In 2016 we witnessed resistance to environmental harms and social injustices, the likes of which we have not seen for several decades.
For months, people from all over the country traveled many miles to Standing Rock, ND. They gave both their time and spent personal resources to make the trek, showing solidarity with the Native Americans who live there, and opposing a pipeline. This is what we need: people coming together, unified, to protect health, safety, and welfare.
On January 21st, another collective action is taking place, albeit for one day only: the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. People are traveling in from across the U.S, giving both their time and spending personal resources to make the trek, coming together in solidarity to oppose the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump and what he represents. Again, this is what we need: people coming together, in a collective, to speak their truth and protest an undemocratic process that gave us President-elect Trump.
It has been – and is – inspiring and galvanizing.
Is it enough?
Here, at these gatherings, is exactly where we must be clear, mindful, and intentional about purposeful action. We must ask ourselves, what are we going to do differently to change what is happening? If we come together to show solidarity, and then go home and do nothing, then nothing will change. Yes, one pipeline may be stopped. Yes, we may show, as women, that we can make our voices heard. But stopping one pipeline while hundreds of others are constructed means our communities are still being sacrificed. And women making their voices heard is not women making decisions to protect minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ, and others from harm.
Frustration levels are high. Our own government, allied with corporations, is perpetrating social and environmental injustices across the U.S. People are suffering. Ecosystems are dying.
And yet we are stuck. Many of us believe we live in a democracy. Many of us, when we’re faced with direct harms such as fracking, believe that if we contact our representatives or let the EPA know what’s going on, someone will act on our behalf. Our electeds will actually represent us. The regulatory agencies tasked with protecting the environment will actually do so.
The truth is, if we want to affect change, we are forced to learn, question, and adapt quickly. The world as we believed it to be is turned upside down and shattered. Our trust in democracy, in our government, and sometimes even in people, is stretched to its limits. Because what’s revealed when we actually try to affect change and stop the harms (rather than just slow down the harms by regulating them) is that we live in a corporate state.
The corporate state places the interest of corporate profits above the health, safety and welfare of the people and the environment. It keeps people and nature invisible and silent whenever profits and investor returns are at stake.
And so showing up at Standing Rock and the Women’s March makes an oppressed people and an oppressed gender visible.
That’s a start.
We need Standing Rock and the Women's March to be the start....The start of creating a government that protects people and ecosystem rights.
If we go home and think writing letters and making phone calls to electeds and “decision-makers” will get us somewhere, then that’s also the end. If we return home and continue looking to others to save us, it’s the end. If we attend regulatory hearings (which legitimizes the system) and carry signs in front of a government building for a few seconds of tv coverage, it’s the end.
And if we go home to organize and get frustrated because only a handful of people show up instead of the thousands we witnessed at Standing Rock and the Women’s March, it’s also the end.
The 99% as Decision-Makers
We need Standing Rock and the Women’s March to be the start. The start of the 99% being the decision-makers. The start of realizing the democratic vision our ancestors fought and died for. The start of creating a government that protects people and ecosystem rights. Because when government is no longer protecting us and our rights, WE must alter, reform or even abolish it and form one that does.
This is what the American colonists had to do to break away from the rule of the 1% across the ocean. It’s what abolitionists, suffragists and civil rights advocates have all had to do: change the system by challenging that system and, without yielding, insisting on change – community by community. Neighbor by neighbor. One person at a time.
Today, we have been stripped by a corporate state government of our authority to govern our communities and protect ourselves and the environment. Will we tacitly accept this by continuing to gather, holding up signs, and begging those to whom we’ve given away our power? Or will we be the change ourselves?
We don’t have the luxury of time to wait. Too much is at stake.
May Standing Rock and the Women’s March be our inspiration, demonstrate our commitment, and reveal our solidarity. And then, when we head home to our communities, we must roll up our sleeves and begin the hard work: governing our communities directly by codifying in law the just and sustainable communities we envision.
It’s not easy. It requires vision, commitment, and perseverance. It starts with you – in your community. There is nowhere else that matters as much as the place that you call home. If we are going to realize just and sustainable communities, doing so demands our coming together after centuries of learning to be separate and isolated. It means reaching out to friends and neighbors over and over and over again.
It means realizing, as Youngstown, OH, residents realize, that without community and sustainability, there is nothing left. For 5 years a core group of Youngstown residents have advanced rights-based initiatives to ban fracking. Despite the corporate state propaganda and close losses at the polls, their group is growing, bridging race and socio-economic divisions to find their commonality in community and sustainability.
Whether it’s sustainable energy plans, worker rights, police accountability, fair elections or all of the above, now is the time to pull ourselves out from under the corporate state, one community at a time. It is our responsibility to act. It is our responsibility to make laws that govern corporations, rather than corporations writing laws that govern us. As each community does so, it is an example for the next.
And as we act, we will drive change upward to the state and federal levels.
Community Rights is a way out from under the corporate state. It is a way to express not just what we stand against, but a tool to create what we stand for: a livable and just future for our children and grandchildren.
Safe travels to Standing Rock. Safe travels to Washington, D.C. And when you come home, let’s get to work.
CELDF is ready to work with you to protect your community and advance Community Rights. Contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.