Ending Corporate Rule: the Community Rights Movement


One of the most successful anti-corporate relocalization movements is virtually invisible in the corporate media – namely the 13 year old community rights movement. With the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), nearly 200 communities across the US have enacted ordinances establishing local rights that can’t be usurped by corporations. They have done so despite corporate efforts to use state laws or the Constitution’s commerce clause to overturn them.

Clearly their strength lies in numbers. In Pennsylvania, for example, the state attorney general threatened to sue the town of Packer for banning sewage sludge dumping. In response, six other towns promptly adopted similar ordinances and 23 adopted resolutions of support. Nationwide the number of community rights statutes overturned by state courts and legislatures is surprisingly small, with more and more communities enacting them.

As CELDF states on their website:

“CELDF works with communities to establish Community Rights – such that communities are empowered to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their residents and the natural environment, and establish environmental and economic sustainability.

Community Rights is a paradigm shift, a move away from unsustainable projects and practices at the cost of communities and nature, and toward community decision-making, while recognizing and protecting our interdependence with nature.”

Banning Factory Farms, Toxic Sludge, Fracking and Aquifer Depletion

The citizens’ rights movement was born in 2000 when Belfast, in traditionally conservative rural Pennsylvania, passed a law prohibiting factory farms from operating within their township. In 2005 this law was upheld in court, and twelve other Pennsylvania townships have enacted similar ordinances. In addition to laws banning factory farms and sewage sludge, one community has banned mining and four have passed laws establishing ecosystem rights (i.e. that environmental protection trumps corporate rights).

Barnstead New Hampshire was next in passing an ecosystem rights ordinance, while five towns in New Hampshire and two in Maine have passed laws prohibiting the corporatization of water resources and aquifer depletion. Serious drought conditions across the US have greatly heightened national concern about shrinking aquifers and impending water shortages.

In 2010, Pittsburgh became the first major city to reject corporate rights after their city council passed a CELDF-drafted citizens’ bill of rights, as well as a law banning drilling for natural gas within city limits. Other communities on the Marcellus Shale (in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland) are working to pass anti-fracking laws similar to Pittsburgh’s.

Enacting Penalties for Chemical Trespass

Meanwhile on the West Coast, tiny Mt Shasta has successfully banned energy giant PG&E from engaging in local cloud seeding and Nestle from draining their aquifer for a bottling operation. The Mt Shasta Community Rights and Self Government Act asserts the right of the people of Mt Shasta to natural water systems and cycles and establishes strict liability and burden of proof for chemical trespass.

Chemical trespass is defined as the involuntary introduction of toxic chemicals into the human body. It’s based on a novel concept promoted by the CELDF and local democracy activists that corporations don’t have the automatic right to load up our bodies with cancer-causing chemicals. Halifax Virginia and three towns in Pennsylvania have also passed laws imposing penalties for toxic trespass.

In Washington State a bipartisan coalition called Envision Spokane has been fighting the monied interests that control Spokane City Council by trying to pass, via ballot initiative, a Community Bill of Rights.

Other recent citizens’ rights initiatives include the rejection by Orlando California of a Crystal Geyser bottling plant and the refusal of Flagstaff Arizona to sell water to a Nestle facility. Meanwhile a strong citizens’ rights group in Santa Monica is lobbying for an ecosystems rights ordinance, while People vs. Chemical Trespass is attempting to pass a local chemical trespass ordinance in Santa Cruz.

Fighting Corporations in Your Community

In addition to providing legal consultation, CELDF also conducts local democracy schools for communities seeking to enact community rights ordinances. Where states have balked at recognizing the legality of local anti-corporate laws, cities and towns have either passed stronger laws or changed their legal status (ending their Second Class Municipality Status) by enacting home rule charters and new constitutions).

Contact CELDF at http://www.celdf.org/

photo credit: 350.org via photopin cc

19 thoughts on “Ending Corporate Rule: the Community Rights Movement

  1. They should put this stuff on the 6 o’clock news. When I was a child stations were required to put on public service announcements as a condition of having a broadcast license. Or at least they had to prove they broadcast in the public interest and putting on PSA’s was the best way to do so.

    The FCC no longer enforces this – so now they just broadcast in the interest of corporate monopolies.


  2. This is an exciting possibility for local action — thank you. I plan to pass it on to colleagues and undergraduate students as something to explore for their community action assignment.


  3. Great examples of “thinking globally, acting locally.” There is a big push to ban fracking on a statewide basis in New York. Andrew Cuomo (“Governor 1%”) wants fracking, but has been reluctant to approve it because the pushback is stronger than he expected. But there are local communities within the state that have also enacted municipal bans.


  4. Dr. Bramhall, in your blog you state that the Belfast factory-farm ban was “upheld in court”, implying that the ban stands, and that “nearly 200 communities across the US have enacted ordinances establishing local rights that can’t be usurped by corporations”, implying that those ordinances are effective protections against actual threat of unwanted industry activity. While it is true that, after approximately four years of litigation, Judge Walker upheld the ban, it is also true that subsequent law (acronym ACRE) superceded the ordinance and rendered the ban “null and void”, as they say.


    Nor is there any evidence in the public record, at least none that I have been able to locate, to support the assertion that the CELDF-drafted ordinances are effective in “establishing local rights that can’t be usurped by corporations.” If you know of any, I’d appreciate your sharing it.

    Anyone considering engaging in CELDF-sponsored “community rights” activity would do well first to consider the issues raised here :



  5. Thanks for your comment, Sarah, and the link to your blog. Perhaps I have been somewhat careless in my wording. The point I was trying to make was not that corporations CAN’T overturn community rights ordinances. I think any success CELDF has had relates to corporations giving up and walking away from specific communities that have adopted them. Theoretically they could have taken any of these communities to court – and would most likely have won.

    Your blog suggests warns of the risk of overturning federal and state environmental laws – and distracting people from the more important work of participating in regulatory processes, law reform actions, coalition-building and meaningful protests.

    My viewpoint is that federal and state environmental laws aren’t working right at all right now in slowing our progress towards total ecological catastrophe. Nor is participating in regulatory processes, law reform actions, coalition-building and meaningful protests.

    I think it’s very urgent to try some new approaches. Maybe CELDF is the answer. Maybe it’s not. The important thing in my mind is that people need to overcome their passivity and get active – and initially grassroots participation is always easier at the local level.

    I’m also a little uncomfortable with the way you demonize the Tea Party. Before the Tea Party was usurped by the Koch brothers and the Republican Party, I think it had really strong potential to mobilize politically passive people into taking more responsibility for their lives and their communities.


    • Dr. Bramhall, thank you for the clarification. I agree that the most important thing is for people to get active, and that the most promising place for most to begin is the local level. Here in Oregon, the state government remains responsive and accessible, so for folks in similar situations, working at the state level also holds promise.

      I also agree that state and federal environmental laws, regulatory processes, legislative action, coalition-buiding and protesting aren’t sufficiently slowing the advance of environmental degradation, but they are slowing it. In other words, we would be even worse off without them, so these efforts should not be ridiculed or dismissed as meaningless, which graduates of CELDF’s Democracy School tend to do. See, e.g., http://www.thenation.com/article/172266/rebel-towns#

      The only mention made of the Tea Party in our blog was a quote from David MacLeod, and I think it’s pretty clear looking at what he wrote in his blog that he was referring to the post-usurped Tea Party, and not its earlier incarnation. As you seem to agree that the Tea Party of Koch and Rs robbed it of its early potential, I hardly think it fair to characterize the passing mention of the Tea Party in our blog as “demonizing.”


  6. Well, I think we clearly come from different positions here. I personally come from the viewpoint that the only possible way to save the human species is to end corporate rule asap by any means necessary. After 30+ years as a grassroots organiser, I and many of my friends, have come to conclude that using foundations and the legal system to fight corporate crimes against the environment is pretty useless as a tool in the kind of movement building necessary to end our current corporate-controlled government.

    From what I’ve seen so far, CELDF has been pretty effective in that type of grassroots movement building – in part because they are nonpartisan and offer an approach that so far appeals to both conservative and progressive communities. When they cease to be effective, then we need to find some other tool.

    The other problem I have with the foundation, regulatory based method of environmental reform is my personal experience that these groups are pretty hopeless in reaching out to people from blue collar backgrounds. In my personal experience, most of these groups are totally unaware that a working class exists in the US, much less a working class culture. I and friends have attended way too many meetings in which we are patronized, condescended to and ridiculed for not sharing middle class values.

    I’m glad to hear things have improved in Oregon. My last experience in Oregon was in 1996 when Kitzhaber and a partially state funded Oregon Health Act Committee systematically sabotaged the single payer grassroots groups (in Portland and eastern Oregon) that started Oregon’s health reform movement to ensure that Kitzhaber’s insurance-based Oregon Health Plan was the only game in town.

    And sorry MacLeod’s sarcasm and argumentum ad hominem statement about the Tea Party
    do constitute demonizing in my book. One thing the Tea Party is most effective at is organising working class people. I believe there are some important lessons there for liberals and progressives.


  7. Dr. Bramhall, although you say “by any means necessary”, I assume you would not be in favor of ending corporate rule if the only way to do that would be, say, to kill or imprison all the corporate managers, executives and shareholders, or, say, blow up the planet. My point here is that means matter. If you disagree that means matter, then I guess we do come from different positions.

    To be clear, I do not hold that making demands on existing institutions (i.e., reforms) are helpful in the “movement building necessary to end…corporate controlled government. I am saying that reform efforts should not be abandoned, dismissed or ridiculed, because they are needed to preserve or improve lives in the short term. The efforts are very different and if we have any compassion at all for those alive today, we must pursue both: the effort to change existing institutions (including ending corporate control of government), and reform efforts. I’m not advocating reformism, which is seeks to change existing institutions through gradual reforms. I am merely advocating fighting on more than one front.

    I agree enviros and other leftist groups with resources that the worker class lacks need to be more class-aware and inclusive in their appeals and organizing. (But the real problem for me is not so much the enviros’ insensitivity, but the material inequality that effectively makes activism a luxury item.)

    With respect to the Tea Party, you accused me (and presumably my co-authors) of “demonizing” the TP, and I pointed out our blog only quotes another writer making a passing reference to the TP. Now you say HIS blog, not ours, made a sarcastic and ad hominem statement about the TP, Well, even if he did, it’s not fair to say our blog demonized the TP. But I don’t think he did that. I went back and looked, and could find nothing that fits that description in his blog, which is actually very, very respectful. Yes, the blog was critical of the TP, but I don’t think it’s fair to say it was sarcastic or ad hominem, much less demonizing. Makes me wonder if we’re talking about the same blog. http://integralpermaculture.wordpress.com/tag/celdf/


    • It so happens i disagree that means matter – it’s possible it may be necessary to kill or imprison corporate managers, CEOs and shareholders to save the human species. Obviously there’s no point in a resistance movement blowing up the planet to save it. At present, our corporate-controlled oligopolies are the ones threatening to blow up the planet.

      I also disagree that activism is a luxury item. It’s sure not a luxury item in Spain and Greece, where the unemployed and low income people are being mobilized in their millions to protest austerity cuts. To be blunt, I think the main reason American-style activism is different from other parts of the world is because “progressive” organizing tends to be dominated by corporate funded foundations and non-governmental organizations run by people who seem more interested in making a livelihood from their activism than mobilizing the 80% of the population who struggle to get by on wages that can’t possibly meet their basic needs.

      My point about the Tea Party quote has nothing to do with what MacLeod said or intended to say. In my view, the way you used it demeans and demonizes the Tea Party. If you’ve taken it out of context, that has to be your responsibility. I shouldn’t have to go back to the original blog to understand what you’re trying to get at.


  8. Dr. Bramhall, with all due respect, regarding the absence of worker class folks in enviro campaigns, I wrote that it was, in my view “material inequality that EFFECTIVELY makes activism a luxury [for the worker class folks].” (Emphasis added.) Yes, I thought we were discussing activism in the US, and I did have in mind U.S. workers, specifically the “working poor”, the folks with 2 or 3 or more part-time jobs and families, the folks you describe as struggling to get by on wages that can’t possibly meet their needs. It is for those folks that activism is, effectively, a luxury, because today organizing and being organized takes computers and internet access and time and energy, most of all time and energy, that many worker class folks don’t have. I am no more enamored of the so-called progressive organizing efforts than you seem to be, but there’s just no evidence, at least none that you’ve cited, for the proposition that the absence of the worker class in progressive campaigns is mainly due to the organizers being “more interested in making a livelihood from their activism.” It also sounds a bit classist.

    Back to the Tea Party issue. First you accuse me of demonizing TP by quoting MacLeod, then you accuse MacLeod of sarcasm and ad hominem statements, then you say it has nothing to do with what MacLeod said. Of course it has to do with what he said — we were QUOTING him. Our reference to the TP was a passing reference that was not “trying to get at” anything about the Tea Party, except to suggest that CELDF and the Tea Party are seeking much the same thing, albeit through different methods. No reasonable person, such as yourself, who holds a good opinion of both CELDF and the Tea Party, would find such a comparison demeaning, much less demonizing, and it was not intended as such.

    If you truly believe that the ends justifies the means, I would just ask you to consider what kind of society you expect to have after, say, you’ve saved everyone by killing all the corporate executives, managers and shareholders? History suggests you will have a violent society characterized by the struggle first for survival, then for power, then to retain power. What will you have accomplished? What will prevent the evils that led you to kill from arising again, I wonder? What is the plan?

    Most often, we reap what we sow. So, if we want a more fair, equitable and nonviolent society, we need to be working now to grow the institutions of decision making and resource allocation and mutual support that reflect those values as well as others we must discuss and agree on. We need to involve everyone in that discussion that we possibly can. Right now, unfortunately, that’s going to mean mostly folks with the relative luxuries of time and energy and computers and internet access, but it won’t always mean that. We need to be working on a bunch of different fronts, but on all of them, we need to act with integrity and vision, and using strategies that make sense; strategies that are likely to be effective, at least to the extent that we are able. Wouldn’t you agree?


    • If you are really interested in understanding a working class perspective on these issues, I highly recommend you read Peter Gelderloos’s book The Failure of Nonviolence: from the Arab Spring to Occupy. Otherwise we are talking at cross purposes.


      • Well, Dr. Bramhall, I was actually asking for your perspective, but I can take a hint. If I could just make one last point, it’s that CELDF knows its ordinances are unenforceable, and expects its community rights organizing strategy will take decades before it reaches its goal of changing the “structure of law.” So if that doesn’t fit your goal of ending corporate rule “asap”, you might want to consider recommending other strategies, such as the ten outlined here: http://www.garalperovitz.com/what-then-can-i-do/

        Thanks for the conversation. Cheers


  9. Pingback: Fascinating Article by Dr. Stuart Jeanne Bramhall 8-24-14… “Is Left-Right Collaboration Possible?” (about a book by Ralph Nader, “Unstoppable”) | Kauilapele's Blog

  10. Pingback: Is Left-Right Collaboration Possible? | The Most Revolutionary Act

  11. Pingback: Is Left-Right Collaboration Possible? | Talesfromthelou

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.