to protect us does not – unsurprising in light of corporate political donations and lobbying groups like ALEC that drafted SB 633, the law passed this winter by the Oregon legistature that purports that the state can override localities who want to regulate GMOs and the the threats they pose to our food system.
Disappointed that the communications with the County have not been more open and collaborative, Support Local Food Rights has again filed a lawsuit in the Lane County Circuit Court challenging the Clerk’s determination that the Local Food System Ordinance does not meet necessary requirements. A lawyer for GMO sugar beet farmer John Reerslev has already indicated an intention to intervene in the case. Reerslev was previously represented by John DiLorenzo, the attorney lobbyist for Oregonians for Food and Shelter who takes credit for writing SB633. Opponents of the initiative maintain that corporations have the “right” to profit-making endeavors regardless of the impact on the community’s health, safety and welfare, and that citizens have no legal authority to intervene.
Support Local Food Rights, on the other hand, stands firmly on our right to local self-government — one that authorizes our community to make decisions and pass laws to protect community well-being and to prohibit corporate harms that destroy our economy, health and environment. Support Local Food Rights will continue to advocate for the right of the community – not corporations – to decide the future of our food system.
Thank you for following our progress. Please join our effort to protect our community!
by occupystephanie, Daily Kos
June 15th, 2014
A diary from occupystephanie draws parallels between Community Rights and other rights’ movements, and describes CELDF’s work with municipalities across the U.S. to leverage those rights to protect ourselves and the natural environment from corporate harms.
by Amanda Nichols, The Bradford Era
June 15th, 2014
Communities and government representatives from across Elk County, PA, are invited to Highland Township’s community rights picnic gathering on Saturday, 6/21. The gathering will include speakers and community rights workshops.
by Colin Deppen, The Bradford Era
June 13th, 2014
Highland Township, PA, and CELDF are prepared to defend the Township’s Community Rights Ordinance banning wastewater injection wells as Seneca Resources moves a step closer to attempting to site a well.
by Sara Brumfield, The Athens Messenger
June 11th, 2014
An Athens group partnering with CELDF recognizes 49% of Ohioans are denied local self-governing authority, and are unable to protect themselves from fracking. They urge Athens County Commissioners to explore a county Home Rule charter to codify rights to local self-governance and ban fracking.
by David DeWitt, The Athens News
June 11th, 2014
In Athens, OH, a group of residents organizing to ban fracking through a Community Bill of Rights, is also exploring with County Commissioners and residents the possibility of going Home Rule to protect all communities within the county from fracking and injection wells.
by Kiara Collins, Global Exchange
June 10th, 2014
Global Exchange’s Kiara Collins explores Mora County, NM’s, fight for all communities’ rights.
by Brandon Baker, EcoWatch
June 10th, 2014
Lafayette, CO, residents move to enforce their Community Bill of Rights banning fracking as they file a class action lawsuit against the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, the state of Colorado, and its governor.
by Mitchell Byars, Daily Camera
June 10th, 2014
Lafayette, CO, residents assert the rights of their community to local self-governance – including the right to ban fracking – through a class action lawsuit against the state of Colorado, the Governor, and Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
June 10th, 2014
Lafayette, CO, residents file a class action lawsuit to enforce their Community Bill of Rights banning
Community Rights – Articles on general education
*A New Civil Rights Movement: Liberating Our Communities from Corporate Control
*How communities can fight corporations
*The Right to Self-Govern
*Statement on Efforts to Amend the U.S. Constitution following Citizens United
*Paul Cienfuegos – speech from Portland Oregon’s March Against Monsanto
Community Rights – Articles from around the Country
*Restoring Democracy in the Fight Against Fracking
*Rights of Nature on the Santa Monica City Council Agenda
*Barnstead, NH: Establishing the Community Right to Water and Self-Governance
*Pennsylvania Court Deals Blow to Secrecy-Obsessed Fracking Industry:Corporations Not The Same As Persons With Privacy Rights
*County commissioners join fight against ‘Bill of Rights’ initiatives
*First County in U.S. Bans Oil and Gas Extraction
Our Constitutions are the Avenue to Change the Injustice
Community Rights – articles on GMO
*Benton County’s Fight to Protect Our Seed Heritage: A Food Bill of Rights
*Comprehensive research database offers global picture of harm caused by GMOs
*Consumers Union statement on new long term study of feeding GE grains to pigs
*Discovery of genetically modified wheat in Oregon highlights regulatory failures: Guest opinion
Clint Lindsey – Benton County Community Rights Coalition
Community Rights vs GMO
Rooted Lands Trailer….
Farmegeddon movie trailer…