In August 2011, Envision Spokane, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s local partner in the City of Spokane, WA, qualified a second Community Bill of Rights citizens’ initiative to the citywide ballot.
The Community Bill of Rights would amend the Spokane Home Rule Charter – the city’s local constitution – with a bill of rights which secures rights for neighborhoods, nature, and workers. The amendment alsolimits the powers and privileges of corporations, such that corporations cannot undermine any of the rights in the Community Bill of Rights.
For the latest news coverage of the campaign in Spokane, click here.
Envision Spokane President Brad Read on the Community Bill of Rights
When my children were younger, I loved reading picture books with them. Three of the ones I loved the most were Imagine a Day, Imagine a Night, and Imagine a Place, by Sarah Thomson and Rob Gonsalves.
Each of the books presented ordinary scenes of daily life—a leaf-strewn street in autumn, a mountainside covered in forest, footprints in the snow—and, using quite skillful artwork, turn them into visions, flights of imagination. We would often make it a family occurrence to read the books and look at the pictures, talking about which were our favorites and why. Our children loved engaging in the imaginative exercise of picturing a different kind of world, a world of new and fantastic possibilities.
As my children have grown, we have increasingly talked about creating a world that is just and sustainable. We talk about what it would take to make the kinds of changes that would make their future better.
Inevitably, one of the things that comes up is the fact the way things are, the laws that govern our communities, often prevent people from bringing about the real change that would benefit the community, or the natural environment, or the workers who make a community go.
In many cases, they ask why—why can’t that happen, or why isn’t that possible. One of the realities people come up against is that the structure of law within which we work prevents us, as ordinary citizens, from making governing decisions about our own communities. Sure, we get to vote every two or four years, and elect people to “represent” us, but too often that representative government is not at all responsive to the needs and desires of neighbors, workers, or the natural world.
As a father, it’s more than a little unsatisfying to have to tell my children that we can’t get what we need in our communities because “that’s just the way it is.” I was not taught that when I was in school, and it’s not what my children are being taught in their schooling.
This country was founded on the very idea that we do things differently, that we don’t just accept “what is.” If that had been the case, then we would have accepted slavery, discrimination, and second class status for people of color, children, and women.
Spokane has a long history of not settling for “what is”—look at the history of the suffragists recently celebrated at the MAC, and the workers who fought for their rights in the streets of downtown. That’s the history I share with my children, the history rooted in the very best of our nation’s founding: people gathering together to fight for what’s right.
That is why the Community Bill of Rights is so vital to the future of this community. It is based on imagining a future where citizens, not politicians, not a wealthy powerful few, make the decisions that govern us. It is based on a realistic assessment of what we want for our community; the current system allows us only to ask the question “What can we get?”
The Community Bill of Rights is based on the question “What do we want?” If we answer that question honestly, we come up with different answers than those we are currently allowed to have.
We would say we want a river that is clean, and an aquifer that is protected and sustainable. We would say that citizens should have more say over the direction of their communities than the boards of directors of multimillion dollar corporations. And, we would say we want to take part in a citizen initiative process that offers the people the opportunity to directly put in place the changes we need to make for our future, for the legacy we leave our children.
Imagine a future in which residents in neighborhoods have the final say over what their neighborhood looks like. Imagine a river which is protected for its own sake, and which is able to provide the necessary habitat for all its species, human and non-human alike. Imagine a city which makes democracy real, placing decision-making power in the hands of its citizens. Imagine a city where you and I take part in reimagining our future, together. Imagine this city…