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Letter to the Editor: The wrong rights

Posted: Tue, Dec 10, 2013 4:45 PM
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(Mike Blevins of Decorah has submitted the following Letter to the Editor):

Since being introduced to the Community Rights approach over the course of several individual and group meetings in Decorah in 2013, I have developed some concerns regarding its philosophy, legal analysis, and its prospects for sustainable, healthy environmental protection and social change.  Yet I have also strengthened admiration and appreciation for local leaders who continue to put themselves out there to help invigorate our democracy and develop an ever more sustainable NE Iowa community.
 
The national organization behind the Community Rights meet-ups and training (including its portable "Democracy School" scheduled here for November 1-2, 2013) in Decorah is the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF.org), a group which, beginning in 2002 in Pennsylvania, was organized to combat primarily corporate environmental trespasses and toxins at the local level through assertion of "inalienable rights of the community".
 
CELDF's self-proclaimed primary strategy is to recruit and empower local groups to propose and lobby for the enactment of local ordinances (following their Model Community Rights Ordinance) in municipalities across the country drafted "specifically to assert the rights of human and natural communities"—rights that contrary to their materials are contained in already ubiquitous and enforceable local, state, national and global human rights instruments.
 
The CELDF asserts that these human and environmental rights are not protected by what they describe as an inherently and irremediably anti-democratic wrong-headed U.S. Constitution and State Constitutions.  The CELDF misleadingly overstates the case when they charge that our legal system unavoidably favors corporate power over the power of the people.  The Community Rights Movement must be understood and evaluated for what it is---a call for immediate circumventing and ultimate replacement of our legal system.
 
Why is this sought by the CELDF?
 
Revealingly, the CELDF in its website and documents, and especially in its "Democracy School" Curriculum available on its website has clearly identified itself—its principles, practices, and objectives— with two counter-culture groups that, during the English Civil Wars of the 17th century, marginalized themselves and accordingly fulfilled their own prophecy of ineffectiveness—the "pure democracy" outside-the-political system Levelers and Diggers, examples of groups that in their effort to stay pure isolate themselves intentionally from the responsibilities and civic-political activities of the mainstream and then may protest when they feel like they are not reaping the privileges of the same system. In their support of the failed Articles of Confederation (passed and then repealed before the adoption of our present Constitution)—the CELDF shows its hand--they are present day representatives of those who lost the Federalist debate in this country over two hundred years ago.  
 
Do you understand what this means?  The CEDLF rhetoric calls for rejection of the Bill of Rights and the Supremacy Clause, our Balance of Powers Federal system, nationally assured Civil Rights protection, and thousands of other local-state-federal rules and relationships and it completely ignores international environmental justice and human rights law—including the rights of indigenous communities and local democracy.
 
I think it entirely predictable that the couple of hundred communities that have adopted Community Rights laws are set up for confusion, wasted time and misdirected energy, litigation, unnecessary and unethical legal expense, frustration, and failure.
 
Be forewarned, the Courts will eventually reject the vast majority of these ordinances.
 
Let us not forget that the far right  has and continues to appeal to putative "community rights" and wrongly understood "states' rights" to assert local control in regressive unjust opposition to state and federal laws and regulations such as civil rights that protect the lives and liberties of the individuals and their environments that together comprise our communities.
 
To achieve any measure of effectiveness and success in our common objective to scale back the political power of for profit corporations and personal wealth, and to promote more generally the well-being of all life, especially sentient beings, and to nurture sustainable, healthy, flourishing communities and peoples, there are:
 
Other alternatives:
 
--The environmental protections, including the Precautionary Principle, contained in established yet evolving international human rights and environmental law.  Vigorous internationally adopted environmental and human rights protection laws and norms, like all treaties entered into by the United States, are the "Supreme Law of the Land" (Article VI of the US. Constitution) and domestically (locally) enforceable.  If State or Federal law is found or even believed to be inadequate to protect against any toxic trespass, environmental degradation, or human rights to a healthy environment or sustainable community, international law is more and more frequently relied upon for remedies—from the County Courthouse to the Congress to the Supreme Court… all the way to courts such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
 
--True participatory democracy…direct action (protests, boycotts, petitions, blockades, strikes) coalition building, community organizing, campaigns, voting registration, debates, letters to the editor, candidate recruitment, constituent latters, emails and phone calls, demonstrations, drafting of legislative proposals. Rallies, public art, forums, speeches, publications, elections, lawsuits, appeals.
 
The so-called CELDF "Democracy School" bypasses a fair survey of history and a coherent analysis of law and usually ignores true tools for action in a representative democratic Republic—the School is directed at one action: passing an unconstitutional local ordinance, submitted by a minority, that denies the premises of our systems of local-state-federal governance. The CELDF and its partners cherry-pick the historical record, ignore the law, mislead the disaffected—and would have those of us concerned with our democracy join cause with the doomed Levelers and Diggers of history--groups that, in similarity to religious fundamentalists, take pride in isolation and, ironically, foster community alienation.
 
--Effective Organizations such as the progressive Constitutional Accountability Center (theusconstitution.org) and Resilience.org.
 
--Constitutional Amendments to overturn Citizen's United, limit corporate powers, and reinvigorate our electoral and Republican form of democratically premised but constitutionally structured governmental process—especially through laws that adequately regulate the role of money and influence in our elections and in the activities of the three balanced powers in our federal, state and local governments—the legislative, the executive, the judicial.  An example is the proposed Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S Constitution.

--The courageous examples of municipal leaders such as Michael Lilliquist (Bellingham, WA) who, as a graduate of CELDF's Democracy School, upon broader reflection concluded in August of 2012 that the human and environmental rights and concerns at the heart of the Community Rights movement are already and more effectively addressed in existing laws and procedures—including the ability to make necessary changes to the laws and procedures themselves.  (whatcomwatch.org)
 
--Resources such as the "Expanding Community Rights Over Natural Resources" Initiatives supported by the Ford Foundation and others.
 
Conclusion and recommendations:
 
I appeal to you my esteemed and generous friends who are concerned about the rise of big money, large corporations, Wall Street greed and corruption, Main Street woes, rural and urban poverty, environmental degradation, loss of sense of personal political power, economic inequities,  governmental unresponsiveness, ethics, and communitarian problem-solving to accept the encouragement of Community Rights organizations to GET ACTIVE and, indeed, to rediscover and, yes, to reassert your voices by all means necessary and effective, but to be respectfully critical, careful and selective of the agenda, the strategies and tactics of the CELDF and its partners, and to join the concerted efforts of those who share your concerns and objectives but are utilizing proven democratic tools appropriate to the vibrancy and reform of our particular culture, systems and institutions.
 
Respectfully and warmly submitted, personally and on behalf of no organization or party,

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