In 2007, after a series of Democracy Schools held in Spokane, Washington, a group of citizens led by local school teacher Brad Read built a coalition to support a Community Bill of Rights for City residents. Representatives from neighborhood councils, labor union locals, local environmental organizations, and others formed the board of directors of Envision Spokane. CELDF provided strategic organizing, public education, and technical assistance to Envision Spokane as it formed, and continues to do so.
Over the course of 2008, Envision Spokane developed and drafted a vision for the city that elevated the rights of workers, neighborhoods, people, and nature above the rights of the few business and government insiders who run the City of Spokane.
In 2009, they turned this vision into a citizen’s initiative to amend the City’s home rule charter, collecting sufficient signatures to place it on the ballot. The City Council, in partnership with big business, intervened to defeat the amendment, bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside interest groups. “Proposition #4” lost soundly, garnering 25% of the vote.
In 2011, Envision Spokane once again brought the Community Bill of Rights citizen’s initiative to the ballot. In November 2011, it came within 501 votes of passing. It was quite a remarkable result given the 2009 election results, when not a single precinct voted for the measure. In 2011, the Community Bill of Rights won more precincts than it lost.
The Community Bill of Rights is back this year, and volunteers from Envision Spokane are in the last two months of signature gathering to place the measure on the November 2013 ballot. As in 2011, this version of the Community Bill of Rights asserts the right to neighborhood control over significant development projects, the right to constitutional rights and collective bargaining in the workplace, the right of the Spokane River and aquifer to exist and flourish, and to elevate community rights above the rights of corporations to ensure that community rights were enforceable against corporate and other business entities. Click here to read the full text.
In addition to signature gathering, Envision Spokane continues to host events and workshops including a commemorative workers rights rally honoring the fight of the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) from the early 20th century on March 5th and a workshop entitled, “When the Law is on Their Side: How Communities are Leading the New Civil Rights Movement against Corporate Domination ” on March 16th as part of the Peace and Economic Justice Action Conference 2013.
For more information and to volunteer go to envisionspokane.org
The Community Bill of Rights looks to be joined on the November ballot by a Fair and Clean Elections ordinance drafted by CELDF for the Spokane Move to Amend chapter. This ordinance would prohibit corporations from electioneering and lobbying. More information can be found at s-m-a-c.org
The work of Envision Spokane is supported by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, and is serving as a template for groups in other urban areas to follow.
In its 2009 initiative to amend the city’s home rule charter, Envision Spokane brought together twenty-four organizations, including labor union locals, environmental organizations, neighborhood associations, and community groups sent representatives to over a hundred meetings hosted by Envision Spokane, including “cluster” groups of specific interests. Those meetings produced a Community Bill of Rights which contained nine different provisions ranging from the right to a local economy, the right to preventive healthcare, and the right to housing, among others.
Envision Spokane then circulated petitions to qualify the Community Bill of Rights onto the 2009 ballot as an amendment to the City’s local constitution, its home rule charter. After the group successfully qualified the initiative with over 5,000 signatures, the City Council intervened in an attempt to complicate the ballot with two additional non-binding resolutions which were placed on the ballot in front of the Community Bill of Rights. Those two resolutions asked voters if they would like to pay for the Bill of Rights through a reduction of existing City services, or whether they would like to pay for the Bill of Rights through an increase in taxes. This, even though the initiative was carefully drafted to eliminate almost all cost for the City in implementing the provisions.
In addition, business opposition to the Bill of Rights raised and spent over $300,000 against the initiative, placing television and radio commercials on the air, as well as hosting several direct mailers and public fora aimed at disseminating half-truths and distortions about the Bill of Rights.
The initiative, known as “Proposition #4” on the ballot, handily lost, with about 25% of the electorate casting a vote in favor of the initiative, which was essentially a vote to reprogram municipal government to guarantee certain rights to a majority of the electorate. Far from being discouraged, Envision Spokane and its constituent groups were buoyed by the fact that a quarter of the voting population voted for such a cutting-edge municipal initiative.
In mid-2010, the Envision Spokane process began anew by shortening the Bill of Rights to three rights – the right to neighborhood control over certain re-zonings, the right to constitutional rights and collective bargaining in the workplace, and the right of the Spokane River and aquifer to exist and flourish. A fourth provision, to elevate community rights above the rights of corporations, was added to ensure that community rights were enforceable against corporate and other business entities.
In April 2011, Envision Spokane began the process of qualifying the new initiative for the ballot, collecting over 4,500 voter signatures which were submitted to the city in July. On August 1, the City Council of Spokane voted to place the initiative, known as “Proposition 1”, on the November 2011 ballot. The returns on November 8, 2011, were astounding: 49.12% of the electorate voted Yes, 50.88% voted No. Envision Spokane is invigorated by these results and is beginning work for the next election cycle.