Tag Archives: local self government

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!

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!

 

 

 

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.