The following is a guest post from Lynn Fang, an eco-conscious writer, scientist, and activist who dreams of a more harmonious and sustainable world. She writes about her adventures in sustainable living, social transformation, and personal growth at Upcycled Love. Follow her on Twitter
Unemployment. Cancer. Fracking. GMO’s. Anxiety. Depression. Climate Change. Do these seem unrelated to you? That is the illusion we are presented everyday – there are myriad problems all seemingly caused by different things. The truth is, each of these is caused by one root cultural problem: love of money over love of life.
Companies are so bent on making profit, they’ve structured law and politics to facilitate their ruthless pursuit of more money, even at the cost of innumerable human lives and ecosystems. I’m not attacking any one company, or any one person, but rather commenting on the culture we’ve created.
In a grassroots democracy, the people’s voice is heard. Unfortunately our system is a republic, represented by the interests of a small minority. There’s a glaring gap in what our government promises and what it’s able to fulfill. One part of the problem is that the public isn’t educated about the process of democracy itself. We can’t participate if we don’t know how it works. The recent uprisings abroad and at home have lifted our collective spirit to believe that democratic change is possible. OccupyAmerica is a demonstration to what power we have if we get together and organize. But what if this energy was funneled to a very specific purpose? Something that really gets to the heart of the problem? A grassroots civil rights movement?
Most people want a comfortable life, where they don’t have to worry about not having food, a home, or access to healthcare. Can we agree that all people want such a life? What if it was our inalienable right to have a comfortable and healthy life, stipulated by secure access to:
- clean food
- humane working conditions
- physical health + medical care
- emotional + spiritual well-being
- homes + shelters
- clean water
- clean air
- healthy, sustainable environment
The right to a secure and healthy life is eroded by lack of access to many and all of these things. Restricting access to a basic need is a very good way to make a lot of money.
What if the Earth had rights?
It wouldn’t be legal to pollute or act unsustainably anymore. If you want to maintain clean food, air, and water, the community and environment needs rights too:
- Right to natural communities such as streams, freshwater ecosystems, mountains, lakes, etc.
- Right to clean air, free of toxic compounds
- Right to clean water, free of toxic compounds
- Right to sustainably produced food
- Right to GMO-free food
- Right to community self-government
- People as sovereign
Every social movement in history was catalyzed by a small group of activists working underground. They were able to change history ultimately by rewriting law, via constitutional amendments. Frequently widespread change started with small changes in city by city, state by state. Demanding for more rights seems revolutionary, didn’t we already seal the deal in the American Revolution? Unfortunately, the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement were needed to grant freedom and full citizenship to African Americans. The Women’s Suffrage movement was needed to liberate women. We are still fighting the battle for equal rights with these issues, not to mention the new frontiers of gay/transgender rights and environmental rights.
Fortunately, there is work being done today to help catalyze a grassroots civil rights movement. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund has been working with local communities to empower them to say “No” to corporate operations.
Their first major victory in restructuring the law happened in the unlikely neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The City Council voted unanimously to pass a local ordinance that specifically banned the practice of natural gas extraction, also known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. Some council members were in full support of the ordinance right at the start, but others were hesitant. The concept of local, community authority was new and foreign. Fortunately, hundreds of residents called, emailed, and showed up to council meetings to voice their support for the ordinance.
What’s special about this bill is that it grants rights to people and nature, and takes away a corporation’s right to “personhood” and “protections of commerce or contracts” afforded by the US and Pennsylvania Constitutions. No license from a State or Federal agency can violate the stipulations of this Ordinance to deprive the city residents and its natural community of their inalienable rights.
After Pittsburgh’s victory, a slew of townships throughout New England passed similar ordinances against fracking and in support of community rights. More communities are following suit when faced with an impending hazardous operation. CELDF’s work has helped communities like Barnstead, New Hampshire, ban corporate water extraction through similar community rights ordinances. They have also helped Ecuador recognize the right of nature to exist in the national constitution.
Most people have little idea of why corporate personhood is the real root of all their problems. This is partly because we have little idea of how democracy really works. The less we know, the easier we are to confuse and manipulate. CELDF has a Democracy School program, a 2-day intense workshop about the legal structures to reform in order to establish a people’s democracy. In it, teachers discuss the history of corporate personhood, the inner workings of our justice system, and the potential for transformation. If you’d like to host one in your town, contact them. They also have online videos of their class.
So where do you fit in? What can you do to support this movement?
- Start talking. Change the conversation. Instead of thinking there’s nothing you can do to overcome corporate authority, look to these success stories to know that there is a way to gain more freedom. Talk to your local officials, participate in city government, express your opinions publicly, and start changing the collective conversation.
- Follow your heart. Most of the activist groups that formed to help push these ordinances to victory were started by simple folks who cared. The Marcellus Protest started with a small group of people who connected over the anti-fracking film, Gasland.
- Educate yourself. Watch documentary films, read informative essays and books, and talk about what you learn with other people.
- Connect with activists. Attend film screenings, conferences, protests. Meet the people working underground, feel their energy, and become a part of this growing movement.
- Connect with everyone. It doesn’t matter who it is, find a thread of connection. We are all human beings going through essentially the same things – fear, love, survival, jobs, food, life. You can connect to anyone. Everyone is your friend, a potential ally when you need a hand.
- Host or participate in Democracy School. Watch the videos online, host one in your town, or spread the word. Educate yourself about how our government truly works.
This is by no means a definitive plan to success! It’s a starting point, a shift in perspective, that hopefully can translate into greater cultural transformation.