Right to local self-government
Community Rights include environmental rights, such as the right to clean air, pure water, and healthy soil; worker rights, such as the right to living wages and equal pay for equal work; rights of nature, such as the right of ecosystems to flourish and evolve; and democratic rights, such as the right of local community self-government, and the right to free and fair elections.
Rights Of Nature
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
— R. Buckminster Fuller
The Community Rights solution of 1776
Given the growing injustices facing the colonists, the Declaration of Independence was issued and new governing documents were developed, including the Articles of Confederation and new state constitutions.
While not perfect, these new constitutions took local community self-government seriously. Corporations were brought under the control of the communities that they served, and it was understood that the community was the sole and legitimate source of all governing authority. The first Pennsylvania constitution, ratified in 1776 (not long after the Declaration of Independence), stated:
“WHEREAS all government ought to be instituted and supported for the security and protection of the community as such… and whenever these great ends of government are not obtained, the people have a right, by common consent to change it, and take such measures as to them may appear necessary to promote their safety and happiness.”
…the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and similar state laws – legalize environmental harms by regulating how much pollution or destruction of nature can occur under law. Rather than preventing pollution and environmental destruction, our environmental laws instead codify it. In addition, under commonly understood terms of preemption, once these activities are legalized by federal or state governments, local governments are prohibited from banning them.
What is it that keeps us from getting what we want in our communities? Why can’t we say, “No!” to harmful activities?
On Community Civil Disobedience in the Name of Sustainability: The Community Rights Movement in the United States
From the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) It’s...
Inherent Right to Local Self-Government
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today, communities across the country are being told that they don’t have the right to make critical decisions for themselves. They’re told they cannot say “no” to fracking or factory farming. They’re told they cannot say “yes” to sustainable food or energy systems.
Through the Community Rights Movement, communities are working with CELDF to create a structure of law and government of the people, by the people, and for the people. That structure recognizes and protects the inalienable rights of natural and human communities.
How Communities Lose Their Voice
State & Federal Preemption
The colonists had to deal with preemption. The King and British Parliament constantly interfered with the legislative priorities of the local communities. Indeed, the very first grievance laid out in the Declaration of Independence deals with preemption directly:
“HE has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.”
“He” of course means the King, and the colonists noted that time and time again, the King had interfered with legislation desired by the colonists to protect their health, safety, and welfare.
Our structure of law elevates corporate decision-making over community decision-making. Corporations have court-conferred constitutional “rights.” They wield these “rights” against communities to eliminate local efforts that may interfere with industry plans to expand their operations, regardless of the impact to communities and nature.
Corporations, and the privileges bestowed upon them, were of particular concern to the colonists. Chartered corporations, such as the East India Company, were given privileges and protections that legalized their harmful activities all over the world.
I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
— Thomas Jefferson
The Regulatory Fallacy
Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Minerals Management Agency – do not actually protect us. Rather, they regulate the amount of harm that is inflicted on our communities.
Nature As Property
The colonists were also outraged over how the King and his loyalists treated the natural environment. It was considered property for profit:
“HE has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts.”
Examples of a Broken System
- Residents of Grant Township, PA, are told they cannot stop the injection of toxic frack waste into their community. Why? Because the State has pre-empted them from doing so, and the corporation has the “right” to inject.
- Residents of Spokane, WA, are told they do not have federal Bill of Rights protections on the job because corporate “rights” trump their rights to privacy and to free association.
- Communities in Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley and timber lands of Josephine County are told they cannot say “no” to the contamination of their farmland by genetically modified (GM) seeds and poisoning of their forests and waterways from pesticides. They are finding their own state government protecting these harmful practices, and blocking communities’ efforts to codify sustainability.
- Communities in New Hampshire face construction of a massive energy transmission project that will cut through the most pristine landscapes of the state. They are told they have no right to stop the project or to establish sustainable energy systems.
- Communities across the country are told they do not have the authority to demand free and fair elections, police accountability, divestment from fossil fuels, or religious freedom – among many other issues – because these issues run up against state preemptive laws and corporate “rights.”