close
Self government

The spirit of 1773 and the right to local autonomy

After much debate among townspeople, Colonel John Ashley, Moderator of the Sheffield, Massachusetts, Municipal Assembly decided it was time to call a vote. He then watched everyone in the room raise their hand. The Sheffield Declaration – declaring England’s control over the people of Sheffield null and void – was adopted unanimously.

To the south, Richard Barry saw a similar scene unfold in Charlotte, North Carolina, as his neighbors proceeded to pass the Charlotte Town Resolves (also known as Mecklenburg Resolves for the county in which Charlotte sits ) by unanimous vote. The resolutions stated that all laws derived from the authority of the King or Parliament are nullified and nullified.

And so it is that the inhabitants of cities, towns and counties – more than 90 as a whole – collectively realized that the system of government they lived under (which protected the rights of the few) needed to be replaced with a system of government that served a much different purpose.

It wasn’t yet 1776.

Town by town, town by town, the people of the colonies began to declare their independence from England more than three years before the lofty words of the United States’ Declaration of Independence were penned by the fledgling Continental Congress. . They had decided they couldn’t wait.

These local statements had two things in common.

First, they set out what they believed to be the basic purpose of the government and declared that English rule of the colonies was not up to par.

The Sheffield Declarationfor example, said that the great end of political society is to guarantee…those rights and privileges with which God and nature have made us free. These rights included the right to the peaceful enjoyment of our life, liberty and property”. Finding that the system of English rule violated – rather than protected – these rights, the people of Sheffield recognized that only their own democratically elected local governments could constitutionally create laws or regulations”.

The second, perhaps most surprising, commonality shared by the Declarations was that they were not written by those named Adams, Warren or Hancock, but rather by the Bernards, Roots, Fellows, Austin, Alexander, Harrison and Smith.

In other words, it was not the Boston-based patriots who put them forward – to whom historians tend to attribute the movement of revolutionary heaven and earth – but rather they were put forward by ordinary people. responding to a crisis by taking matters into their own hands. hands. This collective local legislation then forced an emerging nation to choose between the old and the new.

No more waiting for nothing to happen

Today, political, environmental, and labor activists work primarily at the state, national, and international levels to try to address the many crises we face.

Unfortunately, institutions at these levels have not taken any concrete action to resolve major crises, as this would reduce the power these institutions hold and prevent major economic actors from advancing their own interests using these institutions.

And so we expect the international community to stop global warming. We are waiting for our state legislatures to stop fracturing communities for oil and gas. We expect Congress to protect employee rights in the workplace and ban assault weapons. We are waiting for the president to shut down Keystone XL. We are waiting for the United States Department of Agriculture to stop legalizing genetically modified foods.

We are waiting for someone else to protect nature from an economic engine that demands (in fact demands) the endless production and consumption of more things. We romp through endless editorials, while appealing endless permits and testifying in front of microphones that aren’t even on.

We are waiting. Because that’s what we’ve been carefully trained to do. This is what the major environmental and political labor organizations have trained us to do. This is what companies and our culture have taught us to do. Wait for others to achieve accomplishments we have already achieved, and wait even longer for solutions in the face of a system that cares very little for the rest of us.

Isn’t it time to stop waiting for something that will never happen? In the lyrics of Derrick Jensen-author of End of Game and The culture of make-believe:

When we stop hoping for outside help, when we stop hoping that the terrible situation we find ourselves in will somehow be resolved, when we stop hoping that the situation will not get worse one way or another, then we are finally free – really free – to honestly start working on solving it. I would say that when hope dies, action begins.

Some are now tired of waiting for nothing to happen. And what they started to do bears a remarkable similarity to the colonial townspeople who eventually gave up hope that England would leave them alone.

Like settlers, residents of communities across the country do not expect permission from anyone. higher authority. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, their work shares these two other commonalities that have united the more than ninety towns and cities that adopted these early declarations.

First, communities are calling the current government system for what it is – a system that only protects the rights of a few – and are organizing to establish a new system, starting at the local level, that works differently. Second, those running this new system are people you’ve probably never heard of — they’re not the Clintons, the Feinsteins, or the Reids — but rather names like Olivas, Norton, and Martin.

Establish a Community Bill of Rights

In 2013residents of Mora County, New Mexico became the first county residents in the United States to ban oil and gas extraction thanks to the passage of a new law – a community charter of rights” – which protects their right to clean air, clean water and a sustainable energy future.

By enacting their ban, the people of Mora have joined nearly 200 other communities across the country who are using their cities, towns, counties, and villages to create a new system of government – ​​a system that protects everyone’s rights to an economically and environmentally sustainable community. It is a community where the people of a community have more rights than businesses and their managers, where ecosystems have their own rights, and where local governments have the power to protect health and safety even in the face of legislatures. States whose interests lie in other orientations.

And just like their colonial ancestors – who did not seek independence through special English courts, such as the Chambers of Commerce – today’s communities, while hoping that courts and judges will side with their side when challenges to these local laws arise, do not count there.

In fact, in January 19, instead of siding with Mora residents against oil and gas interests, U.S. District Court Judge James Browning for the District of New Mexico sided with Royal Dutch Shell PLC and overturned the Mora County hydraulic fracturing ban. In his ruling, Judge Browning reaffirmed that the state government has the final say on whether communities are fractured and that companies have more rights than the people of the communities in which they do business.

In doing so, the court affirmed what many communities already know: that the existing legal structure denies our power to decide the fate of our communities. In doing so, it denies our communities the power to protect our water and our nature. So the problem is not just corporate power, it’s a system of government that supports it.

In places where a critical mass of these laws have been passed, people are now coming together on different issues to start state organizations focused on creating a new system of law through state constitutions and eventually , through the federal constitution. A system of law that elevates the rights of communities and nature above those of corporations and the state.

Some have described it as the next great social movement – one that occupy the law” by making municipal legislation a vehicle for social change. A movement committed to nonviolent civil disobedience against a system of government that is increasingly indistinguishable from our economic system – a system in which most of us lose, and only very few win.

But those who do the work see it more simply. Mik Robertson is chairman of the Licking Township, Clarion County, Pennsylvania Board of Township Supervisors. Early in this movement, Licking passed an ordinance—also the first of its kind—directly challenging corporate powers by banning the dumping by companies of sewage sludge in the township. Robertson puts it this way: People have rights and businesses do not. What we seek is individual freedom and local control.

It may be the The spirit of 73we hear resounding through the centuries. It’s time we listened. It’s time to act.

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera