by Kathleen Dudley, Green Fire Times
July 5th, 2013

For the July issue of Green Fire Times, click here. Select the July 2013 issue, and go to page 33 for this op-ed.

“Our amazing intelligence seems to have outstripped our instinct for survival—we plunder the Earth hoping that accumulating material surplus will make up for it—the profound unfathomable thing we have lost.”   – Arndhati Roy, Imagining the World

Our rural lands are under siege by corporations who are “mining” our communities for their raw materials—water, forests, oil and gas, coal, iron ore, uranium, etc.— materials that are part of nature’s DNA and our DNA, in the words of acclaimed poet  and activist John Trudell. The very ecosystems upon which we depend for our health, well-being and sustainable future are being ravaged in the name of corporate profit.

Our cities are rife with cell towers, polluted municipal water supplies, low-level smog and are upwind or downwind of industrial pollution. We have learned to accept this degradation as the cost of progress and the yardstick by which we measure our success.

What has happened to our own private dream of our “preferred community” and what it would look like if we had the power to shape it?

Recently we witnessed people in Wisconsin struggle mightily against the corporate Koch brothers’ influence, and not long afterwards, the Detroit city government falling to CEO management. Issues around water rights in the San Fernando Valley and Colorado are making headlines—“big oil” paying a whopping $2,500 an acre-foot— leaving our farmers unable to compete.

Roy says that the hope will come from those who resist. There is a growing movement of communities across the United States and around the globe doing just that. They are saying “no” to corporate and government power by asserting their rights to thrive and protect their families by banning corporate development from coming into their communities. Many of these communities are passing rights-based laws that assert a Bill of Rights that define a new paradigm that supports flourishing communities,
ecosystems and the rights of nature.

With the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a nonprofit public interest law firm, Mora County citizens presented a Bill of Rights to the Mora County Commission, who passed the first county-wide community rights ordinance in the US this April. This new law asserts the peoples’ rights to determine the future for their communities—their rights to local self-governance and a sustainable energy future—and prohibits oil and gas extraction from harming the community’s rights by banning these leviathans.

Mora County joins with the city of Las Vegas, NM, which passed a similar CELDF rights-based ordinance last year, the city of Pittsburgh in 2010, and over 150 other communities across the US which are working in solidarity to assert their rights to democratic rule and local self-determination.

Our rights to determine how we are governed are our choice. Our power is in knowing that our own state and federal constitutions allow such a choice by the people. Twenty-seven existing amendments should encourage us to understand this ripe opportunity. It seems a few new amendments would go a long way to changing the plundering and access to our homes and communities. What do you think?

Kathleen Dudley is the board chair for the New Mexico Coalition for Community Rights and the CELDF community rights organizer for New Mexico. [email protected]