Ballot Power: Community Initiatives Secure Local Eco-Rights
While America will choose its next president this November, voters in Oregon may also vote on the right to local community self-government, enabling protection of citizens’ fundamental rights and prohibiting corporate activities that violate them. The Oregonians for Community Rights group, formed by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), submitted a constitutional amendment proposal to the secretary of state in January as a prelude to a larger signature-gathering effort to qualify the measure for the state ballot.
Concurrently, the CELDF is supporting other community initiatives on various topics that may inspire other regions to also be active at the grassroots level. For example, Oregon’s Coos County Protection Council is currently finishing its signature gathering to place a Right to a Sustainable Energy Future ordinance on a special ballot in May. It would protect citizens’ rights to clean air and water and the production of sustainable, localized energy, instead of county approval of several potential non-green energy projects.
Oregon’s Columbia County Sustainable Action for Green Energy is gathering signatures for a Right to a Sustainable Energy Future ordinance for its November ballot that would protect the county from fossil fuel projects like coal and oil trains and a proposed methanol plant, and close two natural gas power plants by 2025. Other state groups are seeking to have November ballots in Lane and Lincoln counties include bans on aerial pesticide spraying. A Lane County group has filed a local food system charter amendment that would ban GMO (genetically modified) crops locally.
“Community rights are driven by the people in the community, not by any organization targeting potential activism,” says Kai Huschke, Northwest and Hawaii community organizer of the CELDF, which has supported 200-plus separate community initiatives. Particularly active states have included New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania. “Organizing typically comes about due to a localized threat. It means settling into a long-term battle to change the structure of government, having resolve and organizing beyond just a ballot vote.”
Learn how to take local action at celdf.org.