Despite defeat, growing coalitions leave no doubt that more residents realize their community is at stake


Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer

YOUNGSTOWN, OH:  By a vote of 55% to 45%, the Youngstown Community Bill of Rights Charter Amendment was defeated. If adopted, the measure would have secured the right to clean air and water, and the right to local community self-government. Fracking and frack wastewater injection wells would have been banned as a violation of those rights.

Youngstown and the surrounding region have been impacted by earthquakes as a result of a frack wastewater injection well. In addition, in September 2015, residents were notified that their water was high in trihalomethanes. They were advised of potential health problems related to liver and kidneys, potentially leading to cancer. Trihalomethanes are produced when bromine, which is present in fracking wastewater, mixes with chlorine, which is added to water in the Youngtown water treatment plant.

In an effort to protect the community from earthquakes and to safeguard their water, residents contacted the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) for help in drafting a Community Bill of Rights in 2013. For more than three years, residents have determined to place their charter amendment on the ballot, as opposition has fought them. Industry allies and local elected officials have spent tens of thousands of dollars to defeat the people’s own measure to protect themselves. The pipefitters union alone outspent residents this election, 100 to 1.

Reminiscent of Flint, MI, Youngstown’s Mayor John McNally accused the community group of lying about the danger of their drinking water, insisting Youngtown’s water is not an issue. He accused residents of “fear mongering” and killing jobs.

In addition, the oil and gas industry, the pipefitters union, and the local and state Democratic Party came out against the Community Bill of Rights. Opponents sent a record number of mailers to Youngstown voters, and several robo calls. They also hired people to stand at the Board of Elections during early voting and at the polls on election day, deceitfully guiding voters that a “no vote” on the Community Bill of Rights amendment was a “no vote” on fracking.

Despite the heavy spending by opposition, support for Community Rights has grown each year. Today, residents have built coalitions crossing race and socio-economics, as residents join together to advance Community Rights to protect their water.

Susie Beiersdorfer, part of the local group leading the initiative efforts, stated, “We keep putting our citizens’ Community Bill of Rights charter amendment on the ballot because it takes time for people to cut through the corporate propaganda touting jobs and ensuring safety, and time for people to realize that many so-called ‘community leaders’ put profits above people and pollution above planet. We, the citizens of Youngstown, CAN make laws that protect our unalienable rights: water, air, land and local control. We’re in this for the long haul. We’re continuing our fight to keep Youngstown from becoming a sacrifice zone.”

Youngstown resident Henrietta Bibbs added, “Humans are mere guests on this beautiful planet. If we foolishly believe we can abuse or conquer our hostess, the parting gift will be very painful. Without clean water and air, our community will die. We have the right to protect ourselves, and assert our rights to a sustainable future over corporate claimed rights to profits. This isn’t over. We will not stop fighting for clean water and air for the future generations of Youngstown!”

Ohio Communities Not Alone

Ohio residents are advancing Community Rights as part of the broader Community Rights Movement building across the United States.  Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance fundamental democratic and environmental rights.  They are working with CELDF to establish Community Rights and the Rights of Nature in law, and prohibit extraction, fracking, factory farming, water privatization, and other industrial activities as violations of those rights.  Communities are joining together within and across states, working with CELDF to advance systemic change – recognizing our existing system of law and governance as inherently undemocratic and unsustainable.


Additional Information

For additional information on Youngstown, contact CELDF at To learn about the Ohio Community Rights Network, visit To learn about the Community Rights Movement, visit

About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, local economy, and quality of life. Its mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.


Additional Resources