Letters to the Editor

Part Two-Community Rights.

“You never really change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”R. Buckminster Fuller

In a 2010 letter to state legislators signed by Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh, PA, along with nine City Council members the Pittsburgh Community Bill of Rights ordinance was passed. It stated clearly the right of local self-governance to be “free from state preemption or corporate interference” when engaging in the legal protection of fundamental rights.

In June of 2016, over thirty mayors came together from fourteen states bringing an appeal to state legislatures challenging the status quo, “to affirm the ability of localities to protect the health and quality of life of residents against the widespread expansion of industrial fracking into their communities.”

The mayors of conscience further wrote: “We believe that all communities should have the right to decide whether, where, and how industrial fracking operations-including not only well-pads but waste disposal facilities and all related infrastructure-happen within their borders.

Not content to settle for corporate lobbying interests on state lawmakers, and inevitably the stripping away of local authority to govern, the mayors asserted their responsibility to do what the public elected them to do; protect the health, safety, and welfare of the communities. They began to stop legalized injustice and replace it with the governing authority that is at the beginning of every state constitution in this country.

From Oregon state constitution first paragraph: Sec 1: Natural rights inherent in the people. We declare that all men (and women), when they form a social compact are equal in right: that all power is inherent in the people, and free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; and they have at all times the right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.

This is a significant movement, which is facing significant opposition; much greater than our forebears faced, for the stakes are higher.

One of the first counties in Minnesota to completely ban mining of silica sand used to extract oil and natural gas by hydraulic fracturing was Winona County. Minnesota Sands, with mining leases worth $3.6 and $5.8 billion in Winona county alone argued that the ordinance violated their constitutional rights, but Judge Mary Leahy dismissed the claim.

Across the Mississippi, from Winona, a mining spill in May of 2018 turned the Trempealeau River chemical orange when 10 million gallons of sludge was released to rescue a worker at the site.

High stakes victories can be reversed and won’t change the basic relationship of corporations to communities, or the power that corporations can wield over communities.

Corporations can nullify the local law in two ways; suing the community for violation of its constitutional rights or using state legislature to draft new state laws which preempt local ones. So, for Community Rights to become real people must understand and take possession of their law-making authority en masse. To overturn legal doctrines which allow a relatively small number of people to override whole communities in the protection of their rights will require millions of people and thousands of communities in civil disobedience.

Welcome back the spirit of ’73, along with what we’ve learned on the efficacy of non-violent action by citizens standing together.

Margarete Milliette, former Lake Geneva resident and city activist


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