Community Governance

In recent times, several instances have emerged leaning essentially towards secession from our current U.S. system.  Some describe seceding regions, such as New England or the Pacific Northwest or much of the South.  Here’s one effort that’s become formalized.

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Colorado Community Rights Network

Files Constitutional Amendment

To Secure the Right to

Community Self-Government

Free from State Preemption

MEDIA RELEASE
Date: Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Contact: Ben Price, Projects Director
CELDF.org
BenPrice@celdf.org
717-254-3233

Denver, Colorado, January 20, 2014 – The Colorado Community Rights Network (COCRN) has submitted to the state for review and comment the language for a Community Rights Constitutional Amendment to be placed on the 2014 ballot. The significance of the proposed state constitutional amendment was explained by COCRN member, Cliff  Willmeng:

“Communities throughout Colorado and across the country are finding that, in the face of corporate exploitation, they don’t have full authority, due to state preemption, to protect public health, safety and welfare, economic and environmental sustainability, property value, and overall quality of life. To do so without repeated challenges from corporate lawyers and our own state requires changes to our structure of law.

“The Community Rights Amendment would codify into law the right to local self-government, enabling local governments to define fundamental rights and prohibit activities that violate those rights.”

Lotus, another member of COCRN, commented,

“When the thirteen colonies revolted to gain independence from England, the very first grievance listed in the Declaration of Independence was the refusal of the central government to recognize local laws enacted as an exercise of the people’s right to local self-government.

“The Declaration states that the king “has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good…” and that the “people are endowed with certain unalienable rights, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” among them.

“It goes on to state that government derives its power from the consent of the governed and that when any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.

“The immortal words of the Declaration of Independence are regarded as a moral standard upon which our freedom was founded and to which we continue to strive. But today, those ideals are trampled by the state to benefit corporate privilege at the expense of general rights.”

The proposed Colorado state constitutional amendment was drafted at the request of COCRN by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).  CELDF project director Ben Price stated,

“Today, our structure of law elevates corporate rights over the unalienable rights of citizens and usurps the consent of the governed. Corporations have court-conferred constitutional privileges which they wield against communities to subjugate local aspirations that interfere with corporate agendas.

“The wealthy minority hiding behind the corporate form dares to use our local, state and national governments as their privatized proxies and through the doctrine of preemption override our local governing authority to protect the health, safety and welfare of people, their communities and the natural environment.”

Price went on to say that …

“Citizen groups and local officials in communities across the U.S.have enacted Community Bill of Rights to assert and secure fundamental rights and to prohibit their violation by certain industries, including agribusiness, waste disposal, genetic engineering, fracking, and others. The proposed state constitutional amendment will recognize the full authority of municipalities to adopt such laws, free from state preemptive laws protecting corporations from democracy.”

Colorado’s first Community Bill of Rights ordinance was passed by citizen initiative last year in the City of Lafayette. The city charter amendment recognizes the fundamental right of people and nature to clean air and water, the right of the community to a sustainable energy future, and to exercise local self-government to secure these rights. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group representing the industry, has filed a law suit to overturn the election.

Merrily Mazza, recently elected to the Lafayette City Council and an organizer of the campaign to pass the Community Bill of Rights ordinance said …

 

“The proposed Colorado constitutional amendment

starts a new state-wide movement to establish the

right to local self-government. It gives people, not

corporations, the authority to decide how best to

protect their health, safety and welfare, their

communities, and the natural environment.

This is democracy in action.”

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 (The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a public interest law firm assisting communities across the country in grassroots organizing to assert Community Rights to democratic local self-governance, to recognize the Rights of Nature, and to create sustainable communities through local law-making. We have assisted more than 150 communities in drafting laws that protect them from harmful corporate activities such as shale gas drilling and fracking, factory farming, and corporate water withdrawals, and eliminate corporate “rights” at the municipal level when they violate Community Rights to clean air and water, local self-governance, and the Rights of Nature.)

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If you look at the theme implied by these statements, it’s clear dissatisfaction with the larger governmental entities – and enough so that expecting things to change with another election feels useless, and that only more drastic action will solve their concerns.

When the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could act as individuals, and could donate what they pleased to their “candidates of choice,” we entered a time when corporate interests hold sway over those of individual citizens.  Corporations can contribute more to political campaigns and politicians (of all parties and at all levels) tend to be quite loyal to those who help them get elected.

Community levels of governance tend to be more responsive to their citizenry, as you might know the mayor and council members, personally.  While this effort in Colorado may or may not succeed, there have been and will be more such efforts.  In fact, our very own Declaration of Independence (also cited in the Colorado effort) contains a statement …

 

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations,

pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to

reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it

is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to

provide new Guards for their future security.”

 

The tenor of these community self-rule endeavors suggests that people are feeling increasingly abused, enough to throw off such governance.  While they’d clearly lose any armed conflict, as is happening in the Middle East, efforts to secede – or to create amendments to their existing constitution that enable true “home rule” – do seem to be growing.

How does all this relate to “Sustainability”?

Sustainable communities must include some form of governance involving direct participation of residents.  No elected officials or “executive committees.”  No “Roberts Rules of Order.”  Not even “majority rules.”  Proven methods for achieving true consensus exist, and need to be established in sustainable communities to ensure “quality of life” feelings among residents.  When we’re directly involved in deciding how to address issues in our community, and when we can veto any actions we don’t like, we’ll …

  1. Feel better about our laws, as we tend to like our own ideas.  And …
  2. We’ll feel a greater sense of potency – our ability to influence the rules in the environment or community in which we live.

Secession is a clearly choice of last resort.  However, if communities can gain more home rule, as the Colorado effort seeks, and can then demonstrate how they achieve greater quality-of-life feelings among their citizenry, that might provide a positive model that could also trickle upward.

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