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Community Rights Movement Rising

Stoney Bird guest writes.

In 2012, an initiative campaign for a Community Bill of Rights in Bellingham was part of a nationwide movement for local communities to reassert their rights, their responsibilities, and their power to govern themselves. The Bellingham initiative campaign obtained twice as many signatures as it needed to get on the ballot, but the City Government and Burlington Northern together sued to keep it off the ballot, preventing a vote of the people. A new film, to be shown here in March, looks at a few of the two hundred communities who have successfully passed their own Community Bills of Rights.

This new documentary, presented by Tree Media and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), tells the story of communities that have passed these Bills of Rights: how they came to realize that the corporate state holds the cards; how the only way forward was to take matters into their own hands; and how they adopted their own Community Bills of Rights to deny corporate constitutional rights, protect against an immediate corporate threat, assert their rights to govern themselves, and acknowledge the rights of nature. Communities ranging in size from tiny central Pennsylvania rural townships to the city of Pittsburgh have realized this is their only way through to a community where they can live in safety and health. The documentary tells the stories of these communities and explains the legal framework used to force these harmful corporate projects on communities – be it fracking, factory hog farms, or oil-bomb trains.

These communities recognized that ecosystems at home and around the globe were collapsing under inherently unsustainable laws and governing structures – what many have called a “corporate state.” They came to understand that the legal system and the “growth” mindset are stacked against them and the natural environment. They have organized to stop these assaults in their own communities through rights-based laws banning these violations against their communities and ecosystems. Across the U.S., communities that have faced decades of environmental assaults – such as oil trains, coal trains, pipelines, fracking, and sludging of farmland – and have found a way to do something about it.

The people of Bellingham vividly experienced how the system works against communities when they were not allowed to vote in the 2012 initiative campaign. That Bill of Rights would have banned the transportation of coal through our community. In a nutshell, the people of Bellingham were prohibited from deciding what happens in Bellingham.

Central to the documentary is the role of CELDF, a fee-free, non-profit law firm. CELDF was founded in 1995 to protect the environment in the conventional way: attacking permits for harmful projects. They discovered they could do it very successfully – but the projects would go ahead anyway because companies are allowed to apply for permits an unlimited number of times and agencies are disposed to grant the permits. CELDF and its founder, Thomas Linzey, began to realize that “environmental” laws were not there to protect the environment or the communities affected by these projects but to control and limit the role the public and local communities could play in making these decisions. Out of this realization the Community Bill of Rights movement arose.

Two local Bellingham groups are collaborating to show the documentary: Occupy Bellingham and the individuals connected with the effort to pass a Bellingham Community Bill of Rights in 2012. Together they have shown the film or a talk by Thomas Linzey three times this year, including at the recent Martin Luther King Conference at Whatcom Community College.

Two more showings in our area are planned and Occupy Bellingham says it will organize more. Each showing features a short introduction and is followed by a panel discussion usually involving participants in Bellingham’s effort to adopt a local Community Bill of Rights in 2012. Attendees will be invited to follow-up meetings for those wishing to move this work forward. The screenings currently planned are:

Saturday, March 11, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. at the Anacortes Public Library, 1220 10th St., Anacortes

Thursday, March 16, 2017, at 6:00 p.m. at the Pickford Theater, 1318 Bay Street in downtown Bellingham. Tickets for this showing must be pre-purchased and are available at https://www.tugg.com/events/we-the-people-2-0.

These March showings are two of several planned for Western Washington during March, and CELDF personnel are on tap to participate. CELDF expects to host a Democracy School in Western Washington in April as a further follow-up. Tickets for the Pickford showing must be pre-purchased and are available at https://www.tugg.com/events/we-the-people-2-0. If you expect to go to this showing, please order your tickets soon. Unless enough people order tickets in advance, the showing will not take place. You can learn more about the film, and view its trailer, at https://www.tugg.com/events/we-the-people-2-0.

Communities across the country are laying the foundation for the sustainable future they envision. Further, they are joining together across states to advance democratic and environmental rights, building the next people’s movement through community rights. Up until now, Community Bills of Rights have largely been focused on corporate environmental threats. Nothing would prevent one from addressing other kinds of threats as well.

Let’s work together and help make this happen. It’s our future.

About Stoney Bird

Contributor • Member since Mar 15, 2012

After serving in the Peace Corps in Libya and Tunisia, Stoney worked for many years as an international corporate lawyer. He moved to the Skagit Valley in 1990, and was able [...]

Comments by Readers

Larry Horowitz

Jan 28, 2017

Stoney, thanks for sharing this information and for your efforts to establish a Community Bill of Rights in Bellingham.

It’s clear that laws are needed to preserve the planet’s ability to sustain life and to protect the health, safety and welfare of communities who find themselves under attack. 

Does the leadership behind the current effort have a clear plan beyond the showing documentary and holding Democracy Schools for enacting a bill of rights in our local communities?  Are you able to share those plans publicly at this time? 

Is it possible certain members of various councils might be willing to champion such an effort and avoid the need for an initiative petition? 

As always, thanks for your efforts. 

Best,
Larry

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Stoney Bird

Jan 29, 2017

Larry, thanks for your comment and for your always constructive engagement.

Our plan is to hold the showing at the Pickford (which will be the fifth in the region, three already having been held in Bellingham); to maintain contact with those who have indicated an interest - about 50 so far; to convene those who are interested after the Pickford showing; and to make concrete plans in concert with them at that point. Of course, we’ll keep people informed of any Democracy Schools that are organized.

Some of the ideas that are floating about - and that may become the “official” program of the group that convenes after the Pickford showing - include rights of nature, the abolition of corporate constitutional rights, the assertion of community rights to govern what happens in the community, and the hightening of (real) people’s individual rights. It’s premature to say which if any of these will actually grab those who convene after the Pickford showing.

I believe that it’s also premature to contact elected officials, since we lack specific proposals.

In the meantime, we’ll be talking with as many groups with potential interest as we can think of.  My thanks to you, forexample, for introducing me to the Bellingham Neighborhood Coalition.  If there are other groups in the area who might be interested, and that any readers of this comment are familiar with, I’d be happy to hear, and to make arrangements for meeting.

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Dick Conoboy

Jan 29, 2017

Stoney,

Thanks.  I have reposted your article on several other community sites here in B’ham and I see Larry has done the same with our Bellingham Neighborhhood Coaltion.  I encourage everyone reading this article to post this piece to their local organizational sites.  Now is the time for action.

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Dick Conoboy

Jan 30, 2017

Alex Kelly, a WWU grad is also promoting this for the Hudson Valley in NY State.  Read the organization’s statement here.

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