Communities looking to protect their local environment from the consequences of fracking, injection wells, factory farm sludge, GMOs, water privatization and other perceived threats inevitably wind up in court. According to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which provides free and low-cost legal services to community-based groups and municipalities, this is in large part due to the fact that government and corporations have spent decades creating a structure of law that, in effect, renders “sustainability illegal.”
In response to these legal barriers, Thomas Linzey, CELDF’s executive director and co-founder (and a contributing writer to Rural America In These Times), has spearheaded a Community Rights movement that has so far encouraged nearly 200 municipalities to enact legislation that subjugates corporate “rights” in favor of self-governance.
Last week, the Colorado Community Rights Network (COCRN) made the following announcement regarding the movement’s progress in their state:
The campaign to establish community control of corporations through the Colorado Community Rights Amendment will fall short of the 98,000 valid signatures required to put it before the voters in November. An all-volunteer effort of over 230 petitioners working in over 40 Colorado cities was not enough to get the amendment to the state constitution on the ballot, an effort that now, in effect, requires campaigns to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on professional signature gatherers.
The Colorado Community Rights Network (COCRN) made major gains in number of signatures and volunteers and we raised our profile — introducing the effort to enact the Colorado Community Rights Amendment on both state and national media. We will continue to build locally and statewide to fight for a truly democratic and sustainable society, including organizing toward a 2018 ballot initiative effort.
“We have always spoken of the effort to build a true democratic society as a movement,” says COCRN President Merrily Mazza. “It has taken two centuries of legal manipulation by the 1% to create privilege for industry and corporations. It’s going to take time to fix it.”
The Colorado Community Rights Amendment is more relevant and needed than ever. Throughout the nation, politicians, corporations and their lobbyists are accelerating their attacks on democracy, and on community power and decision making. On March 24, the North Carolina General Assembly preempted Charlotte’s law creating equal rights for LGBT community members. Elsewhere, attacks on local democratic rights target living wage campaigns, and environmental efforts to protect communities from toxic pesticides and drilling injection wells. Across the nation, the Black Lives Matter movement has exposed a lack of accountability and community control of police forces. And the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the latest proposed global trade agreement, transfers even more power and control from people to international corporations.
“We are seeing an accelerating shift of power from working people and communities to global elites and their government minions. It’s clear that 21st century capitalism cannot exist alongside any meaningful democracy,” says Tom Groover, campaign organizer and board member of the Colorado Community Rights Network. “The Colorado Community Rights Amendment is the most powerful measure available to bring that power back to the people.”
Community Rights Amendments are becoming a national movement. Amendments like the one in Colorado have now been proposed by the New Hampshire Community Rights Network and the Oregon Community Rights Network, bringing to three the number of states now campaigning for the inclusion of such amendments in their respective state constitutions.
On May 2, the Colorado Supreme Court reaffirmed what the oil and gas industry and major corporations have contended for years: “Applying well-established preemption principles…the court holds that Longmont’s fracking ban is preempted by state law and therefore, is invalid and unenforceable.” In doing so, the court left no doubt about who holds the power, and it isn’t the residents of Longmont, Fort Collins, Lafayette, Greeley and Broomfield, towns whose bans on fracking have now been declared unconstitutional.
With that decision, the Colorado Supreme Court reinforced the rights of corporations and once again relegated the fundamental rights of communities, people and nature to an afterthought. Where fracking and democracy conflict, one of them has to go. And the court has told more 200,000 affected residents that it is them.
The decision was completely predictable. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld a longstanding doctrine of community-level disenfranchisement known as state preemption. State preemption has been used to bar communities from prohibiting corporate water withdrawals and factory farms, enacting living wages and plastic bag bans. In 2009, the same Supreme Court overturned a ban on cyanide use in mining enacted by five Colorado counties.
The system is rigged. Industry and its lobbyists write the laws and regulations, the legislature blesses them and the state enforces them. The democratic will of people and communities is irrelevant. After all of the words of politicians, governor’s task forces, political ballot initiatives proposed and withdrawn, superficial regulations, and other means designed to distract us, the Colorado Community Rights Amendment is the only legal measure that addresses the root of the problem.
“To all of those citizens who are frustrated from the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling, nothing will change unless we change our system. The Colorado Community Rights Amendment directly confronts and changes the structure of law that gives corporations power over our local communities,” says Nicole Johnston, founder of the East Aurora Community Development group.
Colorado could turn the tide on the fossil fuel industry and its destruction of community level decision-making. Local democracy is the only way to get out of this legalistic, corporate trap and bring in a new era of environmentalism and freedom in the most important of places — where we live, work, and raise our families.
Coloradans for Community Rights (CCR) is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization and Issue Committee formed to pass by ballot initiative an amendment to the Colorado constitution recognizing the people’s right of local self-government and empowering local communities to protect their fundamental rights, free of corporate interference and state preemption. Colorado Community Rights Network is a grassroots nonprofit devoted to educating local communities on community rights and on rights-based organizing.
Coloradans for Community Rights and the Colorado Community Rights Network extend heartfelt appreciation to all the grassroots fighters for the Community Rights Amendment and for a truly democratic society. We will now be solidifying our gains and working at the local, state, and national level to legalize democracy where we live and work.