The idea of community rights and the rights of nature proposes that local communities should have the legal capacity for self-determination on social and economic issues, and have the ability to put nature first.
In solidarity, the Pacific Green Party of Oregon, intends to “work to create new types of political organizations which expand the process of participatory democracy by directly including citizens in the decision-making process.” This ambition for “grass-roots democracy” can be achieved from an Oregon Community Rights Network constitutional amendment, which would empower the grass-roots.
The Oregon Community Rights Network is seeking from the Oregon legislature a ballot referral for a constitutional amendment that would enshrine community rights and the rights of nature in Oregon’s constitution, aka, Legalize Local Democracy. The Oregon Community Rights Network is seeking legislative sponsors to help advance this request.
Why are community rights necessary?
The short answer is community rights are necessary because the grass-roots need to be empowered. We, society and the world, are in a state of ecological and social emergency and our elected officials are constrained by law and the influence of campaign finance from doing the right thing for nature and the community. Society needs more involvement from the grass roots to help solve problems.
Empowered communities can rally members to provide local knowledge to address local needs, and solve local problems.
Ralph Nader once observed that democracy is a good problem solving process.
Community rights enable grass-roots democracy by freeing a local from state-pre-emption authority; a legal power used to constrain local communities.
Importantly, an empowered community, not limited by state preemption, could pose a challenge to the status quo of corporate dominance in economic, political and even social matters.
In theory, a constitutionally enshrined ‘community rights and rights of nature’ amendment would provide Oregonians a countervailing force to the power held by corporations and the monied interests that finance electoral campaigns and influence society. The amendment secures local decision making authority for local elected officials.
Freed from state preemption authority, a city or town empowered by a community right to self determine could innovate new policies and practices that tackle issues like living wage, local economies, gun control, rent control, and police accountability, and other objectives that enhance community well being.
Historically, power has been held by a minority of the people. In early America, those who owned land, slaves, manufacturing, and operated the banks, generally speaking, were the oligarchic elite. They made the rules. The US Constitution established that the purpose of the US Congress was to regulate commerce.
Early on, the “Corporation” through legal / judicial maneuvering, gained the rights of personhood, among other powers, and these developments conferred huge power onto business organizations to produce profits for its shareholders, and concentrate economic power, and influence affairs in American society.
Elected officials, whose elections are financed by monied interests, are constrained to break out and do the right thing; however, an empowered community, exercising a community right has enhanced standing to challenge a toxic business practice that poisons a community.
For example, in Oregon’s coast region, local communities must contend with aerial spraying of herbicide on forest land that has severe consequences for health and well being. In Douglas, Lincoln, and Columbia Oregon, community rights proponents, see ocrn.org, have asserted a right not to be sprayed. Lincoln County successfully enacted a community rights local ordinance that established an aerial spraying free zone.
However, the popular vote to ban aerial spraying was overturned on the basis of preemption – the state had already given authority to the timber companies to spray poison and local communities were denied the right to protect themselves from this harm. For this reason, an amendment is necessary.
A community right recognizes the dignity of the people; it affirms the value of community knowledge to problem solve; it enables a community to engage in our democracy. However, state pre-emption authority undercuts citizen power by limiting its capacity to set policy and actualize local interest.
The Legalize Local Democracy amendment would change that by establishing a constitutional floor for community rights, and free a local community from state legal constraints that limit ‘we the people’ from arguing the rights of nature and seeking justice.
A community right that recognizes the rights of nature, would give Oregon citizens the capacity to unite over issues that extend into a bio-region, for example, that address common interest in the public well being associated with natural preservation of land, water and air.
Moreover, a claim for a right of nature to exist intact is critical in a world subject to global warming. We need all the intact nature we can conserve, and we need legal authority to hold our ground.
Given the power to exercise a community right, communities would rise to the occasion, and galvanize around the challenges facing society; as a result, society would benefit from the collective creativity of the community to envision and develop solutions. Indeed, a civic culture around community rights could inform civics in Oregon schools, and teach the value of grass roots democracy.
As things stand, state legislatures in the US do not provide significant challenge to the property rights of corporations to mine, to process and manufacture and conduct business as they see fit, existing labor and environmental laws notwithstanding. Against this, a community right is an urgently needed countervailing force, to enable self-determination.
Community Rights and Rights of Nature are necessary because society needs for ‘we the people’ to have the capacity to act on the call to fight global warming, to preserve nature in our communities and in the world at large, and to have the power to ensure local well being.