Colorado Community Rights Amendment Builds Largest Campaign to Date, But Falls Short of 2016 Ballot

Rural America In These Times July 25, 2016

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.

This blog’s mis­sion is to pro­vide the pub­lic ser­vice of help­ing make the issues that rur­al Amer­i­ca is grap­pling with part of nation­al discourse.
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