Tag Archives: community rights

Rivers, Rights and Revolution: Learning from the Māori

By Shannon Biggs and Pennie Opal Plant, Movement Rights’ Co-founders

 

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Two historic agreements between Maori iwi and the Crown government of New Zealand illuminate a revolutionary way forward for protecting ecosystems and communities.

“How do we win now?” is a question many are asking in the wake of the 2017 US Presidential inauguration and  the  political, social and environmental reality being written using “alternative facts” and an unraveling of rights and protections.  And while for the millions of those who marched in protest—many for the first time, this democratic betrayal feels new.   Not so for many marginalized communities.  Marching, civil disobedience and standing bravely for rights is the lesson of movements from civil rights to Standing Rock. For many Native Americans for example, exactly who sits in the Oval Office has historically had little impact on the genocide, broken treaties and environmental racism they have endured. Despite this, Indigenous people here and around the world are often the most hopeful holders for a new way forward based on some timeless truths.  Here’s what is giving us hope:

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Strong women: Pennie Opal Plant admiring the statue of the courageous Wairaka. Legend says she saved many lives by steering  a drifting canoe back from the sea safety, though women were forbidden to paddle a waka.

On election day, Movement Rights was a world away in every sense of the word. We were in Aotearoa—the Maori word for New Zealand—learning about some of the most powerful protections for the Earth in modern law, and with our Maori guides, immersing ourselves in the ancient culture and cosmology that informs these new laws.

In particular, we were there to examine two truly revolutionary agreements between the Maori and the Crown government that recognize mountains, national parks and watersheds are not property to be owned, but as living ancestors to whom humans bear the responsibility of care.  These agreements—for Te Urewera, formerly a national park in the territory of the Tuhoe iwi (tribe); and the Whanganui River settlement in the territory of the Whanganui iwi—also come with an official apology from the Crown for historic crimes against the land and the Maori people, and redress funding for new management based on Maori cosmology, community education and cultural revitalization. These laws are deeply rooted in the ancient culture and  spiritual traditions of the Maori, but as we learned, they are for everyone.

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Among many other cultural lessons, Hine teaches Maori students traditional gourd carving. Here she adorns flutes made of tiny gourds. (photo: Movement Rights)

Upon landing we were greeted in a Maori way—an attention-grabbing and  boisterous welcoming chant in the Auckland arrivals lounge from our partner, the Maori author-poet and activist, Hinewirangi (Hine) Kohu-Morgan.  Hine was joined by her daughter, Aniwa Kohu and one of her students, Te Aho Paraha, who would travel with us as our Maori cultural guide.

150 years of broken promises

After British colonizing forces arrived ostensibly to trade, Maori populations dwindled by 50% from European diseases and poisonings, torched crops and livestock, starvation and skirmishes with British forces.

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Late 1970s poster expresses the frustration  of the Māori land-rights movement and the initial ineffectiveness of the 1975 Waitungi Tribunal which would ultimately lead to today’s Whanganui River and Te Urewera Settlements.

By 1840 most Chiefs signed an agreement for coexistence—The  Treaty of Waitangi.  There were two versions—one in English and one in Maori—which said two very different things.  Under the The English version, the Maori would become subjects of the Crown, with promises made to respect Maori practices. New Zealand would now be part of the British Empire.  But property was not a concept the Maori understood. The Maori version welcomed the visitors to share  the land of Aoteroa as long as they did not interfere with Maori customs, traditional and sacred practices. The Crown would violate both versions of the Treaty. It would take until now to begin the healing.

Tūhoe iwi “free” a national park 

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In Maori culture, mountains like those in Te Urewera are seen as male ancestors, while mist and all water forms are generally female.

Te Urewera, has always been the homeland of the Tuhoe  iwi. It is the essence of their culture, language and indentity.  The land and the people are inspeperable.  Once a national Park owned by the Crown, Te Urewera now has no owner. Tuhoe are known as the warrior tribe, the only iwi that never signed the Treaty of Waitangi.  Today they remain fiercely independent, proud and private.  Most live closely to the land in and around Te Urewera farming, ranching and hunting.

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Our guide Te Aho in front of the living building and offices of the Tuhoe Authority.

Meetings on Maori territory begin with the introduction of ancestors: the mountains you are from, the river, a greeting in the language of your heritage, where your family comes from…and then who you are. Similarly, they shared with us important ancestors whose pictures adorn the wall of their living building offices—the most sustainably advanced structure in New Zealand.   We sang the Native American women’s warrior song for our Tuhoe hosts before sitting for tea and questions. These personal revelations and protocols easily shift the dynamics of those gathered. It’s difficult to hide your heart when you humbly introduce yourself by way of your great-grandmother and prayerful song.

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Our delegation meets with Tuhoe iwi Authority Tamati Kruger (second from left), Te Urewera Treaty board member Lorna Taylor (middle) and Chief Executive of TUT Kirsti Luke (second from right).

For over two hours they graciously entertained our questions.  Chief among them:  how do they go from the tense relationship of colonization to brokering a deal that recognizes the spiritual wholeness of a mountain? Tamati Kruger,  chief negotiator of Tuhoe’s ground-breaking Treaty settlement told us that when negotiations began, the Crown had no intention of giving away title to the park. The Crown had a “To-Do” list and a budget with which to negotiate settlements with many tribes as part of the Waiting Tribunal process.

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Kristy Luke explains the negotiation process from the Tuhoe perspective.

“The Crown made a variety of suggestions over years of negotiations,” he said. “For several years we just listened. Some proposals would be [tribal] settlements from other countries.” Kirsty Luke, then a Tuhoe lawyer working on the settlement said “We’d go investigate the proposals and we’d find that when you talked directly to the affected, their communities often ended up worse off than when they began.”  They recounted stories of a tribe in Alaska who negotiated for a community freezer for storing fish, and ended up losing their traditional fishing practices after only one generation of reliance on the freezer.  “When we’d come back to the negotiating table with the Crown, we’d simply say, ‘no,’ and wait for the next proposal. They [the Crown] were married to ownership; first they proposed it would be tenant and landlord, and that did not suit us, or seats on the Park board,” said Tamati. Finally the Crown began to ask what was the Maori view.

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We met Huka Williams, who worked on the Settlement around traditional medicines and believes the Agreement is the first step in a 30-year process to sovereignty.

Ultimately what the Tuhoe wanted was to be truly reconnected with the land that holds their cultural identity.  Knowing the Crown would not cede ownership to the Tuhoe, Tamati’s team suggested that NOBODY retain ownership of the park land—rather, the land would own itself, recognized in law as a spiritual holistic entity in keeping with Maori cosmology. A new governance board of Crown and Tuhoe now ensures the rights of the ecosystem are protected.  These changes also shift more than just governance of the (former) national park, it is seen as a step toward sovereignty for the Tuhoe.

The Whanganui River from mountain to sea

20161108_172259“This river isn’t just water and sand. It is an ancestral being with its own integrity. This river is not the river that has been contended by the crown, that exists in compartments, its bed and its waters. It’s an indivisible whole that includes iwi so this concept of legal personhood is the nearest legal approximation to the way in which we relate to our people as being inextricably entwined to it and can never be alienated from it.” Gerrard Albert, chair of Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui.

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The Whanganui iwi are known as the River People to all, and often say “From the mountains to the sea, I am the river and the river is me.”

The Whanganui Agreement, expected to pass its final legislative reading by summer 2017 will be co-managed by the Crown and Whanganui Iwi, local government and community using the lens of Maori understanding of responsibility to the sacred rights of the river. The Whanganui River, which will also have the same standing under the law as Te Urewera, includes the path of the river from Mount Tongariro to the sea, a total of 180 miles.

IMG_0599We met with staff and leadership of the Whanganui Trust Board, who  welcomed and hosted us generously with a feast, a night together on the 100-year old meeting house, the Pungarehu Marae and a day-long meeting with negotiating lawyers, cultural and implementation staff and Whanganui elders.

The Whanganui iwi we met with along the River were happy to share their joy, hospitality and love of the River with us that is part of their physical being as an iwi.  They are known as the River People, and it is clear that the river is the source of their cultural identity. Led by our hosts from the Whanganui River Maori Trust Board, we took a boat trip down the River walked through the dense jungle alongside it, and felt the power of the land and its connection to the people.

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Movement Rights with Whanganui elders and members of the Maori Trust Board.

The 150-year struggle for the rights of the Whanganui River—the longest in Maori colonial history—began to gain momentum in the 1960’s with the election of Maori officials, and a growing sovereignty movement.   In 1995 the iwi began to occupy traditional land known as Pakaitore, which the Crown has made into a public park to commemorate military deaths from the 1864 Battle of Moutoa Island.  For several months the Maori came, prayed and occupied Pakaitore.  We met with Ken Meir, a celebrated leader of the occupation and Whanganui leader who explained that despite being evacuated from the site, something has shifted—for the iwi, the community and the Crown. “We left with the same dignity that we occupied our land, and knew that until the Crown settled our grievances we would stand to fight for our land, our river, and our people.”

In the years since, much has changed.  Hayden Turoa, Program manager Te Mana o Te Awa told us: “We didn’t so much see the Crown softening to our ideas, as we hardened (into our cultural traditions).” Negotiations with the Crown have given way to the next phase of the project which includes educating and bringing non-Maori residents along the river into the Maori world view in a way that allows everyone to be connected to it spiritually, holistically.

As the former mayor of the city of Whanganui Anette Maine, has said, the agreement isn’t just for Maori, but for the whole community. “What I have seen in the document is the ability for all of us to understand how we are connected to the river and why it is so important to our lives. … there is always a bit of a feeling that as non-Maori – Maori know something that we (as Pakeha) haven’t understood and I think this is a huge opportunity for us a community to understand that story.”

What comes next

IMG_0618Towering over the city of Wellington, we met with Paul Beverley, lead crown negotiator for both the Whanganui and Tuhoe settlements, in an office used to sign both the agreements.  We asked how the relinquishing of property has affected the mood of the Crown, businesses, regulatory agencies and the general population.  He told us that there was no panic at idea of ceding property, or the idea that land and water has rights. “What has been put in place is a very forward looking framework. I think we’re going to see a springboard for this type of thing. People are already taking next steps voluntarily.”

As Movement Rights legal director, Cabot Davis remarked,  “The thing thats beautiful about it is just how differently decisions will now be made.  Conflicts among people who want to ‘use’ the water or land will now have to take everyone else’s needs into account— first and foremost are the needs of the (river) system. Commerce and nature can coexist in a healthy way.”

800px-New_Zealand_-_Maori_rowing_-_8527Our journey was merely a first step for Movement Rights.  Our delegation’s purpose was to examine two truly revolutionary agreements between the Maori and the Crown government that recognize mountains, national parks and watersheds are not property to be owned, but are living ancestors to whom humans bear the responsibility of care.  We plan  to bring a full delegation of Indigenous, environmental leaders, legal scholars and others to Aotearoa in 2017/2018 to examine these agreements, share knowledge and find ways to incorporate these victories at the tribal, community and global level. We fully believe the lessons the Maori have to teach us are globally game-changing.

Conclusion: How do we win?  

Our Maori relatives remained focused on the relationships they have with sacred systems of life of which they are a part, not above nor below but within to achieve the remarkable Te Urewera and Whanganui Settlement Agreements.  It is important to remember that most, if not all, civil rights in the United States only came about from the grassroots rising up to ensure that their/our rights have been recognized.  From the thousands of people in the streets to ensure a Bill of Rights was attached to the US Constitution to the Abolutionists to the Suffragettes bravely asserting their rights, to Standing Rock and beyond, it has been the people rising up that ensure our rights are enshrined in the law.  Now, at this critical time in history when our actions will determine the future of generations to come, it is vital that we work together to create rights-based models like the Settlement Agreements to defend, protect and restore our relationship to the sacred system of life and the natural laws that govern that system. Its time for an environmental revolution that recognizes the rights of the Earth, and our responsibilities to uphold those rights.


Movement Rights pictured with Hine Kohu Morgan, our amazing delegation partner.
Movement Rights pictured with Hine Kohu Morgan, our amazing delegation partner.

Movement Rights gratefully acknowledge the financial support and shared vision of the Sacred Fire Foundation and The Cultural Conservancy, for their partnership in this first step toward deepening our understanding of how to incorporate key lessons globally, and with Indigenous communities we work with. We also acknowledge our amazing partner on the ground, Hinewirangi (Hine) Kohu-Morgan, who arranged meetings, ensured we were well supported with cultural training and a driver, Te Aho Paraha who provided additional cultural knowledge and explanations on the long drive across the country.

Movement Rights depends on your support to continue our vital work for rights. To make a donation to our ongoing work with the Maori visit our website. 

Can Rights of Nature Help End Environmental Genocide on Ponca Lands?

By Movement Rights co-founders Pennie Opal Plant and Shannon Biggs

 

thThe wind blows powerfully in Oklahoma. It is part of the Great Plains and is also home to “tornado alley.” But today the state is known more for a human-made feature, a geological by-product of the petroleum industry: Oklahoma is the earthquake capital of the world. Ask anyone in the state if they had ever felt a tremor before fracking and injection wells became part of the northern Oklahoma landscape in the mid-2000’s and the answer is unequivocally, “NO.” Over Labor Day weekend, Ponca City and nearby Pawnee were the epicenter of the world’s largest manmade earthquake, registering a 5.8.

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photo credit Movement Rights

Rather than address the issue of fracking and its dangers, the Governor and state legislature passed two senate bills banning residents from banning or limiting oil and gas operations.  Movement Rights’ board member, Casey Camp Horinek a Ponca elder and elected Tribal Council member spoke at a 2015 Senate hearing, explaining how the Ponca people—who are concentrated on the south side of town where the refineries chemical plants and injection wells are largely sited—are being fracked to death:

“We’re now having a funeral a week from cancers and autoimmune diseases. In 2015 we had 907 quakes of a 3.0 magnitude and above. If the governor won’t call for a stop to fracking, the sovereign Ponca nation will.”

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Ponca Business Council members with Movement Rights co-founders and Tom Goldtooth of IEN following our presentation.

Movement Rights co-founders, Shannon Biggs and Pennie Opal Plant, along with Michael Horse, traveled to Ponca City and the Ponca Nation from October 14-16, 2016 to introduce Rights of Nature to the Tribal council, members of the Ponca Nation and non-native residents as a way to ban fracking and injection wells on tribal lands. Our trip there was full of joy and tears, inspiration and devastation.  Fracking sites and injection wells dot the landscape, and the telltale signs of leaking well pipes are easy to spot.   The tips of wheat fields are black-tinged, and there are dead areas in farm fields where nothing grows.  The day before we arrived, the Governor had proclaimed an “official day of prayer for the oil industry and the oil fields.” We were not sure what to expect when we arrived or how our visit would be recieved.

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Oily muddy water like this bubbles up from the ground all over Ponca City likely indicating pipe leaks below the surface. Photo credit Movement Rights.

While most Americans have now heard of fracking and its seemingly endless harms to the air, soil, water, climate, property values, human health and all life—injection wells are often less understood. Essentially it’s this: the millions of gallons of toxic fluid used in fracking, plus radioactive materials and metals found in the deep shale brought to the surface by the fracking process are too dirty, too dangerous to pour into rivers, aquifers, on to leave on land (though all of that happens). Injection wells cram that toxic stew back into the earth as storage, causing a slew of problems not the least of which are earthquakes. In 2015 Oklahoma even received 2.5 million barrels of injection wastewater from other states that deem it too dangerous to site.

In 1877, part of the Ponca Tribe was forced to leave their ancestral home in Nebraska on foot, to be resettled in northern Oklahoma.  About 20 years later, the City of Ponca, OK developed around the tribe, and today is home to 26,000 people including 3,500 members of the Ponca Nation. Over the next hundred years the economy of Oklahoma would be shaped by the boom and bust cycles of the oil industry.  The Ponca tribe has not benefitted from oil. They don’t have oil leases, and there are no oil jobs for the Ponca people despite being surrounded by oil infrastructure. Racism and harassment against the Ponca Nation is an open secret in the town that bears their name, with some businesses refusing to serve Ponca people, while welcoming other tribes who are invested in the oil industry.

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Pennie Opal Plant, Suzaatah Horinek and her daughter Lola, who were part of the 30 person organizing team making signs, handing out campaign shirts and other preparations for the prayer walk and the community event.

Despite this background, the Ponca Nation and local allies of the Nation were welcoming and interested in what Movement Rights has to offer, which is a way forward to stopping the devastation by recognizing the Rights of Mother Earth—the right of the land air, water and all life to be free from the toxic infrastructure.   Movement Rights’ board member and Ponca Tribal Councilmember, Casey Camp-Horinek, took us on a toxic tour after our presentation to the Ponca Business Council.

Pennie Opal Plant and Michael Horse live near the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California.  They are accustomed to occasionally smelling toxins come from that refinery and the other four refineries along the San Francisco Northeast Bay.  Shannon Biggs has traveled the world visiting toxic sites from South Durban South Africa to the oil and gas fields of North Dakota and Pennsylvania, but nothing prepared us for what we witnessed.  Driving past the Conoco Phillips refinery on the south side of Ponca City was an entirely different experience.   When the pungent and toxic smells hit us we immediately rolled up the windows on the car.   We could taste the toxins as they hit our systems and some of us had difficulty breathing.

There are homes and a park where children play directly across the street from this refinery.  And, of course, people of color and the working poor are the residents of the homes on the south side of town near the refinery. We saw uncountable fossil fuel holding tanks, more than any we had seen along the refinery corridor in the Bay Area.   Acres and acres—and acres—of huge tanks.

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DANGER Pipeline! Cows graze and drink polluted water. Photo credit Movement Rights.

We stopped at several injection well sites, mostly those that were the easiest to access just off the side of the road. Getting out of the car, the smell of chemicals curled in our noses, instantly shooting  into our heads like a toxic-ice cream headache. We witnessed the “produced water” leaking around the injection well machinery at every stop.  Produced water is a by-product of fracking which has undisclosed toxic chemicals, salt and radioactive materials  from the natural radiation and metals that live in the deep shale two miles below the ground surface.   We saw injection wells in agriculture fields of wheat and soybeans, onions and crops that are in many of the food products that we eat and assume are not poisoned.  We stopped at the place where the lower leg of the Keystone pipeline flows in the ground under where cattle graze, and drink from the open pits of toxic water above the pipeline.

14702432_1140644946021111_1678195815010591114_nOn Saturday, October 15th, we participated in a prayer walk, led by Casey Camp-Horinek, from a local park to the Conoco Phillips refinery.  About 60 people joined us—we were told this was the first direct action at this facility.  We circled up in front of the refinery for prayers for the community members, the refinery workers, the air, water and soil.  There were many families with children who participated and one woman came out of her home to join us.  Another women told us she keeps her pool filled with water (even though most pools are earthquake-damaged) to help out the local deer, coyotes and foxes who know not to drink from the rivers anymore.

People driving by honked their support and the Ponca City News gave us small but favorable  front page coverage. Yes, the time to shift the system from devastation toward health has arrived and we can’t assume that anyone is against us.   Even in this town with so much fossil fuel infrastructure there was a lot of support.  As we left, every single person on the prayer walk shook the hand of the police officer who was there to monitor us and to keep us safe.

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The Brown family farm, red circle indicates the field with an active injection well, one of 4 sites you can see from their porch. Photo credit: Movement Rights

A former oil worker, James Wesley Brown took us to his family homestead which has supported four generations of Brown farmers.  His daughter, Temperance, played on the swing about 100 feet from an injection well in the middle of their onion field.  “This land is not a wasteland, and I hope someday my daughter will farm on this land.” But right now he acknowledged, it’s a toxic mess.

He cranked some water from the hand pump next to the swing and suggested we cup our hands for a sip, laughing, He took a mouthful and immediately spit it on the ground. “They say it’s safe, but you can smell the gas in it, and some days you can light it on fire.” 

The members of the Ponca Nation and allies make many connections to the water protectors and land defenders at Standing Rock.  Casey Camp-Horinek’s family members have also been very involved on the frontlines in North Dakota.  Many of the homemade signs on the prayer walk were in support of the people protecting the water along the Missouri River.

After the prayer walk was the Movement Rights presentation at the community meeting at the Ponca Nation community center.   Native American actor, jeweler and artist, Michael Horse, most well-known for his role as “Deputy Hawk” in Twin Peaks, was the Master of Ceremonies.   Shannon spoke first about fracking and injection wells, their impacts on living beings, the earth, air, water and soil, as well as the effects on climate change and spoke about rights of nature as a legal tool.  Pennie spoke about the origins of the Rights of Mother Earth, Indigenous people’s original instructions on how to live within balance within the sacred system of life, as well as the importance of an immediate transition off of fossil fuels.  She shared examples of Native American communities which are working on renewable energy solutions on their territories such as the Firsts Nation’s Lubicon Solar Project and The Solutions Project which has the data which shows how each State can transition off of fossil fuels and on to renewable energy by 2050 while creating jobs that last 40 years.

Throughout our visit the sun was strong, and the wind blew mightily, iurreminding us that there are clean renewable options for Oklahoma. The state blows 6th highest for wind potential in the United Sates, offering a lasting economic energy strategy for the state. Even other states are investing in Oklahoma wind power.

What is happening in Ponca, Oklahoma and at Standing Rock, North Dakota is a SIGNAL, not simply a symbol.  It is time for all communities to stand for the protection of the Earth in the places where they live.  As Indigenous people rise up to protect the sacred system of life they are serving as a beacon to all of those who have been complacent while Mother Earth has suffered grave violations by members of our human family.   These violations are threatening the sacred system of life that is necessary for life to continue in any way close to what those alive right now have experienced.  There is not a moment to waste in our protection of the air, water and soil.  It is time to heed the call to action to preserve life as we know it.

I am River & blogAs Movement Rights travels to Maori territory in New Zealand next week we will be exploring a ground-breaking law to protect the sacred Whanganui River.  Keep an eye out for our next blog which will be full of inspiring stories of how the Maori people, working with the Federal Government of New Zealand, have not only recognized the spiritual and holistic rights of the River and the life within and around it to exist in a clean and healthy environment, but have also recognized the sacred rights of the River.


In memory of Betty Lee Brown who passed away on the family farm we visited on October 27 with her grandson, Wes Brown. 

MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights assists communities confronted by harmful corporate projects to assert their right to make important decisions that impact them by passing new laws that place the rights of residents (and nature) above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations. At the heart of our work is the belief that asserting our right to create the kind of place we want to live and reining in corporate power is the next evolution of the civil rights movement. Over 160 communities across the United States have already asserted their right to local self-government and stopped unwanted harms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from #NoDAPL: We are More Powerful than the Fossil Fuel Industry

By Pennie Opal Plant, Movement Rights co-founder

Cover photo “Night time in Sacred Stone” (Oct. 2016) by Camille Seaman

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Sami delegation from the Arctic in Norway & Finland presenting gifts and yoiking at the Sacred Stone Camp, Oct 2016 Photo Credit: Camille Seaman

There is something powerful rippling through humanity right now.  It is more powerful than the fossil fuel industry that is harming the system of life that we need to simply exist.  It is more powerful than the government officials that have allowed these harms to be committed.  It is more powerful than the legal and economic  system that cultivates greed and consumerism.  This power is the spirit of remembering how we are to be on our beautiful Mother Earth.  This power is reminding us that even though many of our human family have been seduced by “shiny objects” that we ourselves have created; our true responsibility is to ensure the future of the unborn generations to come.

We are witnessing the culmination of Indigenous prophesies that are hundreds of years old.  Prophecies that spoke of the Eagle and the Condor reuniting after thousands of years—which refers to the Indigenous peoples of North America (represented by the Eagle) reconnecting with our Indigenous brothers and sisters of Central and South America (represented by the Condor) to work together.

The ancient prophecies of the 7th Fire and the the 7th Generation iupredicted the time would come after 7 generations of European settlement to Turtle Island when the waters, land and air would be so polluted that the animals and plants would become sick and begin to die.  The prophecies also say that when young Indigenous people will retrace their steps to find the Original Instructions and remembering the true responsibilities of being a human and help others remember that they too are Indigenous to Mother Earth’s belly, and that we must act now.  Prophesies of the Black Snake that would go across the land spilling poison, which Indigenous people understand are the oil pipelines that have already destroyed miles of many rivers including the Athabascan, Kalamazoo and Yellowstone Rivers.

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Havasupi delegation with Benjamin Conrad of the Wind River Arapaho, Sacred Stone Camp, Oct 2016 Photo Credit: Camille Seaman

Everyone who cares about what is happening to our climate and environment has been moved by seeing thousands upon thousands of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous allies living in tents, teepees and out of cars at the Sacred Stone Camp and overflow camps in North Dakota to protect the water by putting their bodies on the line of the Dakota Access Pipeline.   Caro “Guarding Red Tarantula Woman” Gonzales, a 26-year-old Standing Rock protector and co-founder of the International Indigenous Youth Council, told ThinkProgress, “When people are chaining themselves to bulldozers, that is prayer.”

Hundreds of people have been arrested or have risked arrest to protect the water in the Missouri River.  Protectors and Defenders have been bitten by attack dogs urged on by corporate private security.  The whole world is not only watching, but inspired to action, creating a growing stream of delegations to the camps.  Among the delegations this last week were the Saami from the Arctic Circle and the Havasupai from the Grand Canyon.  What is happening in North Dakota is powerful.  It is important.

But Standing Rock it is not just a single action, rather, It is a signal for people everywhere to take a stand in their communities for the health and safety of water, soil and air.  This great power is moving through us and it will only grow.

The Role for Rights of Mother Earth  

t-shirt-designIn mid October 2016, Movement Rights co-founders will be in Oklahoma to meet with members of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma  about how to recognize legal standing for ecosystems (rights of nature) to protect their citizens from fracking and injection wells. (You can donate to the Ponca campaign here.)

Injection wells forcefully insert toxic fracking wastewater deep into the ground and is the cause, along with fracking, of the thousands of earthquakes in Oklahoma.  The toxins from the fossil fuel industry have deeply impacted the Ponca Nation and have caused an epidemic of cancers, autoimmune and respiratory diseases.

According to Ponca Tribal Council member, Casey Camp-Horinek, who is also on the Board of Movement Rights, “All of the Ponca people who live within the area of the Conoco Phillips 66 refinery and the other fossil fuel extractive industries in the area have family members who have cancer or who have died from cancer, and/or who are suffering from autoimmune diseases such as lupus.”

Rights of Mother Earth (or nature) recognizes the right of ecosystems to “exist, persist and maintain their vital cycles.”  But while that may seem like common sense, it is actually a powerful legal tool to confront existing human law that “sees” ecosystems as property to be destroyed at will.  The concept was spelled out in the Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth and has been gaining momentum around the world in order to protect communities from the continued devastation of corporate greed. These ideas have been used by Ecuador, Bolivia, New Zealand, the Ho-Chunk Nation and many non-indigenous US communities to not only ban dangerous practices like fracking and injection wells, but also to write into law what is to be protected so that future generations can exist in an environment that is, hopefully, similar to the one which we have enjoyed in our lifetimes.  In the United States, rights of nature ordinances have been passed in over 80 communities.  It has been said that citizens of the United States live in a democracy, but, as the Director of Movement Rights, Shannon Biggs, is fond of saying, “If we can’t determine what happens where in the places where we live, then we don’t really have a Democracy—it’s time to rewrite the rules for people and the planet, not corporate profit.”

I am River & blog
The Whanganui Iwi (people) have been fighting for 150 years for the spiritual recognition of the river “Ko au te awa, Ko te awa ko au.” (I am the rover and the river is me).

In November of this year, Movement Rights will also be in New Zealand.   The Crown government of New Zealand, working with traditional Maori leaders, have recognized the rights of the Whanganui River and Te Urewera, a national park.  These two entities now have the same standing under the law as human persons.  This means that the “government gave up formal ownership, and the land became a legal entity with “all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person,” as the statute puts it.

Shannon Biggs and I will be meeting with Maori leaders and New Zealand government officials to lay the groundwork for taking a delegation of Indigenous and environmental leaders of the Americas to learn how these two revolutionary agreements came to be.  We are excited to begin to understand what it takes to recognize the rights of what is now called “ecosystems”, but is traditionally understood by Indigenous people as communities of life, no less significant than human communities.

Living in the San Francisco East Bay, not too far from the one of the largest estuaries in western North America, the San Joaquin/Sacramento Delta, I am excited about the possibility of working on recognizing the rights of this important body of water and all of the life it supports.  The Delta has suffered immeasurably from toxins introduced by the California Gold Rush, agricultural and chemical industry toxins, the siphoning off of its water for corporate agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley and populations in Southern California.  Imagine friends of the Delta being able to speak on its behalf in a court of law, speaking for the endangered Delta smelt, and being not only heard by the court, but actions to protect this magnificent being mandated by law. Earlier this year, Movement Rights and our partners at the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance held a Delta Rights of Nature Tribunal to showcase how this framework of ecosystem rights could apply to California’s most important waterway.

Movement Rights is working with communities to change the law of the land to understand that Mother Earth has inherent rights, the sacred system of life has inherent rights and that human beings are only a part of the system of life and must respect and restore it.  Mother Earth does not negotiate and the sooner our human family understands that, the sooner future generations will be safe from the idea that we can continue to destroy our home.

We live in powerful times with great responsibilities.  It is up to us to determine whether the lives of future generations will be viable.  It is up to us to imagine a future that is sustainable, healthy and safe for all of life as we know it and to act now to create that future.  It is time to push our own personal boundaries of what we are comfortable doing and step up to these responsibilities.  The people alive right now will either be seen as heroes who recognized our place in history, or as complacent and selfish people who did not care about the future generations.  It truly is time to choose.  I ask you to join us in our campaign to create the future we are envisioning.  It is beautiful.  Can you see it?

You can help fund Movement Rights and our trip to Oklahoma here: Ponca Nation Protects Mother Earth

 


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Movement Rights promotes community, indigenous, and nature’s rights by: 

Empowering communities to write new rules. Providing organizing and legal support, we assist communities confronted by harmful projects to pass new laws that place the right of residents (and nature) above corporate profit. Building a vibrant movement for the rights of nature. Through savvy media campaigns, deep education and organizing, Movement Rights is a leading advocate recognizing legal standing for nature. Advancing Indigenous rights and traditional knowledge. Our organizing, research and reports highlights that as the defenders of the most diverse places on Earth, Indigenous peoples have a leadership role to play in the transformation of our culture and law toward ecological balance.

Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!

What would the Delta Say? Putting California’s Twin Tunnels on Trial

BARONA logo BARoNA-logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 22, 2016

Contact: 

Shannon Biggs, Movement Rights (415) 841-2998 shannon@movementrights.org

Linda Sheehan,  Earth Law Center (510) 219-7730 lsheehan@earthlaw.org

 Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta(209) 479-2053, barbara@restorethedelta.org

BAY-DELTA TRIBUNAL PUTS STATE & NATIONAL LEGAL SYSTEM ON TRIAL

California’s Proposed Twin Tunnels Case to be Heard


 th-1Antioch, CA – “What would the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem say?” is the question a panel of judges will consider when examining a case brought before them in the first-ever Bay Area Rights of Nature Tribunal based on an international rights of nature tribunal held in Paris during the climate talks last December. It’s a question gaining ground as dozens of U.S. and international communities and a handful of countries have begun recognizing rights and legal standing for ecosystems as a new framework for environmental protection. The tribunal will be held on April 30 at the Nick Rodriguez Community Center in Antioch, CA 9:30 AM-2 PM.

iur  The case being brought before the tribunal address nature’s, community, and human rights violations presented by Governor Brown’s water policies, and particularly his proposed Twin Tunnel plan, which would significantly reduce flows needed for Delta waterways and fish. The tribunal is being put on by the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance (BARONA) —a network of organizations seeking to explore how recognizing legal standing for ecosystems can put new governance tools in the hands of communities.

save_the_delta_-_stop_the_tunnels_1In addition to detailing rights violations, Tribunal witnesses and experts will also offer solutions to water flow and economic development challenges that protect, not injure, human and nature’s rights. “We are pleased to work with BARONA to make the case for the San Francisco Bay-Delta,” says Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director for Restore the Delta, a group that has been working to fight the governor’s plan and support sound water alternatives.“The Delta is an imperiled national treasure — a home for wildlife, fisheries, and human culture. After 30 years of over-pumping, the Delta Tunnels proposal would complete the destruction of the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas. Those who view the Delta as simply another water source to be drained are in for a fight. The people and wildlife of the Delta will not be erased.”

“The proposed project not only violate nature’s rights and human rights, but also illustrates that our laws legalize such harms,” adds Linda Sheehan of the Earth Law Center. “This Tribunal is about confronting a system of laws that places people and nature in harm’s way, and demonstrating a new way forward.”

Judges for the tribunal include: renowned eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, governmental liaison for the Winnemem Wintu tribe Gary Mulcahy, Movement Rights director, Shannon Biggs and others to be  confirmed.

Rights of nature is a global movement that has been named one of the Top Ten Grassroots Movements Taking on the World by Shift Magazine. International Tribunals in Paris, Lima and Quito have recognized nature’s rights, as has the Pope and other leading figures. “Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that the ecosystem—in this case the Delta itself—is a rights-bearing entity,” concluded Shannon Biggs, Director of Movement Rights, a group that assists California communities pass laws that place the rights of communities and ecosystems above corporate interests. “Mendocino County and Santa Monica have already recognized these rights in order to ban fracking and develop sustainability initiatives.”

This event is free and open to the public, but will require an RSVP. Donations encouraged. Please mark your calendars and join the growing movement for nature’s rights

 


MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights promotes community, indigenous, and nature’s rights. Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!

Historic Indigenous Women’s Treaty Calls For Action for the Earth


By P11755717_10205036197332731_6931083176796839713_nennie Opal Plant 

Pennie is the co-founder of Movement Rights and Idle No More Bay Area.


 

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First signers of the Treaty (L-R) Gloria Hilda Ushiga Santi, Casey Camp-Horenik, Pennie Opal Plant, Patricia Gualinga, Blanca Chancoso & Crystal Lameman (not pictured)

There are powerful forces at work in our world. When we are open to them they can guide us into unexpected areas that can be surprising.

The journey toward the creation and signing of the historic “Indigenous Women of the Americas – Defending Mother Earth Treaty Compact 2015” has been surprising, powerful and deeply rewarding.  Those of us involved in putting the Treaty together quickly understood that it has a life of its own and that our job is to pay attention and move as we are directed to by unseen forces that are working for the greater good.  The image that I have in my mind of this process is Mother Earth herself holding the Treaty and moving very quickly.  She has on a beautifully fringed shawl.  Those of us who have been involved in the Treaty from the very beginning are holding onto the fringe as tightly as possible as she moves toward protecting and defending her sacred system of life.

To read the Treaty and hear its call to action, click here. 

The first signing of the Treaty by Indigenous women who are protectors and defenders took place on Sunday, September 27th on occupied Lenape Territory in what is now known as New York City.  It was the day of the fourth Blood Moon, the Harvest Full Moon, and the total lunar eclipse.  It was a day of power which had its own design on exactly when and where the signings would occur.

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Gloria Hilda Ushiga Santi from the Amazon of Ecuador, and Casey Camp-Horinek, Ponca elder from Oklahoma

Casey Camp-Horinek, of the Ponca Nation, who worked tirelessly in the creation of the Treaty, and is an original signer, says this regarding the Indigenous Women of the North and South – Defend Mother Earth Treaty Compact 2015:

“We acknowledge this moment on Mother Earth for the 4th Red Moon of this year is eclipsing and offering us this chance to renew and defend the rights of Mother Earth as Indigenous Women. We gathered on this sacred day in ceremony to honor the ancestors who brought us to this point where we could stand strong in unified love of our Mother the Earth, our Father the Sky and the undying duty to protect the air, water, earth and all of our relatives for the future generations.

We give thanks for the guidance and the support that made this day the sacred day that it has become at this historic Treaty between the Indigenous Women of the North and South. We invite and implore the prayers and the spreading of the word to rise up and join this movement that has begun in the times before us and moves into this wave of awareness across the face of our Mother.”

This Treaty is historic on many levels.800s_163Gloria1

  • It is the first international treaty between Indigenous women of the Americas.
  • It is a call to action which outlines the crimes being committed against Mother Earth, as well as the threats to those alive now and future generations to continue to exist in a way that is sustainable, healthy and survivable.
  • It makes the connection between the crimes against Mother Earth and the crimes against women and how women are inseparable from Mother Earth.
  • It also speaks to the sacred waters and that, as women, we are closely related to the waters and must protect them for many reasons, including for our babies to swim in uncontaminated waters in our wombs.

The original six signers include:

  • Gloria Hilda Ushiga Santi, from the Sapara Nation, Ecuador
  • Patricia Gualinga, from the Kichwa Nation, Ecuador and
  • Blanca Chancoso, from the Kichwa Nation, Ecuador
  • Casey Camp-Horinek, from the Ponca Nation, OK
  • Crystal Lameman, from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Canada
  • Melina Laboucan‐Massimo, from the Lubicon Cree Nation, Canada, and
  • Pennie Opal Plant, Yaqui, Mexican, Choctaw, Cherokee and European descent, CA

 It is the first treaty that calls upon those who sign as Indigenous women and others who sign on to support it to conduct monthly ceremonies on the new moon to ask for guidance and wisdom in protecting and defending Mother Earth.  

And, it requires those signing it and signing on as supporters to nonviolently stop the harms to the sacred system of life wherever they are on Mother Earth’s belly each solstice and equinox, and to do so with the love in our hearts for all we hold dear.  That’s nonviolent direct action every three months around the world to put an immediate stop to the devastating harms.

There are many Indigenous women who are protectors and defenders that are being invited to sign the Treaty.  Some of them will sign it while we are at COP 21 in Paris in December. Others will sign it at special events before and after Paris.

While we are in Paris we will be networking with Indigenous women from around the world to begin discussing similar treaties between the women protectors and defenders of the Americas and the Indigenous women in Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the Island Nations and the Middle East.  I enjoy imagining that within a year, millions of women and our allies will be shutting down the harms all over the world every three months with love in our hearts.  I see this as the quickest way to inspire the policy shifts that are required to ensure a safe future for all of our relatives within the sacred system of life on Mother Earth’s belly.

10-women-holding-handsJoin us. No one will be left out.

In addition to Indigenous women signers there will also be an online mechanism for everyone who supports and commits to the Treaty to sign.  No one will be left out.  As it reads at the end of the Treaty: We Stand Together.  Join the call from Indigenous women to the world to take action big or small for the Earth during the next New Moon.

 


 

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Movement Rights assists communities confronted by harmful corporate projects to assert their right to make important decisions that impact them by passing new laws that place the rights of residents (and nature) above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations. At the heart of our work is the belief that asserting our right to create the kind of place we want to live and reining in corporate power is the next evolution of the civil rights movement. Over 160 communities across the United States have already asserted their right to local self-government and stopped unwanted harms.

Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!

 

Are California Communities Running out of Water – or Democracy?

  By Javan Briggs041815_1163

Javan Briggs is a mother, educator, and experienced community organizer who has recently joined the Movement Rights team.  She currently splits her time living in the San Joaquin Valley of California, where her own residential well has run dry, and Los Angeles. She became involved in rights-based organizing while leading a Pennsylvania community group in leveraging their local Community Bill of Rights ordinance to successfully resist a natural gas pipeline threat.  Javan brings many years experience leading community groups and nonprofits nationwide, primarily in the areas of environmental and education issues. A native Californian, she is pleased to continue working with communities back ‘home.’ 


 

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Crop flooding in San Joaquin Valley adjacent to residences with dry wells. Photo by Javan Briggs

Water. It’s a big topic for small town talk all around Central California. Madera, some 30 miles west of the state’s geographic center is a hot and arid farming community in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley.  At a run-down neighborhood convenience store situated at the corner of two dusty farm roads surrounded by modest homes and lush crops, after-work chit chat inevitably turns to water. Locals shake their heads while remarking that this area has always been known for easily accessible groundwater.

Yet everyday, new residential wells are going dry while large corporate farms continue to drain groundwater at breakneck speed to keep water-rich mega-crops including almonds and grapes flourishing—or to sell to the highest bidder.

The question in Madera and every Central Valley community: Why are corporate profits trumping our communities’ right to water? Shouldn’t the residents most affected by corporate misappropriation of community groundwater resources be the ones to decide their water future?

Water Rights, or Right on the Money?  

So commonplace are dry wells, residents are forced to devise extreme measures to supply water for for basic cooking and hygiene. Once unthinkable, hoses run through windows between neighbors’ homes. Pumps rumble water into homes from large storage tanks filled by trucks. Still other families have to rely on store-bought bottled water or hauling gallons home in the back of their pickups. Most families cannot afford the $13,000-25,000 price  tag to drill a new well. But even for residents with means, wait lists for residential well drilling are 6-12 months long, in part due to competition from corporate farms who bring in the higher paying well drilling jobs.

Javan's "new" water pump in foreground next to her dry well hole.  Behind is the old pump, also dry. Photo by Javan Briggs
Javan’s “new” home water pump in foreground next to her dry well hole. Behind is the old agriculture pump, also dry. Photo by Javan Briggs

The cost of well drilling has not slowed large-scale corporate farms from drawing increasing amounts of groundwater— or profits. Agricultural wells, which are deeper than residential wells, can cost $500,000 or more, but even at that rate, cash crops for export like almonds still remain money-makers. Bob Smittcamp, CEO of Lyons Magnus, a corporation that grows and processes agricultural products as well as manufactures food packaging, shelled out $1 million to purchase his own well drilling rig to supply his own crops— and cash in on the drilling boom. Other agribusinesses too, are making money hand over fist in the new drought economy through ‘groundwater mining;’

With water scarcity comes higher prices and profiteering — over 60 billion gallons of Central Valley groundwater may be sold for profit, according to a recent report.  

“If you own property, you can dig a well and you can pump as much groundwater as you a want,” UC Irvine hydrologist Jay Famiglietti told KQED, “even if that means you are drawing water in from beneath your neighbor’s property into your well. So it’s not unlike having several straws in a glass, and everyone drinking at the same time, and no one’s really watching the level.”

Image Credit: PR Watch http://www.prwatch.org
Image Credit: PR Watch 

Water for communities is being funneled into profits for a handful of corporations as counties continue to issue record numbers of well drilling permits. Corporate farms persist in transforming thousands of acres of old rangeland and vineyards to plant new almond trees, which won’t produce for three years or more– when the groundwater is even further depleted. Already, parts of the Central Valley are sinking about a foot per year as water tables plunge about 100 feet below historical lows as established residential wells get sucked dry by agribusiness.

The regulatory hamster wheel

 When residents call foul, they repeatedly come up against a brick wall of political excuses, good ol’ boy policies, and state lawmaking that protect corporate profits while ensuring that people continue to do without.

“We can’t really use public funds to help a private well owner,” Tulare County Supervisor Steve Worthly recently told NPR. “I really don’t see a place for the government to come in and provide the funds for everybody’s well … There’s going to be thousands and thousands of wells that are going to go out.”

And yet, Worthly continued, “”We’re not in a position to tell farmers, ‘No, you can’t have a permit to drill a well so you can keep your crop alive,’ even though we know it has a collateral impact.”

Stanislaus County Board Chairman Jim DeMartini echoed the sentiment that counties do not have the right to deny well permits— a position that led to a toothless five-year action plan passed by local leaders last week. With a 5-0 vote, the board unanimously accepted the recommendations of a Water Advisory Committee—dominated by agriculture interests—that includes twice-yearly monitoring of water levels in addition to voluntary and confidential reporting of pumping activity. It does not, however, address the rampant issuance of new well permits for corporate crops or groundwater pumping by agribusiness. In effect, nothing changed.

Groundwater management plans such as Stanislaus County’s were recently mandated by equally impotent state legislation. The regulation requires local agencies to create a groundwater management plan, establishes criteria for state intervention, and delays state action where surface water has been depleted by groundwater pumping. Here’s the crux: the legislation allows local agencies 25 years to draft and implement their ‘sustainability’ plans.

With feeble policies failing to secure their communities’ right to water, some hope to find remedy in the legal arena. Two groups, Protecting Our Waters and Environmental Resources (POWER) and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, filed two lawsuits last year. Represented by San Francisco attorney Thomas Lippe and recently-deceased environmental attorney, Jerry Cadagan, the first lawsuit intended to require a select group of 16 large-scale farmers in nine municipalities to adhere to California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements before drilling any new wells.  The case settled out of court when most of the farmers agreed to pay $190,000 toward groundwater studies. Effectively, the community’s inherent right to water was bargained away to agribusiness.

A second lawsuit brought by the same environmental groups against Stanislaus County’s Department of Environmental Resources aims to require environmental reviews before any new agricultural wells are permitted. Even if this case ‘wins’ at the October trial, the ineffectual regulatory hamster wheel persists; the framework of ‘permitting’ effectively provides an official sanctioning to water pilfering for profit.

Image Credit: CalWatchdog
Water ghosts appearing in California. Image Credit: CalWatchdog

Water is a community—not corporate— right 

As groundwater become more and more scarce owing to corporate privatization, people are beginning to realize that that their own communities bear the brunt of the effects. Residents of the Central Valley are increasingly calling out the injustice.

Addressing the Fresno County Board of Supervisors recently, Robert Mitchell called for a moratorium on new almond crops: “My community is surrounded by almond trees which will not produce product for another three years which is 2018, yet in the one small area I live we have lost five wells in a one block area.”

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Gladys Colunga gathering water for her family. Image Credit KQED blog

In nearby Tulare County, Gladys Colunga, mother of six  whose well went dry even while her home is surrounded by water-saturated almond crops noted in an interview with NPR:

“We’re a family, we have children and we need that water. We have the right to have that basic thing. It’s water.”

 But American policy and law protects the rights of property more rigorously that the rights of people and nature. As global water leader, Maude Barlow so eloquently stated: The problem in California, as in so many parts of the world, is that water is seen as a resource for our convenience and profit and not as the essential element of an ecosystem that gives us life. As well, water is more and more seen as a form of private property and powerful forces increasingly resist any attempt by governments to limit their abuse of water.”

Next Steps: California Communities Asserting their Right to Water 

California communities are ready for a paradigm shift. People can say “NO” to the structure of law that preempts local decision-making and forces them to live with the effects of harmful groundwater depletion for profit. By passing local ordinances — like those Movement Rights and their partner CELDF help communities pass —more than 160 communities across the nation have already established local, living democracy, by asserting their right to clean water, sustainable food systems, and recognizing the rights of nature. Our communities should not be sacrifice zones where corporations have more rights than people and nature.

 It’s time to change the rules, California. Share this article and your ideas with family and friends– let’s organize for democracy again.


 

MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights assists communities confronted by harmful corporate projects to assert their right to make important decisions that impact them by passing new laws that place the rights of residents (and nature) above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations. At the heart of our work is the belief that asserting our right to create the kind of place we want to live and reining in corporate power is the next evolution of the civil rights movement. Over 160 communities across the United States have already asserted their right to local self-government and stopped unwanted harms.

Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!

 

CALIFORNIA DROUGHT: A PRECURSOR OF THINGS TO COME

By Maude Barlow

imagesWe are honored to share the following article written by Movement Rights board member, Maude BarlowMaude Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and the author of Blue Future, Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever.  She is the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (‘Alternative Nobel’) for her work on water; has served as the Senior Advisor on Water to the United Nations; and was a leader in the campaign to have water recognized as a human right by the UN, among many other achievements.


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Photo credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

On April 1, California Governor Jerry Brown ordered officials to impose mandatory water restrictions in his drought stricken state for the first time in history. The news was carried around the world. “Climate change” was named as the culprit.

While there is no doubt that greenhouse gas-induced climate change has dramatically affected the snowfall in the Sierras, reducing the amount of run-off the state depends on for water renewal, there is another story here that has to be told.

 The true story is that for decades, there has been massive engineering of the state’s water supplies through pipelines, canals and aqueducts to supply a relatively small number of powerful farmers in the Central Valley with water.

Eighty percent of all water in California goes to agriculture, much of it to grow water-intensive crops for export. Alfalfa hay, largely exported to Japan, uses 15% of the state’s water. California produces 80% of the world’s almonds and their production uses another 10%.

Image credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Image credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Absent renewable water supplies, [industrial] farmers have taken to mercilessly mining groundwater to produce their water intensive and lucrative crops. If the rains don’t come soon – and there is no sign that they will – groundwater will be depleted in many parts of the state.

But instead of challenging these practices, the new government restrictions only apply to urban centres and not to the big agricultural producers who hold powerful political sway in the state. For years, there has been a free for all as big industrial farms turned a renewable resource that belonged to the people into a commodity owned and controlled by private interests. Having secured “water rights,” some of these corporate agribusinesses also hoard, buy and sell their water.

6a00d8341bf80a53ef01b7c77a65a3970bThe restrictions also do not apply to the many fracking and bottled water operations throughout the state that are harming and depleting local water supplies. In 2014 alone, California oil producers used about 280 million litres [70 million gallons] of water for fracking.

 

The problem in California, as in so many parts of the world, is that water is seen as a resource for our convenience and profit and not as the essential element of an ecosystem that gives us life. As well, water is more and more seen as a form of private property and powerful forces increasingly resist any attempt by governments to limit their abuse of water.

Global Outlook on Water

It doesn’t help that we were raised with the “myth of abundance” believing that we can never run out of water. Like many myths, this one is wrong.

The UN now says we have 15 years to avert a full blown water crisis and that by 2030, demand for water in our world will outstrip supply by 40%!

Five hundred renowned scientists brought together by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon said that our collective abuse of water has caused the planet to enter a “new geologic age” – a “planetary transformation” akin to the retreat of the glaciers more than 11,000 years ago. Already they said, a majority of the world’s population lives within a 30 mile radius of water sources that are badly impaired or running out.

More children die of water-borne disease that all forms of violence put together – including war.

So how are world leaders and global institutions dealing with this threat? Very badly and with no plan. When water is discussed at world gatherings, it is as a by-product of climate change.

There is little real understanding that when we remove water from water-retentive landscapes, we dramatically and negatively affect the climate. Cutting down the Amazon forest has led to a perilous drop in rain. For the first time in living history, once water-rich Sao Paulo Brazil is experiencing severe drought.


 Maude Barlow, speaking on Rights of Nature to the United Nations, April 27, 2015

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In our world, nature is seen as a form of property, a resource for our pleasure, convenience and profit. The legal systems in most of our countries are not protecting the earth because they are not meant to. In fact, our legal and political establishments perpetuate, protect and legitimize the continued degradation of the earth by design, not accident. Most laws to protect the environment and other species just regulate the amount of damage that can be inflicted by human activity.

… Communities around the world are creating a new form of civil rights movement. They are passing local laws that assert their right to protect their local environment from harmful mining, fracking, pipeline and other invasive practices. What we need to do is restructure the global economy into many local economies based on the needs of the biosphere. When this happens says Shannon Biggs, founder of US-based Movement Rights, “communities will become true stewards of their ecosystems, protecting and upholding these natural rights.”


The solutions to a water secure California and world must be based on some fundamental principles. Water plunder must stop. Governments have to stand up to the industries, powerful private interests and bad practices destroying water all over the world.

Governments must place priorities on access to limited supplies, especially groundwater, and ban private industry from owning and controlling water. Any industry found polluting water must be denied access. Water is the common heritage of humanity and of future generations. Water must never be bought, hoarded, sold or traded on the open market. Water services must be a public service delivered on a not-for-profit basis.

Water is also a human right. In our world, private interests increasingly control water. To add insult, they often pay next to nothing for the water they abuse. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation is the greatest human rights issue in the global South. But lack of access to water is no longer confined to poor countries. In the name of austerity, thousands have had their water services cut off in Europe and many thousands suffer from lack of water in Detroit Michigan because they cannot afford the very high price of water.

Importantly, we must learn a new reverence for water and understand that nature put water where it belongs. We destroy watersheds at our peril.

We need a global plan of action that includes:

  • Watershed protection, conservation and restoration;
  • National and community programs to replenish water-retentive landscapes;
  • Watershed sharing and governance;
  • Models of food and energy production that do not harm water;
  • Strong laws to prevent eutrophication;
  • Consideration of the impact on water of trade agreements;
  • Strong local, national and international commitment to put water protection at the heart of all laws and policies.

 

Image credit: http://www.publicceo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CA-Water-Crisis-2.-800x400.png
Image credit: http://www.publicceo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/CA-Water-Crisis-2.-800×400.png

Will the people of California take these measures to protect and restore their water? Let us hope so. But there are entrenched and powerful interests standing in the way of good policy in that state and it will take some courageous officials and citizens to call them out.

These same kinds of interests are operating here in Canada too. In their name, the Harper government has gutted every single law that once protected our water. Canadians must not be fooled. California is the canary in the coal mine. There is no place on earth safe from water abuse in a world running out.

 

MovementRigts-Colour-sq-ncMovement Rights assists communities confronted by harmful corporate projects to assert their right to make important decisions that impact them by passing new laws that place the rights of residents (and nature) above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations. At the heart of our work is the belief that asserting our right to create the kind of place we want to live and reining in corporate power is the next evolution of the civil rights movement. Over 160 communities across the United States have already asserted their right to local self-government and stopped unwanted harms.

Movement Rights is a fiscally sponsored project of the Oakland Institute. We are supported by individual donations and small foundation grants.  Please consider supporting our work and joining our list serve to keep up to date on the movement for rights-based change.   Thank you!

 

 

 

California, Drought and the Return of ‘Limits to Growth’?

Photo above: A housing development in Cathedral City, near Palm Springs. Credit: Damon Winter/The New York Times


 

By Suzanne York

limits-to-growth
1972 cover of the groundbreaking book providing the first computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies.

It’s shocking, but a mainstream media outlet has actually mentioned the idea of limits to growth and limits of nature.  The New York Times, no less, has run a front-page story on the drought in California, invoking the concept of limits, in an article titled “California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth.”

The drought, now in its fourth year, has prompted the state government to announce measures to reduce water consumption.  That in itself isn’t shocking, given the increasing severity of California’s water situation, but what is surprising is that it took this long to enact serious measures.

A Desert Full of Pools

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the front-page photo by Damon Winters for the New York Times says it all, especially about human hubris.  Swimming pools, big houses run on a/c, greenery on one side, a parched desert on the other. (See more photos and graphs here).  It is a picture that is representative of our society today – humanity giving the finger to nature, as well as to future generations.  We will take what we want today, damn the consequences tomorrow.

 Imagine someone 50 years from now looking at this photo. Surely future generations will ask, “what were they thinking?”

Nearly 40 million people live in California.  Over 20 million people live in southern California in a predominantly arid landscape.  Yet for the last century or more, humanity has conquered it, bending nature to our will.  If you build it, goes the ruling mentality, people will come, and come they did.  And if you need more water to sustain the people, as well as their lawns and swimming pools, take it, from the Owens Valley to the Colorado River to possibly soon the Sacramento Delta.

Questioning the Status Quo

For decades, barely anyone has questioned this model of development.  Perhaps now that the New York Times is raising questions, it should give us hope that humanity is waking up and growing up.

Kevin Starr, a historian with the University of Southern California told The New York Times, “Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here.”  Moreover, Dr. Starr noted that the state “is not going to go under, but we are going to have to go in a different way.”  That is obvious, and it applies not only to California, but also to the world.  Business as usual cannot go on unabated without serious environmental and social consequences.

Even California governor Jerry Brown seems to get it.  Again, from the New York Times:

“You just can’t live the way you always have,” said Mr. Brown, a Democrat who is in his fourth term as governor. “For over 10,000 years, people lived in California, but the number of those people were never more than 300,000 or 400,000,” Mr. Brown said. “Now we are embarked upon an experiment that no one has ever tried: 38 million people, with 32 million vehicles, living at the level of comfort that we all strive to attain. This will require adjustment. This will require learning.” (emphasis added)

Overcoming a Short-Sighted Mentality

 Yes, Governor Brown seems to understand the reality of the drought crisis, yet while he talks the talk, at the same time he is also supporting fracking, a very water intensive extractive industry.

Pennie Sac Frack
Movement Rights’ Pennie Opal Plant speaking at the state’s largest fracking rally in Sacramento 2014.

And one of his major projects for the state is building tunnels to bring water from the Sacramento Delta region to southern California.  He needs to take a closer look at his words on not living the way we always have, because that should mean taking care of our communities today, and thinking of the generations to follow.

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Photo credit: http://info.firstcarbonsolutions.com/blog/bid/333194/greenpeaceblogs.org

The water restrictions, for now, are targeted at urban users.  However, the agriculture industry uses nearly 80% of California’s water, much of it from groundwater aquifers that are rapidly being depleted, and much of it for crops that are being exported abroad.  Restrictions are coming, but how much for one of the state’s biggest industries remains to be seen.  But the realization that growing water-intensive crops and particularly those slated for export—is sinking in (not to mention cattle raised for beef, which is the most water-intensive meat).

Where is Nature?

thMissing from most discussions on the drought is Nature. Citizens and businesses might be inconvenienced by having to reduce water usage, but what about the flora and fauna that need it to survive?

According to a 2012 California Department of Fish and Wildlife report “California’s wildlife depends on water, just as its citizens do. With water resources becoming increasingly rare, a domino effect takes place in the ecosystem.” Humans are part of the web of life, not separate, and we have a responsibility to take care of our ecosystem. Supporting alternative concepts such as rights of nature and rights of waterways should be on the table.

Leading the Way

Hopefully the mentioning of limits to growth in the New York Times will lead to more discussion and acceptance of it.  We live on a planet with finite resources. Now, with increasing and unknown impacts of climate change and continued population growth (8-10 billion people by 2050), it’s time to accept some hard truths.

California has been a leader in many ways.  Maybe this time it will be a leader in understanding that there are limits to growth and that we need to live within our means.  Not only for our sake, but for that of future generations.


Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population StudiesHer work is focused on the interconnectedness of population growth with women’s empowerment, human rights, consumption, alternative economies, and the environment. Suzanne She is the author of several reports, including Peoples’ RightsPlanet’s Rights: Holistic Approaches to a Sustainable Population and Prioritizing the PHE Approach: Linking Population, Health, and Environment for a Better World. As research director with the International Forum on Globalization, she was a contributing author to Paradigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Economic Globalization.  She is a founding member of the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance, a wilderness lover, a dog blogger, and a good friend of Movement Rights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 Refinery Healing Walks: Why I am walking for Mother Earth

by Pennie Opal Plant, co-founder Movement Rights and Idle No More Bay Area.

The Connect the Dots: Refinery Healing Walks 2015 will occur over a four month period in the San Francisco Bay Area: Saturday, April 18th – Pittsburg to Martinez Sunday, May 17th – Martinez to Benicia Saturday, June 20th – Benicia to Rodeo Sunday, July 19th – Rodeo to Richmond

 

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Pennie Opal Plant speaking to Canadian officials about healing the Earth and our responsibility to be caretakers

The Healing Walks in the tar sands of Alberta Canada and between the refineries in the San Francisco Bay area (and in many places on Mother Earth’s belly worldwide) are born out of a need to heal our human relationship with each other and all living beings, the water, air and land, and witness the suffering caused by our destructive addiction to fossil fuels.  It is not a rally, a march or a protest, but an acknowledgement of life that helps us connect to our activism and daily life in new ways.

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Two years after the refinery explosion that rocked the Richmond, CA community, residents still live in fear, while air quality and land remain contaminated.

Most people living in the San Francisco Bay Area are familiar with the Chevron refinery in Richmond due to the many accidents that have affected the health of community members. In particular, the fire on August 6, 2012 which sent 15,000 people to hospitals. What many people are beginning to realize is that there are five refineries in the Bay Area, plus a proposal for the WesPac oil terminal in Pittsburg. The refineries include: Tesoro and Shell in Martinez, Valero in Benicia, Conoco Phillips 66 in Rodeo, and Chevron in Richmond. Many people living in these communities suffer similar health effects which include very high rates of asthma, especially among children, as well as cancers, auto-immune and respiratory diseases.

In addition to the health risks from living near these refineries, people living near the railroad tracks are becoming more aware of the crude by rail coming through the Bay Area. These are the same types of oil trains that have been derailing and exploding on a regular basis throughout North America. Trains carrying potentially explosive crude are next to homes, shopping areas, schools, and community centers. The radius of one of these trains exploding is 1 mile. On December 3, 2014, a train derailed next to Peres Elementary School in Richmond. Fortunately, it was not carrying crude oil, but it could have been.

In January of 2014, Idle No More SF Bay decided to organize a series of healing walks along the refinery corridor of the Northeast San Francisco Bay. The walks were inspired by the many healing walks and runs in Native America, including the Tar Sands Healing Walks in Alberta, Canada, the Longest Walks, and the Peace & Dignity Journeys.

Front-line activists living along the corridor joined them and created the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition (BARCC). Working together, these two groups organized the healing walks to bring attention to the health risks and dangers that the refineries pose and the explosive crude by rail coming through the communities from the Alberta tar sands and the Bakken oil fields.

BsYgaOnCEAAtVxDThe Walks begin and end with prayers for the water conducted by Native American women, and are led by Native American elders and others in prayer following a sacred staff. Others walk in contemplation and conversation. Walkers stop at the refineries and toxic sites along the way to pray for the land, water and air, as well as creatures living near the refineries and those yet to be born. Support vehicles follow the walkers with water and medics. Participants are asked to sign an agreement to be nonviolent.

9012598_origOrganizers decided to begin a process as part of the walks to
encourage walkers to envision a just transition to a clean and safe energy future and an economy that supports everyone. Walkers are invited to write or draw these ideas on muslin squares at the end of each walk. These squares will be sewn into quilts. The quilts from 2014 will be shown at all of the walks.

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Casey Camp Hornick leading a prayer for healing at the 2014 Refinery Healing Walk

Casey Camp Hornick, a Ponca from Oklahoma and honored Native rights and environmental rights activist, actress and traditional drum keeper will return to the Bay Area from her home in Oklahoma, to lead prayer at the first Healing Walk. “My reason for living is because the generations that came before me loved and cared for the Earth and knew that they would have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.” says Casey.   “And, that despite the obstacles they faced, including forced removal from their lands and genocide, that they would care for the Earth and make room for those generations to come.   Now I’m a soon to be great-grandmother,  my understanding is clear that its necessary to be a warrior for those without voices and generations to come.”

When & Where to join the Healing:

  • Saturday, April 18th: Pittsburg to Martinez – 51 Marina Blvd., Pittsburg. Water Ceremony and registration 8:00 a.m. Walk begins at 9:30 a.m., ending at Martinez Waterfront Park at the end of Ferry Street.
  • Sunday, May 17th: Martinez to Benicia – Waterfront Park at the end of Ferry Street. Water Ceremony and registration 8:00 a.m. Walk begins at 9:30 a.m., ending at 9th Street Park in Benicia.
  • Saturday, June 20: Benicia to Rodeo – 9th Street Park, Benicia. Water Ceremony and registration 8:00 a.m. Walk begins at 9:30 a.m., ending at Lone Tree Point in Rodeo.
  • Sunday, July 19: Rodeo to Richmond – Lone Tree Point, Rodeo. Water Ceremony and registration 8:00 a.m. Walk begins at 9:30 a.m., ending at Keller Beach in Point Richmond.

The indigenous women led Idle No More movement began in late October, 2012. Three First Nations women, and one woman who refers to herself as of “settler” descent, decided to call out for people in Canada to rise up for indigenous rights and against proposed legislation that would devastate the environment. In particular, Bill C-45 proposed reducing the protections of natural systems of water (rivers, lakes, streams) from over 2 million to under 200. This bill was ultimately passed by the Canadian Parliament on December 5, 2012.

2013-01-02-idlenomorehuffpoThe call to be “Idle No More” resonated nationally with thousands of people coming together to conduct prayers, teach-ins and round dances (dances of peace and friendship) in shopping malls, streets, and public spaces all across Canada. The call to be idle no more also resonated around the world with solidarity actions in North, Central and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. Locally, Native Americans and their allies began conducting Idle No More type actions in December, 2012. In early 2013, Idle No More SF Bay was formally created by a group of Native American grandmothers, mothers, fathers and grandfathers. Idle No More SF Bay includes many allies of different backgrounds. This group has become one of the most active Idle No More groups in the United States.

 

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Does Apple, Monsanto or Exxon “owe” America anything?

* Image credit (above) POCLAD

 

Robert Ricon-businessman1eich recently wrote a provocative article that nobody outside of a Fortune 500 boardroom wants to believe. He provided evidence that Americans have statistically NO power on policymakers, and corporate decisionmakers who feed like vampires on our economic, political and legal systems don’t owe us anything at all. Nothing.

His first point is that for all our citizen lobbying, speaking out at regulatory hearings, collecting signatures, petitioning, writing campaigns, protesting and rallying — Americans have virtually no influence at all on public policy.  Actually, he didn’t say it — a Princeton/Northwestern University study analyzing 1,799 policy issues found that “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

Instead says Reich, elected officials do the bidding of corporate executive and are massively persuaded by lobbyists’ deep pockets. Of course we know our influence is smaller than corporations, but….no impact?

His second point was seemingly aimed at corporate accountability campaigns:

“[B]ig American corporations have no particular allegiance to America. They don’t want Americans to have better wages. Their only allegiance and responsibility is to their shareholders — which often requires lower wages to fuel larger profits and higher share prices. As an Apple executive told The New York Times, ‘We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.'”

Very unscientifically, I floated Reich’s article out on social media and perused the comments posted in the article’s feed, looking show_image.phpfor outrage or disbelief.  The internet, which has been caused to “break” over celebrity selfies, seemed rather unfazed.  Perhaps the somewhat apathetic response to the article was because it offered no solutions, other than point out we must reduce the power of corporations or make corporations more responsible to the needs of Americans. Well given his argument, that’s the unicorn in the room, isn’t it?

Reich’s two points of power and policy are cause and effect.

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The REVOLVING DOOR: Center for Responsive Politics found 370 former members of Congress were in the “influence-peddling business”, becoming lobbyists or corporate advisors.

Throughout our history as a nation, the wealthy elite have always held power, and its not an accident, or the result of a few bad decisions, or even corruption (though those all exist), its far more structural and insidious than that.  The Constitution itself provided—from the beginning—for a government by and for the wealthiest among us. Fast-forward to the present day the ways in which money has seeped through the cracks of our political system and pooled into the pockets of our elected officials has only grown despite generations upon generations of ever-ongoing reform efforts.

Despite the gloom and doom truth-of-the-matter that Reich offers, big change is possible. It may not (yet) register on the Richter scale of policy studies focused on state and national level, but perhaps more critically at the ground level, where big sweeping policies become real for the communities affected.  It is no coincidence that movements for change also begin at the grassroots level. A growing number of communities have been grappling with these facts for a while, and are thinking bigger, and acting locally…and changing things.

What does that mean? It means we are only powerless as long as we legitimize the system as it stands today…so maybe its time to get off the hamster wheel and pursue a different strategy that isn’t right out of the corporate playbook. As Jane Anne Morris opined a decade ago, in her article Help! I’ve been colonized and I can’t get up!, “It’s time we did the unthinkable and asked ourselves if we have been colonized….Our campaigns follow the gambling addiction model. The last bet didn’t pay off but the next one might if… if… if we just had a new, improved tripod, three more experts, more labor or church support, ten more elected officials on our side, a hundred more people at the demo, or a thousand more letters in the mail…. Who are we kidding? We are just doing the “same old thing” over and over again and fooling ourselves that it might work next time.”

As Kai Huschke,  the Northwest organizer for the rights-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund says, “The community groups we work with are those that got tired of playing the insane game Reich points to. They stopped negotiating with corporations to behave better, and they’ve given up begging ‘higher up’ elected officials to save them. Instead, they are changing the system at the only level they have reasonable access to—their local government.”

Movement Rights in California and CELDF organizers nationally  work with communities that recognize that government has abandoned them (or worse, are  protecting corporate activity over the welfare of the people) to write new laws at the local level that place the rights of communities and ecosystems above corporate interests.  Some call it civil disobedience by local lawmaking.

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Want to learn more about community rights and fighting corporate rule? Download our free toolkit.

If we want corporations to be responsible to the people, we will need to use the law to force change. Its not about finding a loophole in the existing law and hoping none will notice what small amount of justice we “got away with” — its about directly confronting Reich’s unicorn in the room.   Over 160 communities across the country that have passed these new laws are ready to take their fight to the state and federal levels.  If we truly have zero power to affect policy, we can either quit fighting for change and accept corporate rule, or we can join these community rebels fighting for your rights and mine in a  new rules revolution.  What have we got to lose?

 

Shannon Biggs is the co-founder and director of Movement Rights.