The following is an excerpt from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s fall 2020 newsletter “Observing Revolution.” Email to receive a hard copy of our newsletters.

Lincoln County, Oregon is coming off two years of successful implementation of a Rights of Nature law that outlawed industrial aerial pesticide spraying. Such spraying is a dangerous, yet common, corporate timber industry activity that threatens aquatic ecosystems and humans. After court challenges to the county’s law, new litigation is now underway to defend and enforce the law and the rights of the Siletz River watershed.

Opposition to the organizing was orchestrated in part by CropLife America, a national industry group that collects dues from some of the world’s most powerful chemical and industrial agriculture corporations, including: Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences LLC, and DuPont Crop Protection. According to documents obtained by The Intercept, CropLife ranked state and local issues as the top ‘tier 1’ concern for both 2017 and 2018. The documents “pinpointed Oregon as ground zero for the fight,” according to The Intercept. In 2017, CropLife America launched a national campaign to provide “intense levels of support where the most dire battles are,” according to the documents. A public relations firm hired by CropLife spent 44 percent of its budget in Lincoln County, and its neighbor Lane County, where other community rights organizing has been ongoing for years.

Stay on offense

As these fights continue, new county petitions are in the works to advance water and watershed protection rights-based laws in Lane and Lincoln counties. (These efforts are now being impacted by COVID-19-imposed restrictions on petition gathering.) These campaigns are supported by years of learning, building and adaptation, from across the Pacific Northwest and the nation.

Lincoln would not be engaging in this work if Benton County, Oregon, had not taken on the agri-business industry and corporate control of land. In 2015, Benton County petitioners advanced a “Food Bill of Rights.” The proposed law would protect ecosystems and the right to save seed while banning genetically modified agriculture and the harmful pesticide practices that accompany that form of industrial agriculture. A full court press by the agri-business industry, along with Oregon State University managed to block the affirming vote. They were funded by millions of dollars from agri-business like Monsanto. In addition, state legislators adopted law that “preempted” all local control over agricultural seed including GMOs.

In Coos County, Oregon, residents shared a vision for a sustainable energy system. They petitioned and put it up for a vote in 2017. The county law would ban the unpopular Jordan Cove liquified natural gas terminal and Pacific Connector pipeline (which was recently approved by the federal government). Fossil fuel interests spent $1 million to defeat the Coos effort. Despite colossal efforts to crush the people’s vision, Coos County residents’ work was a beacon for other communities.

“Our work continues to be inspired and informed by our neighbors and communities across the nation,” says Maria Sauss, founding member of Lincoln County Community Rights.

Community Rights now! – Organized effort underway to reimagine local democracy in Oregon

In the build up to Oregon’s 2021 legislative session the ORCRN and its partner chapters are actively reaching out to legislators, local officials, and issue groups to build support for the introduction and ultimately ballot placement for a constitutional amendment that would boost local control. Known as the Community Rights or Right of Local Self-Government amendment it would shift power away from corporate forces and negligent legislators into the hands of people and their local governments to enact laws that protect and expand health, safety, and welfare. By putting corporations in check it will allow Baker City to Bend to Medford to Hood River to Portland to make critical decisions about advancing rights protections for housing, the environment, worker rights, policing, and many other issues that make communities viable, liveable, sustainable, and equitable.

To get involved contact the ORCRN:

Forest near Siletz River, Photo by Rio Davidson of Lincoln County Community Rights

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