Community rights movement grows statewide, despite corporate state efforts to block it



Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer

Broadview Heights, Ohio: Residents of Portage, Medina, and Athens Counties are asserting the people’s right to local community self-government, the right to a healthy environment, and the right to protect themselves from fracking harms through community rights initiatives. County residents began circulating petitions this week to place the rights-based measures on the November ballot.

The initiatives were drafted with assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). Ohio residents began partnering with CELDF in 2012, when shale gas drilling and fracking activities threatened a number of communities. Since then, CELDF has worked with Ohio residents who have advanced nearly two dozen rights-based measures, asserting community rights to local self-government, clean air and water, and the rights of nature.

As community rights grows across the state, the oil and gas industry is spending significant funds and enlisting the support of state and local governments to quash the people’s rights.  For two years, Ohio counties attempted to place rights-based county charters on the ballot. The measures banned fracking activities as a violation of rights.

Each time, Ohio’s Secretary of State challenged the measures to keep them off the ballot. He has been partially backed by the Ohio Supreme Court, which found technical reasons to block the measures. However, the Court provided only minimal guidance on what would satisfy those technical requirements.

“If the Secretary of State, Supreme Court, and the oil and gas industry think they can make us give up on our rights by keeping us off the ballot, they are wrong,” stated Kathie Jones of Sustainable Medina County. “We realize no one else is going to fight for our right to protect our health and wellbeing. We’re taking a stand not only for us, but for future generations.”

Portage, Medina, and Athens Counties join the City of Youngstown, where residents are advancing two rights-based city charter amendments. The Peoples’ Bill of Rights for Fair Elections and Access to Local Government limits campaign contributions in local elections to registered voters of the city, and places limits on contribution amounts. The Youngstown Drinking Water and Protection Bill of Rights protects Youngstown water.

Residents in Bowling Green and Toledo are also collecting signatures to place community rights charter amendments on the ballot as well.

CELDF’s Ohio community organizer Tish O’Dell stated, “Not only is community rights growing to stop fracking, but the people are expanding it beyond fracking issues. They understand fracking, elections laws, minimum wage, and myriad other issues are symptoms of a greater problem: a structure of law and governance that elevates corporate claimed ‘rights’ over the rights of people and nature.”

The Ohio corporate state has placed one more hurdle before residents who advance initiatives. In December 2016, the legislature quietly adopted HB463, granting local Boards of Elections and the Secretary of State the authority to keep any proposed initiative off the ballot if they deem it violates state law or the Ohio constitution. Each of the groups is prepared to address that challenge if it is used to block their measure.

Ohio Communities Part of Growing Movement

Ohio residents are advancing Community Rights as part of the broader Community Rights Movement building across the United States, where other localities are advancing similar measures to establish and protect their rights to a healthy climate, clean air and water, and the right to local community self-government.

Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance these 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.

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 Information

For additional information, contact CELDF at To learn about the Ohio Community Rights Network, visit To learn about the Community Rights Movement, visit  Follow us on Facebook at and Twitter @celdf.



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