How a Few Rich Bastards Hijacked the US Constitution

Local Community Self Government

Excellent talk by Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

Highlights for me included the hidden history of the US Constitution, including the secret meetings George Washington and others held at Mt Vernon and elsewhere prior to the formal Constitutional Convention.

The goal of the Constitutional Convention, according to Linzey, was to create a framework in which property and commerce rights would take precedence over the local self-government. Even at the time, observers maintained that constitutional government was totally inconsistent with democratic government.

He goes on to explain historical court rulings that give corporations more rights than local government, as well as outlining the great work of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in helping local communities battle corporations that threaten their health and safety with fracking, factory hog farms, toxic sludge, aquifer mining (by bottled water companies) and other environmental destructive enterprises.

I was particularly interested to hear about movements that are amending state constitutions to restore the right of local self government, as well as a national group fighting for a US Constitutional amendment that guarantees the right of local self-government.

Because I have a really slow connection, I had difficulty playing the embedded video.

People can also see the presentation at
https://marioncommunityrights.wordpress.com/tag/thomas-linzey/

The Battle for Home Rule

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

Ending Corporate Rule: the Community Rights Movement

CELDF

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