reprinted from YES magazine
by Jeff Reifman, Thomas Linzey
When communities try to keep corporations from engaging in activities they don't want, they often find they don't have the legal power to say "no." Why? Because our current legal structure too often protects the "rights" of corporations over the rights of actual human beings.
If we are to elevate our rights and the rights of our communities above those of a corporate few, we, too, need to transform the way laws work.
As we wrote in Turning Occupation into Lasting Change, mainstream progressive groups have failed by constraining their activities within legal and regulatory systems purposefully structured to subordinate communities to corporate power. Truly effective movements don't operate that way. Abolitionists never sought to regulate the slave trade; they sought to transform the legal structure that supported it by treating slaves as property rather than people under the law. Suffragists did the same with the legal status of women. This style of organizing moves away from traditional activism--mired in letter writing campaigns and lowest common denominator federal and state legislation--toward a new activism in which communities claim the right to make their own decisions, directly.
To help them do so, we're offering the model Community Bill of Rights template below, a legislative template for communities that want to protect their own rights. It's based on real laws already passed from the municipal to the national level--from Pittsburgh stripping drilling corporations of Constitutional "rights" to Ecuador including legal rights for nature in its Constitution. Think of the template as a menu to pick and choose what's important in your community. It's meant to provide a framework and a starting point, not necessarily to be used in its entirety.
Passing a new bill of rights is a way for activists to "occupy" their cities with new legal structures that empower community majorities over corporate minorities, rather than the other way around.
Community Bill of Rights of [your city]
Section 1 - Authority -- --
This Community Bill of Rights is enacted pursuant to the inherent right of the residents of the City of [your city] to govern their own community, including, without limitation, the Declaration of Independence's declaration that governments are instituted to secure the rights of people, and the [your state] Constitution's recognition that all political power is inherent in the people.
Section 2 - Findings and Purpose -- --
Whereas, the citizens of [your city] recognize that environmental and economic sustainability cannot be achieved if the rights of municipal majorities are routinely overridden by corporate minorities claiming certain legal powers; and -- --Whereas, the citizens of [your city] believe that local legislation that embodies the interests of the community is mandated by the doctrine of the consent of the governed, and the right to local, community self-government; -- --Whereas, the citizens of [your city] believe that the protection of residents, neighborhoods, and the natural environment constitutes the highest and best use of the police powers that this municipality possesses; -- --Therefore, the residents of the city of [your city] hereby adopt this ordinance which creates a community bill of rights for the residents and communities of the City, and removes certain legal powers from corporations operating within the City of [your city].
Section 3 - Statements of Law - A Community Bill of Rights --
3.1. The Right to a Locally-Based Economy
Residents have the right to a locally-based economy to ensure local job creation and enhance local business opportunities. The right shall include the right to have local monies reinvested locally by lending institutions, and the right to equal access to capital, credit, contracts, incentives, and services for businesses owned by [your city] residents.
3.2. The Right To Affordable And Safe Housing --
Residents have the right to affordable housing, the right to a safely-maintained dwelling, and the right to be free from housing discrimination. The City shall ensure the availability of low-income housing stock sufficient to meet the needs of the low-income housing community. People and families may only be denied renting or buying of a dwelling for non-discriminatory reasons and may only be evicted from their residence for non-discriminatory causes.