Let’s mount a civil rights campaign with Community Rights

In the wake of Ferguson, I’m writing to guage the interest in framing and running civil rights campaigns using the tools and platform that the Community Rights movement provides through local assertion and elevation of civil rights.  Ferguson boils, but every community suffers (perhaps more quietly) from the same underlying problems and tensions.

For people who are already on the same page about the flawed legal foundations of our civil rights laws and want to dive into specifics, feel free to jump to

  1. the discussion on what we can do and
  2. what a Community Bill of Rights looks like.

The legal problem with current civil rights laws

In our current national legal system, civil rights laws depend on commerce law as their source of authority and enforcement.  Our system views commerce as a more fundamental legal reality than civil rights.  In other words, we don’t recognize the civil rights of anything we don’t view as an economic unit of value.  Due to this dependency, when a conflict exists between the two, the more fundamental structure takes precedence and nullifies the civil rights.  Enforcement of rights depends on the ability to enforce commerce laws, which often puts various movements in artificial conflict with one-another (e.g., environmentalists filing amicus briefs in support of federal violation of civil rights).

Consider from our FAQ that [emphasis mine]:

Past civil rights gains have depended on the Commerce Clause for their constitutionality and enforceability, because the current US Constitution does not recognize, nor does it grant authority to protect, inherent and inalienable rights separately from commerce.  For example, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) supporters have stated concerns about the viability of the civil rights-based law[6] due to its dependence on the recently-limited Commerce Clause as the source of constitutional authority to enforce civil rights laws in the wake of United States v. Lopez.[7]  Two years later, United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000) struck down the civil rights remedy of VAWA because it “exceeded Congressional authority.” 

The actual text of the law read:

The text of the clause recognized the “right to be free from crimes of violence: All persons within the United States shall have the right to be free from crimes of violence motivated by gender.”

Our federal government does not and will not recognize this civil right, and as such, does not recognize gender violence as a priority issue to address in our society.  More fundamentally, it does not have the legal authority to even consider it a priority.  Our government also has no legal basis to prioritize civil rights above commercial activity.  As such, our government will either directly violate or support the violation of civil rights wherever it appears that commerce benefits.

Consider this in the context of the violence occurring in our nation:  both police and non-police shootings are gender-motivated. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jackson-katz/men-gender-gun-violence_b_2308522.html)  The majority of violence in our nation falls into two categories:  men harassing and assaulting other men, or men harassing and assaulting others who don’t identify or appear as heteronormative men (including women and LGBTQ people).  The common theme, though, is that most perpetrators are men, and most violent crimes are motivated by gender.  Consider the racial tensions in the nation right now:  How many of those shootings involved women?  We’re talking about situations almost invariably involving male cops targeting black men or boys.

If we do not have the right to be free from crimes of violence motivated by gender in our society, we simply do not have the right to be free from crimes of violence, let alone the fact that we lack a basis to hold perpetrators of such crimes accountable.

What do we do?

We don’t need to wait to address the violence at its roots.  All it takes is for us to decide that we won’t wait any longer for someone else to make violence a priority and fix the issue for us.  The community rights movement presents us with an option for a legal system where everything else in our law and society derives from inherent, inalienable rights.  To create a more fundamentally just system takes work on every level of that system, including — but not limited to — a fundamental rewrite of our nation’s constitution (which amounts to more comprehensive rights protections and centering them at the core of our society’s law, a foundation upon which all other laws are based).

Community rights gives us a platform to address this and other egregious and outstanding civil rights issues on local (city, county) levels without needing to wait for state and federal governments to catch up.  By confronting these issues locally, we start an important, action-oriented conversation about the fundamental nature of our society.  Furthermore, addressing rights on the local levels first ensures an engaged citizenry and helps push the higher levels of governemnt to fall into line with these basic principles of human rights, creating both the substance and structure for the much-needed rewrite of our nation’s constitution as a document representing the collective protections and liberties we, the people (inclusive!) believe everyone should have.  In this system, lower levels of government have the freedom to increase or elevate (but not to violate) rights protections as they please, leading to faster adoption of liberties and protections at the highest levels.

We can frame and run a community rights campaign that gives every resident of the county or city where we live the legal right to be free from violence (which is most often motivated by gender).  The issue of violence (or almost any other civil rights issue) can serve as a catalyst around which we can build a more comprehensive civil rights movement addressing many outstanding issues.  Together, these issues can become Community Bills of Rights that afford elevated civil rights protections to communities and their residents.

Work doesn’t stop at the local level.  It builds up to include work at the state and federal levels in parallel.  We start at local levels wherever we have traction, to address the issues that the state and federal governments won’t address even as we directly and frontally challenge those structures limiting or undermining civil rights work in America.  “Traction” in the case of community rights means an engaged community, not necessarily a ready and willing political establishment!  Because of this, we can create the traction necessary to succeed without having to compromise or play games with the corrupt political establishment.  Each campaign, win or lose, exposes and widens the cracks in the unjust foundations of our society’s legal structure, and moves us closer to the lasting change we demand, at the scale we demand, even as we create pockets of civil justice at local levels.

Homeless rights:  a human rights baseline

As an example sister issue, others have mentioned how homeless people lack rights simply by lacking (the means to have) a legal residence.  As a result, homeless people exist as second or even third class citizens, subjected to all sorts of harassment and other violence that they cannot avoid by virtue of being homeless.  But that same violence and harassment affects us all.  By establishing a homeless bill of rights, we increase protections for the entire population by establishing a solid baseline of human rights that does not require property ownership — a safety net for all of us!  Similarly, a focus on the rights of youth would also go a long way toward creating a peaceful, just and free community.

These are just some quick ideas of major donut holes in our civil rights laws, to start conversation.

We can move civil rights law forward, right now, to create a more just and more free society.  We don’t have to wait for the state or federal governments or ask for permission to do it.  We just do it.  We, the people, lead, they follow.  What do you say?

What would a Community Bill of Rights look like?

It would first and foremost enact the legal civil rights protections that we seek to recognize or elevate, whatever we decide those to be.

Second, there are several things the Bill of Rights must do to protect those laws:

  1. It must describe how the above laws are not subject to federal or state pre-emption because they elevate rights protections
  2. It must strip corporations and all other fictitious entities of any claim to legal personhood so that they do not abuse and hijack such civil rights protections for nefarious purposes that ultimately violate the rights of real persons and communities
  3. It must describe how the rights are self-enforcing, rather than relying on commerce law as their basis for existence.
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Ecosystem files to defend itself against corporate aggression

http://www.publicherald.org/archives/19582/invisible_hand/

Little Mahoning Watershed in Indiana County, Pennsylvania recently filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit to defend its own rights to exist and flourish. But watersheds can’t hire lawyers or speak, so how can one defend its rights, and do watersheds even have rights?

The Little Mahoning Creek waterway flows through Grant Township, where elected officials unanimously passed a “Community Bill of Rights Ordinance” in June 2014 which declared “the rights of human and natural communities to water and a healthy environment,” including what’s commonly called the “Rights of Nature.”

These issues concern life and death — not only through the threat corporations pose to the earth’s life support systems, but also the threat they pose to individuals:

Still, implementation of nature’s rights is slow and difficult, even deadly.

José Isidro Tendetza Antún went missing a week before a Rights of Nature Tribunal in Lima, Peru. An indigenous activist, Antún urged others to fight for nature. “It is time to say enough to the corruption that threatens our territory of the Ecuadorian Amazon.” Image from Climate Connections.

Just last week, the body of missing indigenous leader José Isidro Tendetza Antún was found buried in a mock grave marked “no name,” the latest in a series of murders of environmental activists in Ecuador in recent years. Antún planned to denounce a mining project at a Rights of Nature Tribunal during climate talks taking place in Lima, Peru the week following his death.

Antún in a speech featured to YouTube: “It is time to say enough to the corruption that threatens our territory of the Ecuadorian Amazon.”

RIP José Isidro Tendetza Antún.  The spirit of your struggle lives on and grows in strength.

New Community Rights Paper: Firing Big Green

http://www.celdf.org/community-rights-papers

The last paper explored the history of the term NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) as a creation of corporate chemical companies to demean and marginalize local opposition to industrialization, and it moves beyond that phrase to the declaration of “Not in anybody’s backyard” — the idea that no one should have to live with the environmental destruction, water pollution, toxic fallout and other problems of being the site of an industrial project.

This next paper uses the analogy of Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, to address the role Big Green, aka Environmental Non-profit Industrial Complex, plays in the destruction of life’s earth support systems.  Big Green is more interested in proving it can play by the rules created by those who destroy life on earth than it is in actually stopping the destruction.  We need to reject Big Green in order to focus on what matters: stopping the destruction.   Communities do this in two ways:

  1. Banning activities that violate their right to clean air, water and a sustainable energy future and
  2. Recognizing through law that nature has rights of its own.

We can easily translate this community rights frame into a more general human rights activist frame as well, by locally recognizing human rights that existing laws do not recognize and by banning activities that violate any human rights.  For example, US law allows domestic police forces to use substances banned from warfare in international law on its own population.  Communities can recognize the right to be free from use of excessive force and police brutality and ban such practices locally, changing the way that policing happens in their community.

Read more:  We have a static link to these papers from our Resources page.

National Community Rights Network Holds Historic First Meeting

click here to read in pdf

CONTACT: Cliff Willmeng, bigreddog1934@yahoo.com, 303-478-6613
Or: Wendy Lee, wlee@bloomu.edu, 570-394-3849

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 30, 2014
SEVEN SPRINGS, PENNSYLVANIA: At its historic first meeting earlier this month, members of the National Community Rights Network (NCRN) gathered to seat their permanent Board of Directors and accelerate the work of advancing the rights of local communities to the state and national level.

The NCRN has grown out of the grassroots organizing of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which has assisted communities to advance Community Rights at the local level for nearly 20 years.  More than 160 communities across the U.S. have adopted CELDF-drafted Community Bills of Rights, protecting community rights to clean air and water, sustainable food, energy, and other systems, and the right to local self-governance.

Since 2010, these same communities have joined together to launch state Community Rights Networks (CRNs) consisting of municipalities, grassroots organizations, and local government officials supporting Community Rights, in order to drive those rights to the state level. The NCRN is the next step in that advancement.

“The NCRN has rapidly become the leading voice in the country for Community Rights and the right to local, community self-government. It is the movement that environmental, civil rights, and labor activists have been looking for – one that liberates communities across the country from being at the mercy of corporate “rights” and governmental powers exercised by those corporations,” said Thomas Linzey, Executive Director of CELDF.  Linzey added, “The time has come to free ourselves from those constraints and become self-governing in the name of economic and environmental sustainability.”

President of the NCRN, Cliff Willmeng, of Lafayette, Colorado, stated, “People and communities have for too long lived with the regulation of our freedoms, and the exploitation of our labor and natural environment. The NCRN is a leap forward for genuine grassroots organizing, and provides a platform for systemic, democratic changes to our government and economy.”

The new board members represent Pennsylvania (PACRN), New Hampshire (NHCRN), Oregon (ORCRN), Ohio (OHCRN), Colorado (COCRN), New Mexico (NMCCR) and Washington (WACRN). Each delegate has engaged in Community Rights efforts locally and is dedicated to elevating the rights of communities above the claimed “rights” of corporations in order to protect and establish sustainable food, energy, economic, and other systems.

The NCRN is committed to providing education, outreach, and support for the development of additional statewide Community Rights Networks. The organization is partnering with state and local Community Rights advocates to build a grassroots, people-driven, Community Rights Movement that will democratize and humanize decision-making at all levels.

The NCRN mission is to assist our state Community Rights Networks to educate people across the country on local, community self-governance and community rights; secure the inalienable rights of all people, communities, and ecosystems through local self-governance; assert community rights to empower and liberate communities from state preemption and corporate harm; and advance those efforts toward state and federal constitutional change.

News: Mendocino Community Bill of Rights

Recent news coming out of the northern California:

http://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/news/ci_26289149/mendocino-county-supervisors-approve-fracking-ballot-but-may

More information on the effort:

A. Community Rights Network of Mendocino County: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Community-Rights-Network-of-Mendocino-County/682810521781217

B. Mendocino Community Bill of Rights: http://ballotpedia.org/Mendocino_County_Community_Bill_of_Rights_Fracking_and_Water_Use_Initiative_(November_2014)