Hey Liberal, You’re Late, but Welcome to the Local-Control Party

Thomas Linzey

A march for Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles.

Times are a’changin.

When lib­er­als begin talk­ing about local con­trol and states’ rights, you know that some­thing is afoot.

Local con­trol and states’ rights have long been a bas­tion for con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans, the right-wing and racists. Today, states and munic­i­pal­i­ties are begin­ning to redis­cov­er local con­trol and states’ rights as they find them­selves on the receiv­ing end of fed­er­al mar­i­jua­na and immi­gra­tion policy.

One won­ders why it took them this long. Wel­come to the party.

And what a par­ty it is. Between states hold­ing up their mid­dle fin­gers to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment on mar­i­jua­na legal­iza­tion, to cities, towns and coun­ties pro­vid­ing sanc­tu­ary to Dream­ers in direct defi­ance of fed­er­al immi­gra­tion law, there’s a new wind blow­ing. Not to men­tion the 200 munic­i­pal­i­ties across 10 states who have now adopt­ed local laws ban­ning frack­ing, cor­po­rate fac­to­ry farms, gas pipelines and aer­i­al pes­ti­cide spray­ing, all direct­ly in defi­ance of state and fed­er­al laws that force those projects into com­mu­ni­ties that don’t want them.

Some com­mu­ni­ties have even gone so far as to nul­li­fy cor­po­rate per­son­hood” and oth­er rights and pow­ers — not because it’s fun, but because the exis­tence of cor­po­rate pow­ers inter­feres with the author­i­ty of the peo­ple in those munic­i­pal­i­ties to govern.

Think­ing glob­al­ly, act­ing local­ly, while for so long used as a throw-away line to ask peo­ple to do every­thing from com­post­ing to tak­ing short­er show­ers, is begin­ning to evolve into some­thing much dif­fer­ent — some­thing with muscle.

Redis­cov­er­ing our authority

When insti­tu­tions fail us — as almost all of our insti­tu­tions have, over the past 30 years — it means that we the peo­ple” have to redis­cov­er our author­i­ty to dis­man­tle those insti­tu­tions and build new sys­tems that reflect our new real­i­ty. That new real­i­ty has us on the verge of destroy­ing our own plan­et, while expand­ing a sys­tem of cor­po­rate and gov­ern­men­tal con­trol that promis­es to wipe out the last of our lega­cy of indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty and freedoms.

Part of that redis­cov­ery means com­ing face to face with the truth that our exist­ing polit­i­cal sys­tems — our local and state gov­ern­ments — have become mor­bid­ly slug­gish, and in their slug­gish­ness, have proven to be will­ing co-con­spir­a­tors to the destruc­tion of the plan­et and the removal of the last sem­blances of self-government.

Instead of spend­ing our time moan­ing about this state of affairs, how­ev­er, we have work to do.

Seiz­ing our government

It’s a high moun­tain to climb, but as my father once said, It’s not going to climb itself.” Not only do we have to kick the cor­po­ra­tions out of our gov­ern­ments, we have to repro­gram our own gov­ern­ments so they pro­tect us, rather than cor­po­rate interests.

That means seiz­ing our own gov­ern­ments by using them to enact laws — whether those laws be on immi­gra­tion, mar­i­jua­na, sanc­tu­ary cities, frack­ing or a range of oth­er issues affect­ing peo­ple and nature in munic­i­pal­i­ties across this land. Those laws must direct­ly con­front state author­i­ty, fed­er­al author­i­ty and cor­po­rate author­i­ty, which cur­rent­ly allow state and fed­er­al law (and cor­po­rate rights”) to super­sede those local laws.

It also means com­ing togeth­er, across issue areas, so that immi­gra­tion activists are sit­ting in the same room as envi­ron­men­tal­ists, and labor activists are sit­ting across the table from legal­iza­tion advo­cates. Togeth­er, we must envi­sion a new sys­tem of law in which defi­ance of moldy, old legal doc­trines becomes the norm.

That means chang­ing our sys­tem of law to one in which local and state gov­ern­ments become rights-pro­tec­tors when the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment aban­dons its role to do so. And it means that this new sys­tem of law not only upholds the author­i­ty of peo­ple to use their gov­ern­ments in this way, but cel­e­brates it.

Think glob­al­ly, enact local­ly” may not have the same ring to it as the orig­i­nal slo­gan, but it more pre­cise­ly points in the direc­tion we must go.

Now more than ever, there’s no time to lose.

(“Think Glob­al­ly, Enact Local­ly” was first pub­lished on celdf​.org and is repost­ed on Rur­al Amer­i­ca In These Times with permission.)

Thomas Linzey, a con­tribut­ing writer to Rur­al Amer­i­ca In These Times, is the exec­u­tive direc­tor and co-founder of the Com­mu­ni­ty Envi­ron­men­tal Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and serves as the organization’s chief legal counsel.
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