By Susan Rankin and Jocelyn Moore
What would you do if your Portland neighborhood was faced with a new industry that would unleash untold environmental, social, and physical damages? Write your legislators? Plead with regulators? Sign petitions? Attend council meetings? Protest? Sadly, time and again, these avenues almost always fail. Established law permits some level harm and after “complying,” corporations are allowed to conduct business as usual—even when an entire community is in opposition.
In 1995, the people of Wells Township, Pennsylvania tried something new. Their story, and many more to follow, is one of revolutionary self-governance. This small town of 500 gathered together to exercise their right to self-government and created local law banning outright the large toxic lakes of hog waste threatening their farmlands and livelihoods. The factory hog farms would have kept people indoors, kept people from shopping in town, and lowered property values because of the constant flies and the horrific stench. With a legally binding community rights ordinance they succeeded in banning the 15,555 strong factory hog farm. Forced to argue rights-based law, as opposed to established commercial law, the corporate executives did not sue. They were not prepared to openly claim in a small town courtroom their superiority over citizens’ rights to protect themselves. Eighty neighboring towns followed suit and successfully drove off the distant agri-corporations. To date, more than 150 communities in 7 states have passed rights-based ordinances preventing a range of corporate harms.
Fast forward seventeen years to April 2012 when Oregon farmers of the Willamette Valley, inspired by the workshops of Paul Cienfuegos, the CommunityRightsPDX founder, asked the lawyers of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in Pennsylvania to help them ban GMOs. Benton County hopes to have an ordinance ready for the November 2012 ballot. Farmers outside Corvallis discovered bizarre, oversized plants among their crops. Monsanto has long-standing partnerships with many state university agriculture departments including Oregon State University. Monsanto promotes its low-cost, “environment saving” engineered seeds (with Roundup). But ordinary farmers and environmental activists argue that GMOs act like an “invasive species” that invade conventional crops.
This January 2012 Portland formed CommunityRightsPDX to develop an ordinance for the November 2013 election. They are reaching out to diverse communities, conducting 2 ½ hour mini-workshops, hosting 2 day trainings led by Paul Cienfuegos, (the next one is on June 9th and 10th), and 15 minute introductions at the meetings of like-minded affiliates, churches, schools, etc. They are beginning to research possible ordinances including such ideas as the right to clean elections, a ban on foreclosures, a ban on coal/nuclear transport, rights of nature, worker rights, a right to truth in news broadcasting, — to name a few. They invite you to attend a workshop and get involved, “be the change.”
CommunityRightsPDX is no longer asking permission of established leaders. They are asserting that they are living our right to local self government. Come help them write our first legally binding ordinance and reclaim our Democracy at the grass roots level by ending the corporate takeover of our institutions. Contact [email protected] or see CommunityRights.info or CELDF.org for more information.
St. Francis of Assisi Parish (School)
1131 SE Oak St
The Hawthorne Room
May 22 1:00-3:30pm
June 5 6:30-9:00pm
June 19 1:00-3:30pm
Other locations and times TBA
2 day workshop on June 9-10, register at www.PaulCienfuegos.com