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.)

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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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