by Josephine Laing
Two hundred years ago women and slaves were property. If a woman was raped, she had no recourse under the law because she had no rights. However, her husband, the property owner could sue her rapist for damages if he chose. If a slave ran away, he was guilty of theft, having stolen himself from his rightful (full of rights) owner. When we have no rights we can not govern ourselves.
The Declaration of Independence grants all of us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Two hundred years ago this did not include women or people of color. Corporations have been granted personhood and have progressively accrued human rights and legal privileges which seriously undermine our ability to democratically govern ourselves.
[For more information on this aspect of this topic, please connect with the Move to Ammend Group in SLO.http://www.facebook.com/pages/MOVE-TO-AMEND-of-San-Luis-Obispo-County/189896431102174  ]
And just like two hundred years ago, once again we face the privileged few who have unjustly claimed the right to own as their property our air, our drinking water and the quality of of very lives. Back in the 1950's, Rosa Parks refused to acknowledge the unjust rights of the privileged ones and asserted her right to sit anywhere she like on the bus. She met the opposition of those who chose to uphold unjust laws and then gained support from others who saw the injustice there and joined her cause and changed the course of history.
Well, here we sit, once more confronted with injustice, laws that protect the privileged few to the detriment of many. And these laws are the ones that created the BP oil spill disaster, have allowed Nestle corp to suck every drop of water out of the wells of entire communities, have allowed big oil interests to pollute our air to the point of climate change, give the coal industry and mining corporations the right to buy up and blow up entire mountains destroying habitats and water quality downstream and have allowed the meat and paper industries to strip gigantic forests systematically from the face of the planet. And those same unjust laws are about to bring us Fracking right here in SLO.
When they were originally formed, corporations were supposed to do public service. And back then laws were written to protect the rights of people. But somehow that original intent has become distorted and instead we are left crippled to fight for our own communities well being and the laws are written to protect business interests at the expense of basic human rights. How did all of this go so wrong? And what can we do to change it.
Shannon Biggs who is the Director of the Community Rights Program for a group called Global Exchange, works with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and helps communities to reclaim our basic rights to Self Govern ourselves in the places where we live as is indicated in our countries Declaration of Independence. She was invited to speak at the Ludwick Community Center (http://www.slocity.org/parksandrecreation/reccenter.asp .) by the Transition Town folks here in SLO and came to help us learn how we can begin to turn around the tide of those kinds of corporate-rape-for-profit schemes, right here in San Luis Obispo.
Shannon came at our request because of our communities concerns over the imminent threat of Hydraulic Fracturing otherwise known as "fracking," which is about to take place in our county. Fracking has been making notorious news as it has swept through our nation leaving a tail of destruction, all the while generously padding the pockets of big oil.
Quite probably within this next month, our Board of Supervisors will be considering plans to Frack here. A local Water Resource Advisory Council (WRAC) is already in place and poised to address the "allowable level of harm." This process which has already happened in numerous counties across our nation is about to happen right here and right now in SLO and will potentially seriously endanger our water quality and most likely drastically affect our ground stability.
[On May 17th, National Public Radio (NPR) announced that the entire state of Vermont passed a law banning fracking. http://vtdigger.org/2012/05/04/vermont-legislature-passes-prohibition-on-fracking/  ]
A good friend of mine recently moved here from seven years in Arkansas where fracking took place over the later half of those years. When she first moved there, they never had any earthquakes. That was just a California phenomenon. Now, after several years of fracking, Arkansas has earthquakes everyday, often many times per day. They are little ones, like 3.0, but still they are daily. We live with a nuclear power plant here, one that was plunked right down on top of, not one, but at least three, major fault lines (and there are quite possibly many more.) Earthquakes and nuclear power plants don't mix well.
[See the film GASLAND, all about fracking that also won best documentary in 2010, on netflix, PBS, Movie online and other online systems.]
Fracking drills deep down into the ground into ancient shale beds of solid rock. Then they drill horizontally along the bed of shale, which breaks up and destabilizes the rock, that's why they call it fracturing. After that they pump in a mixture of sand and undisclosed toxic chemicals, (I saw a report showing 18 pages of fine print naming the toxic chemicals used in fracking, many of which are known carcinogens.) These are combined with millions of gallons of our beautiful local water, which is then forced deep into the shale to further break up the rock and force out the gas and oil. And that is when they take their profit, leaving all of the toxins and polluted water along with the destabilized upper crust of the earth behind. Just like a veritable legal gang rape of nature, it destroys her most likely for all time while it gives them a false sense of superiority and a momentary pleasure.
The 2005 Bush-Cheney Energy Policy Act exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is known as the "Halliburton Loophole."
Dick Cheney was a former CEO of Halliburton which is one of the leading gas drillers. Additionally, fracking is also exempt from regulation under the Clean Water Act.
And fracking corporations have big plans for the massive shale bed which runs much of the length of California from Monterey to Los Angeles. And they've already begun in Monterey county just north of Paso Robles. And they are perched and ready to pounce on our SLO County Board of Supervisors to pass the final formalities soon. So, there you have it. This is the big problem with non-local governance.
Just in the last two months, Mother Jones and both the Huffington and Washington Posts came out with the startling front page reports that the entire state of Pennsylvania had just passed a gag-rule preventing all of their medical professionals from telling their patients that the symptoms that they might be experiencing, like skin rashes or nausea are the result of poisoning from chemicals dumped into their water and aquifers from fracking.
Ten years ago, when an earthquake here caused the parking lot of the Paso Robles library to collapse into the hot springs aquifer located just below the town. Some scientists released a few radioactive particles into the water to see if they could trace the path that the water traveled underground. Within four or five days, their particles turned up at Avilla Hot Springs, some forty miles away. We know so little about the natural world and one thing that we are very ignorant about is how big, how deep, how multilayered and how interconnected our aquifers are. These are the pristine waters that were captured in the earths crust as the glaciers receded with the last ice age. These are the waters that our wineries use for their grapes, our agriculture uses to produce our food, our ranchers use for their drinking water and for bathing their children. And the frackers are about to be allowed to come into our county and pump unrevealed quantities of various types of toxic chemicals potentially right into our aquifers.
What is wrong with this picture? Well, rights, of course. Currently they have the right to destroy our environment and we have not yet legally proclaimed our right to protect ourselves and our communities well being. As it stands right now, we are just like the slaves, or women, two hundred years ago.
But thank goodness this is just now starting to change and Shannon Biggs is standing like the Goddess herself arising on a new wave of human understanding. When Shannon first began to try and support communities who were seeking to protect themselves from corporate injustices, she noticed sadly that over 80% of the battles being fought were lost and the 20% who did win often received shallow victories. She shared with us that one community successfully stopped a sweat shop. HooRay! But four others still remain on the same block, making it a very shallow success indeed.
Petitions and protests by community activists nation wide rarely gain more than the realization that the current structure of the law lets big corporations in to our communities to do their dirty work. Big business doesn't like loosing lots of little battles so they went for corporate rights where one win resulted in major successes for all corporations. Meanwhile we battle thousands of local fights each day across our nation with only shallow victories to show for our tremendous cumulative efforts.
Right now, fifty counties in the vicinity of Nestle corp are slatted to have their communities water supply sucked dry in order to fill all of those plastic arrowhead water bottles we buy. Two of them have fought to retain their water by claiming their local rights and so far they still have it. But what about the other forty eight communities? And how long can the two who resisted hold on? Wasn't it just two months ago that President Obama said No to the Keystone Oil Pipeline? Now, just a half a second later he is saying yes. Why? Laws protecting corporate profits have in recent history taken precedence over the protection of people and our ecosystems. And that is because we don't have laws in place protecting ourselves. We have not yet claimed our rights. But we could. We can claim the right to clean air, clean water, safe conditions for our children to grow up in, freedom from worries regarding our basic needs and our access to healthy food. And Shannon reminded us that We The People are not separate from nature, we are a part of it. We can not live outside of our ecosystems. We can't live outside of our planet without jumping through major billion dollar totally unsustainable hoops and placing ourselves in infinitely uncomfortable and vulnerable tin cans out in space somewhere. So, what are we doing? Clearly the wrong thing.
Fortunately, early on in her research, she found a very conservative rural farming community in the Borough of Tamaqua, in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania that asserted the right to ban the spreading of toxic sludge by corporate interests on their counties land. One of their council members, Cathy Miorelli, ran on the ticket of stopping the dumping. As a nurse, she had studied disease patterns and saw an association with toxic dumping in local mining pits. The borough's legal council advised against taking action for fear of suit by the polluters, citing state law. But Cathy garnered the support of her fellow Tamaquans and they flooded the city council chambers with citizens and won the deciding vote.
Their document opens with this line. "An ordinance to protect the health safety and general welfare of the citizens and environment of Tamaqua Borough by banning corporations from engaging in ...(toxic dumping)... by removing constitutional powers of corporations within the borough, by recognizing and enforcing the rights of residents to defend natural communities ecosystems."
Shannon shared another story about another Pennsylvania town wherein two children died after playing in toxins that were dumped there. That community didn't have ballot initiatives, so using the legal boundary of their municipality, they convened the township of elected officials in a Town Hall Meeting and basically said to them, "Either you will sign this paper banning the dumping of toxins by corporations on our land or you will sign this paper which is your resignation." So they signed, knowing that they might face litigation as a result, but also knowing that they had the full and powerful support of their townspeople behind them, should ever a challenge arise.
And that is how it is done. That is how we demand community rights and strip all corporate rights and give nature the right to be protected from corporate abuse. As they said in Tamaqua, "Just as children don't have full legal rights, but deserve to be protected, nature too needs to be protected." And thus has begun the trend of "Wild Law" that has spread across our country, protecting the rights of nature, one municipality at a time.
Once these first community rights for nature were set into place, the Legal Defense Fund, brought the same language from Tamaqua Borough to the South American Country of Ecuador. There Bolivian President Evo Morales with the help of Shannon's allies like Tom Goldtooth along with others whom she mentioned wrote into law a Bill of Rights for Nature. This was then included in the Constitution of Ecuador, in 2008, thereby letting that country become the first in the world to grant nature the right to exist and persist and to regenerate it's natural cycles. There is still a lot to do, but it's finally heading in a more sane direction.
Shannon's work involves helping communities protect their own right to clean air, clean water, a livable and safe environment by working at the community level, using the rights granted us in the Declaration of Independence, the right to govern ourselves in the places where we live, as a way to grant rights to nature.
[Ordinance to Deny Corporate Personhood : New Jersey (http://www.thomhartmann.com/unequal-protection/newjersey )]
Shannon reminded us that our rights are inalienable and our birth gives them to us. The job of law in government is to uphold rights. Just like with women and African Americans, so much would be different, she said, if nature was seen in the eyes of the law as having rights.
But now, who writes the laws for deep sea oil drilling, or nuclear power? It's not the state legislators, they don't know anything about it. So they go to the deep sea oil drillers or the nuclear industries and ask them to write their own regulations. Then we have to beg our legislators and regulatory bodies to get corporations to uphold their own rules. This is exactly what is going on right now with Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant and the Nuclear Regulatory Commissions plans to relicense a plant located on an active earthquake fault line. How many times do the Mother's For Peace have to go to bat on our behalf here? Whose going to step up to try to mitigate the damage from fracking? Do we merely want less fracking? Or should we try to fight to get them to disclose the chemicals that they are using? Maybe what we really want is to say, like they did in Tamaqua Borough, "You don't get to decide what goes on here in our town!"
We can assert our community rights and thereby protect our local municipalities by stripping corporate rights when we give rights to nature. And that is the title of Shannon Bigg's book, which she cowrote with others, Rights For Nature, The Case for a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. She told us that the power lies in the grassroots. Communities standing behind their local governmental officials and empowering them to reflect our local values. She said that at the local level we are waking up and recognizing that we've been doing nature a huge disservice by saying that nature is property. Nature is a system, one that governs our well being. Having rights for that is not a radical idea at all. In fact it could hardly be more rational.
Shannon finished her talk by saying that she will come to San Luis Obispo as many times as we need her. The Community Environmental Defense Fund will help us write our ordinances. They will provide the language and they will do all of it for free. All we have to do is show up and rally the support for our local elected officials and let them know that we will stand behind them with our public support once the laws are in place. If we do that, there will be no fracking here. If you'd like to join in, leave your contact information here in the comment section below and I will be sure to get it to the Transition Towns organizers for you, or you can reach them directly at http://slotransitiontowns.org/ 
Josephine Laing teaches classes on Intuition, Psychic Abilities and other classes and workshops. Please contact her at 546-3132 or visit www.communityprograms.net  . This piece will be also printed in the print version of Women's Press.