Some communities in Ohio are fed up by the way that corporations, colluding with state legislatures, simply override the concerns of local communities. Communities are often helpless in preventing their local environment from being blighted by hydrofracking, factory farming, and the extraction of groundwater supplies, among other enclosures of the commons.
So, banding together as the Ohio Community Rights Network, community members from eleven Ohio Counties recently released "The Columbus Declaration," which calls for a movement to “elevate the rights of people, their communities and nature above the claimed ‘rights’ of corporations.” The goal of the movement is to secure “local community self-governing rights through constitutional change.”
The Ohio Community Rights Network plans to form 88 county chapters throughout the state and seek a statewide constitutional convention to “guarantee that the people in every City, Village and Township of Ohio have the ability to protect the health, safety, welfare and fundamental rights of residents, free from state preemption or corporate interference.”
The campaign is the outgrowth of work by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund CELDF), which has worked with a number of Ohio communities in fighting fracking, drilling and injection wells throughout the state.
The Columbus Declaration may seem like a small, marginal project, but at a time when oil companies, big box stores, industrial agribusiness and transnational water bottlers can march into most communities and more or less override community sentiment, this initiative strikes me as one of the more promising legal vehicles for communities regaining some measure of control over their futures.
CELDF has working relationships with community rights networks in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington as well. Perhaps the Columbus Declaration (signed by citizens who met in Columbus, Ohio) will have reverberations in other states as well. Here’s the statement that was released by 24 Ohio citizens in Columbus on November 16:
THE COLUMBUS DECLARATION
That the political, legal, and economic systems of the United States and the State of Ohio allow a privileged minority to impose policy and governing decisions upon the people living in incorporated and unincorporated communities of Ohio and that these policies and decisions violate the rights and threaten the very survival of people and ecosystems;
That the goal of those decisions is to undemocratically concentrate wealth and greater governing power through the exploitation of human and natural communities, while promoting the belief that such exploitation is necessary for the common good; .
That the survival of our communities depends on replacing this system of governance by a privileged minority with rights-securing, democratic, community decision-making systems;
That environmental and economic sustainability can be achieved only when the people affected by governing decisions are the ones who make them;
That historically, people have been unable tosecure economic and environmental sustainability within a privileged minority-rule system;
That those doctrines which deny the right to self-governance in the communities where we live include state and national preemption of community law, state subordination of municipal and unincorporated governments to legislative and judicial fiat, the erroneous bestowal of constitutional rights upon corporations, and the imprudence of relegating ecosystems to the privatized status of property;
That concentrating on merely lobbying the factions in power to make better decisions has not replaced the current system of privileged minority decision-making with a democratic one;
That treating economic and environmental ills as problems caused by inadequate administrative regulation, rather than as symptoms produced by the absence of democracy and the violation of rights, has not halted the destruction of our human or natural communities.
Therefore, let it be resolved:
That a people’s movement must be created with a goal of revoking the authority used by a privileged minority to impose political, legal, and economic systems that endanger our human and natural communities;
That such a movement shall begin in the municipally incorporated as wellas the unincorporated communities of Ohio;
That we, the people, must transform our local community struggles into ones that resist and dismantle the existing undemocratic systems while codifying new, democratic, rights-securing and sustainable systems;
That such a movement must grow and accelerate through the work of people in all communities;
That when corporate and governmental decision-makers challenge the people’s right to assert local, community self-governance through passage of municipal and community law, the people, through their local governments, must openly and frontally defy those legal and political doctrines that subordinate the rights of the people and the authority of their local governments to the privileges of a few;
That those communities which have adopted Community Bills of Rights in defiance of rights-denying state and national law must join with other communities in our state and across the nation to envision and build new state and national constitutional structures that codify new systems of governance that assert and secure community and individual rights as the highest law;
That Ohio communities that have already begun this work shall stand together and call for a new state constitutional structure; and
That now, this 16th day of November, 2013, we pledge to begin that work, which will drive the unalienable right to local, community self-government into the Ohio Constitution, thus liberating all Ohio communities from the legal, procedural and political doctrines that prevent them from building economically and environmentally sustainable communities.
We Further Resolve that a Call Issues from this Gathering:
To create a network of people committed to securing for all Ohioans the right to local, community self-government;
To create a new system and doctrines that secure fundamental rights and that reverse political, legal, cultural doctrines that would interfere with those rights;
To call upon the people from each community across the State of Ohio to convene a People’s Constitutional Convention made up of delegates representing every community, whether incorporated as a municipality or not, who will propose constitutional changes to secure the unalienable right of all the people of Ohio to local, community self-government; and people’s movement that will result in these changes to the Ohio Constitution.
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For more about CELDF’s work to advance community rights, go to its website here.