I attended the memorial service of a dear friend recently, a friend who had been very active during the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s. A college friend of his spoke at the service about attending protests and marches together, and about how one day his friend had looked at him and asked, “Do you consider yourself to be a radical?” They decided to look up the root of “radical,” which turned out to be “rad” or root. A radical is someone who goes to the root of an issue, and solves it there.
As an activist in Easton, there is one crucial challenge I have encountered in trying to engage residents in any cause, regardless of the issue. Whether it’s fighting fracking for natural gas, sewage sludge fertilization, landfills—the challenge is fragmentation. People—good people—are very busy, working hard to sustain themselves and their families, and they have little free time to divide among additional pursuits. When they do commit to carving out time for meetings, there tend to be so many issues facing any given community, that each community will be fragmented in their efforts—after all, who can say fighting new nuclear power plants is any more important than fighting fracking for natural gas when both can bring such catastrophic results?
Engaged residents in small groups will give their time until they are physically and mentally exhausted—or until they are frustrated by the seeming futility of their efforts—until they fizzle out and disappear. If only there were a common root to these issues, groups could collaborate and fight together. It’s burn-out—plain and simple—that leads us to apathy, cynicism and eventually giving up. We feel guilty for abandoning the cause, and then resent the guilt, because we are exhausted and frustrated. And why not give up in the face of such giants? Large corporations invade our communities, deplete our rivers, destroy our land and poison our food and drinking water, while they grow ever-richer, leaving behind a wake of devastated communities. They have deep pockets, and an army of attorneys forever at the ready.
But there is good news—a possible silver bullet that can streamline our efforts to eradicate the root of the disease, rather than wasting scarce time and precious energy running around fighting symptoms wherever they crop up. That silver bullet is to declare and establish local self-governance at the municipal level according to state constitutional rights, including the right to deny corporations the ability to invade communities and run roughshod over The People.
Most American citizens are not even aware that this is possible, but thanks to Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a group of volunteer attorneys who aid local communities in writing local ordinances that assert the right to local self-governance, communities are beginning to fight back in a way that not only streamlines time spent on their efforts by getting to the root of all issues, but renders concrete results.
Two townships and one city in Pennsylvania have written and passed ordinances with the help of CELDF, declaring self-governance and the right to ban fracking for natural gas within their city limits: Licking Township, Nockamixon Township, and Pittsburgh. Not only does CELDF team help residents draft their ordinances, but if the municipality is ever taken to court over the resulting ordinance, they defend the municipality free of charge. CELDF presents an opportunity to reap the political power that comes with strength in numbers, by uniting all activists around one common cause: asserting our constitutional right to local self-governance, and the protection of the health and safety of our people.
What is new about this approach is that it not only consolidates these battles over individual issues but takes the fight out of the regulatory realm to be fought instead in the arena of constitutional law. Corporations prefer to fight citizens in the regulatory realm because it is easier to exhaust their opponents financially there. Any “victories” for The People are usually watered down in settlement negotiations, resulting in minimal temporary protections for citizens. Those same corporations immediately mobilize their legal teams to begin undoing the progress that has been made, so even these hard-fought “victories” are soon lost once residents let down their guard. In the end, the reality is that most regulations are written for legislators by corporate lobbyists, both at the state and federal level. The rules that should be protecting us are merely a security blanket that instead serves as a legal and financial buffer for corporations when citizens rise to protest their destructive actions.
By fighting these corporations in the arena of constitutional law, citizens can finally begin to feel the power of strength in numbers, rather than being divided and conquered between various causes. Corporations can rewrite legislation without drawing much notice, but they cannot do so with our state constitutions.
It is time to get radical. To start fighting our way, instead of their way. Time to stop exhausting ourselves by constantly running around putting out fires while they laugh all the way to the bank. This is our state and our country—the land that we love. Our state constitution is on our side, and so is the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. It’s time to circle the wagons, educate ourselves and our neighbors, and take matters into our own hands at the local level. The additional beauty of fighting for local self-governance is that it is neither a liberal nor conservative issue, but a fight that can finally bridge the political divide and finally end the polarization that keeps residents fighting each other, instead of fighting the entities that gain profit by destroying our hunting and fishing lands, our farmland, our drinking water, the character of our communities and our property values.
by Noël Jones
Noël Jones is the creator & host of Neighbors of Easton, a local news blog that supports local businesses, farms, and real estate.