While the federal government remains hopelessly mired in endless wars and draconian trade treaties like TPPA, TTIP and TISA, at the local level community rights activists are systematically reclaiming the right to govern themselves. Over the past 20 years, hundreds of communities have passed local ordinances banning factory farms, toxic sludge, GMOs, fracking, toxic contamination, depletion of local aquifers and other corporate abuses.
Some activists have chosen to battle corporate infringement on their communities by establishing their legal right to home rule. At present, 31 states have constitutional amendments that grant cities, municipalities and/or counties the ability to pass laws to govern themselves (so long as they obey the state and federal constitution). The number is constantly growing, with Nevada becoming a home rule state in July 2015.
Most non-home rule states use Dillon’s rule to determine the bounds of a local municipality’s legal authority. Dillon’s rule, written by a federal judge in 1968, states that municipalities only have powers expressly granted to them by state government.
Home Rule for Mendocino County
In California, Mendocino activists are presently circulating a petition to become a charter county. They must collect 4,000 signatures by January 15 to place a citizens initiative granting their county home rule on the November 2016 ballot.
Mendocino wants to join fourteen other California charter counties (Alameda, Butte, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, Placer, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Tehama). Acts passed by charter counties are the equivalent of laws passed by the Californian legislative. The California constitution even allows home rule counties to pre-empt state law where significant local interest is served. In contrast, ordinances passed by general or non-charter counties are subordinate to the will of the state legislature.
Other California charter counties are using home rule to ban fracking and to keep toxic pesticides out of their wells and surface water. As a charter county, Mendocino would also have the power to create a publicly owned bank like the Bank of North Dakota.
Preserving their Anti-fracking Ban
The charter initiative is a project of the Community Rights Network of Mendocino Network. In 2014, they successfully lobbied the board of supervisors to pass an ordinance that makes it illegal to engage in fracking in Mendocino County. By becoming a charter county, this ordinance assumes the force of state law. This makes it much harder for the oil and gas industry to overturn in court.
The four part video below features anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva speaking about Gandhi’s campaign for Indian home rule (if you click on the first link, parts 2-4 will play automatically when the previous segment finishes).
For more information about the community rights movement see Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund