As we take on various issues in our struggle for peace and justice, we are often reminded that we are up against deeply ingrained aspects of our social, legal and political systems. We cannot escape the need to take on these things. The Athens Bill of Rights and Water Supply Protection Ordinance, put forward by the Bill of Rights Committee of Democracy Over Corporations (DOC), and approved last November by 78% of Athens voters, does just that. Most voters probably just looked at it as an anti-fracking ordinance, but it went much farther. It asserts that unalienable rights accorded to people cited in the Ohio Constitution trump any rights of corporations and any state laws or procedures which trample on those rights. It is a completion of the American Revolution’s assertion that all people are created equal and that people are the source of all political power. It is a fulfillment of the moral imperative that we are all God’s children, not to be exploited by the powerful. (The Athens City Ordinance can be read in its entirety at the Democracy Over Corporations website.)
An effort is currently underway, as part of the State-Wide Community Rights Network, to make it possible for people in the county, but outside of Athens city, to take a similar stand, focusing on injection wells, but making similar broad claims. These claims are sure to be challenged. There will be setbacks, as there have been, in every struggle to extend the rights of people. The Ohio Supreme Court decision that went against the community of Munroe Falls, which had sought to ban fracking via zoning laws, was a 4 to 3 decision with strong dissent. In the Broadview Heights case, the Cayahoga County Court of Common Pleas drew the appalling conclusion that the residents had no “direct” interest in the case and therefore could not participate in the defense of the city’s law approved by the voters. The residents have now responded with their own class action suit. We in Athens will have our own role to play in this overall effort.
An interesting component of this effort is the idea of rights of nature. In a DOC meeting devoted to this, there was broad agreement on the need for people to have a say locally in their efforts to protect the environment, as the Community Rights Network is pursuing. DOC members explored the question of where rights come from, and whether it is rights that nature needs or respect. Does nature give rights, or just opportunities? Are rights coupled with responsibilities? How would rights accorded to nature intersect with property rights? What components of nature would have rights? What specific rights would they have? This is a difficult topic that will be explored in future DOC meetings.