Letters to the Editor
Remember what life was like before the unbridled growth of corporate interests came to occupy our towns and country-sides? Did you know that as important as stopping one threat at a time to our environment and quality of life there is a more cohesive way to “push back”? Are you interested in learning how nearly 200 communities across the U.S. have enacted local governance to protect their homes and land from corporate entities?
Did you know that passages in our countries history contain solutions to these modern dilemmas? Whether the threat be losing small town businesses to big box chain stores that offer low fixed wages; or encroaching land developers that threaten privatization of water rights and tax burdens for municipalities; confined area feed operations that devalue while polluting land for miles around, using cruel and inhumane treatment of animals as standard operation; or frack sand mining which goes unregulated while wreaking havoc on the air, surface and underground water quality, exposing families to toxic chemicals; the list goes on of big interest groups that compromise the environment and wellbeing of local citizens.
Whatever way you see the challenges facing local communities there’s a bright spot on the horizon that you should know about. It’s called Community Rights.
Proceeding the Revolutionary War, was a history of colonist’s struggle with a distant government which plundered resources and preempted their rights as citizens. Corporations and the privileges bestowed upon them by the King and his loyalists were the main offenders; such as the East India Company, which was given the privilege to do business as they saw fit, without regulation all over the world.
To protect the land, water, and well-being of citizens the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and other documents penned by the colonists were based on the assertion of Community Rights. From these declarations came the understanding that corporations were to serve the community.
Inherent in this was a hierarchy of governing that placed: We the People at the top, the federal government as answerable, and corporations in service to; the first Pennsylvania constitution, ratified in 1776 stated: “Whereas all government ought to be instituted and supported for the security and protection of the community as such, and whenever these great ends of government are not obtained, the people have right, by common consent to change it, and take such measures as to them may appear necessary to promote their safety and happiness.”
By the end of the American Revolution, the democratic promise of the Declaration was unfulfilled and a very undemocratic constitution was adopted six years later. But of note is the fact that “the year before Lexington and Concord, farmers in 90% of Massachusetts, everywhere except Boston, had nonviolently driven out British officials.” When a place becomes impossible to govern even the imperial powers withdraw because they can’t control the situation.
Community Rights are in essence what our country was founded on. They are also what so many defended and gave their lives for in countless wars.
But these rights have eroded over the last two hundred years. State and federal constitutions have been co-opted by corporate activity while they foist their development on communities with harm at every turn.
Yet over the last decade, Community Rights has faced down opposition from large multinationals and been reclaimed by municipalities successfully across the country.
This three-part introduction will be to share some of these victories, how they were won and hopefully inspire you in the process of reclaiming your community rights.
Margarete Millette, former Lake Geneva resident and city activist