The following is an excerpt from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s fall 2020 newsletter “Observing Revolution.” Email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a hard and/or electronic copy of our newsletters.
Community Rights organizing has been active in Virginia since 2008. That’s the year the Town of Halifax enacted an ordinance amending town code Article VI to oppose initiating uranium mining over a broad swath of southern Virginia.
Other Virginia communities had attempted vigorously, but unsuccessfully, to enact local community bills of rights similar to the Halifax law. They came up against “Dillon’s Rule,” a court concocted prohibition against local lawmaking that interferes with for-profit activities like mining, clear-cutting, mountaintop removal, fracking, siting of pipelines, toxic landfills and industrialized agriculture. Virginia had turned “Dillon’s Rule” into a taboo against local self-government without prior state approval.
While community rights organizing gained steam across the country, there was a lull in Virginia organizing after the efforts by hundreds of people in Campbell County and Pittsylvania County was met with open hostility by County Supervisors loyal to Dillon’s Rule.
Then in 2017, a group of independent thinking women in Buckingham County formed Buckingham: We the People. They decided to challenge the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and plans to site a compressor station in the county that would push fracked gas through a pipeline from the Marcellus Shale region, across state lines, under the James River, and on to the coast for profitable export. With CELDF assistance they drafted the James River Natural Community Bill of Rights. Like the Halifax law, it recognized the right of local self-government, as well as the rights of nature to exist and flourish, free from human interference. And it subordinated the court-bestowed privileges of corporate property to the governance of the people.
Mindy Zlotnick, Heidi Dhivya Berthoud, and Kenda Hanuman hosted Democracy Schools, Rights of Nature workshops and offered presentations and educational opportunities. In the Spring of 2020, they were invited by the National Community Rights Network (NCRN) to form and institute the Virginia Community Rights Nework (VACRN). In July, their application was approved, and Virginia joined New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, and Oregon as the latest addition to the growing National Community Rights Network.