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