But not for long: “We are not going to allow what happened in Flint to happen in Youngstown”

Updated May 9, 2018


Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer

YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO: The battle for clean water in Youngstown, OH, continues unabated following yesterday’s elections. As the Mahoning County Board of Elections (BOE) refuses to place the people’s Water Protection Bill of Rights charter amendment on the ballot in multiple elections, community members continue to advance their measure, insisting on their democratic right to vote and their environmental right to clean water.

Since 2013, Youngstown residents have worked with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to protect the city’s water from fossil fuel extraction, waste disposal, and other harms, and to defend their democratic right to vote. With each community effort, rights proponents are met with strong opposition from the oil and gas industry, local elected officials, and the media. CELDF provides legal assistance to Youngstown residents as they advance Community Rights – including democratic and environmental rights. Two weeks ago, with CELDF’s support, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the BOE place the rights-based amendment on the May ballot.

With voting already begun and more than 1,000 ballots mailed without the amendment, the BOE declined to ask the Court to place the measure in a later upcoming election. Instead, the BOE “promised” to mail out supplemental ballots and to distribute those ballots at voting sites yesterday.

Thus, the Water Protection Bill of Rights was in an election where it was not on any printed ballot. At least one polling location did not include the amendment on supplemental ballots. The election results were 44% in favor with 2,857 votes, and 56% against with 3,589 votes.

“Of course those were the results. The BOE repeatedly and illegally keeps our Water Protection Bill of Rights off the ballot. The Court gives us two weeks to campaign. More than 1,000 ballots went to voters with no amendment on it. We know there was at least one polling location where BOE workers did not give the amendment to voters until one of our supporters caught them. The mayor campaigns AGAINST clean drinking water for the residents and then uses water maintenance funds to purchase a new vehicle for himself. No, not a surprising result at all. It also makes crystal clear that not only do we have a water problem. We also have a democracy problem.” stated Lynn Anderson of the Bill of Rights Committee.

Community members understand what is at stake. “The urgency to protect our water is increasing week by week. We’ve learned a six year old boy in Colorado has elevated levels of benzene and ethyl-benzene in his blood. He lives in close proximity to fossil fuel extraction processes. Children in Flint, MI, have permanent brain damage from lead in their drinking water. In both places, elected officials and government agencies told the people there was nothing to worry about. We are not going to allow this in Youngstown,” said Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer, professor of Geology at Youngstown State University.

Many Youngstown community members live with brown water running through their faucets. They are forced to buy bottled water. In 2016, residents received a letter from the water department warning of high levels of toxins in the water that could cause serious health effects, including cancer.

Tish O’Dell, CELDF’s Ohio community organizer, stated, “Elected officials working on behalf of industry, rather than the people, are determined to stop Community Rights and block the people from governing themselves.  They are effectively denying citizens the right to vote. It’s not just in Youngstown, but across the state of Ohio. The more they try to shut Community Rights down, the more it grows. This is a movement whose time has come. Ohioans are no longer willing to sacrifice their communities for corporate profit. The right to water in Youngstown, and beyond, is the right to life. No water, no life. Community Rights is growing, and Youngstown community members are leading the way.”

Ohio Communities Part of Growing Movement

Ohio residents are advancing Community Rights as part of the broader Community Rights movement building across the U.S. Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance and protect fundamental democratic and environmental rights. They are working with CELDF to establish Community Rights and the Rights of Nature in law, and prohibit 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. Ohio joins state Community Rights Networks in Oregon, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, where residents are advancing Community Rights state constitutional amendments.

Additional Information

For additional information regarding petitioning communities, contact CELDF at info@celdf.org. To learn about the Ohio Community Rights Network, visit ohiocrn.org. To learn about the Community Rights Movement, visit www.celdf.org.

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.


Photo: Blue80 at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

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