“The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is helping build a decolonial movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights – building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international levels.”
Though the exact wording of CELDF’s purpose statement over the last 27 years has changed from time to time, our mission is and always has been to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.
As a public interest law firm, CELDF assists diverse individuals and communities by offering educational opportunities, training, grassroots organizing support, and legal services as the means to animate the words above. CELDF advocates strongly for the communities we work with, which has led to significant costs to the organization, sanctions against CELDF attorneys, and threats against CELDF staff from the corporate state.
Yet we understand that we are not the story; in our partnering work with communities, those communities are the story. We believe that an effective and ultimately successful movement is the result of the collective. Movements are not about saviors or figureheads; effective movements are made up of everyday people fighting to protect their fundamental needs and to create a different and better future.
With that said, recent events have prompted us to tell more of our personal story, so the public has a clearer understanding of our values. What we are sharing here was initiated by recent articles on the resistance effort at Thacker Pass to a proposed lithium mine. In response we posted this statement.
Since February 2021, CELDF staff has unanimously supported Protect Thacker Pass and the activists opposed to the construction of a 12-to-20 square mile, 400’ deep mine pit at Thacker Pass, located in northern Nevada. It would be a cultural, historical and ecological tragedy to allow this mining to proceed. Even though Protect Thacker Pass is about protecting the ecosystems, the living human communities, and the cultural assets and spirits of the first peoples of that area, the central theme of recent articles has focused on the rights of the transgender community.
As an organization that has been advocating for and supporting efforts of expansive community rights, which include full human rights as well as the rights of ecosystems, we at CELDF made every effort to recognize that such work at Protect Thacker Pass would also be about affirming the rights of the transgender community. We are not aware of any actual ill-treatment of anyone at the site because of gender identity, reflected in the encampment rules prohibiting such behavior.
In our organizational statement linked above, we said this: “We are firm in our support of human and civil rights for all people, no matter how they identify themselves, including the transgender community, without exception. Those rights demand the respect of everyone, and we disagree utterly with those taking a different position.”
That’s our stance. It’s who we are.
Current and former staff and others have accused CELDF of having a culture that espouses transphobia. That story is false and unfounded. Over the last three years, more so than the preceding twenty-four, CELDF has been sharing its internal organizational story with our allies and the public in many different ways as a means to reflect internally the values we espouse in our community rights organizing. After a serious fracturing of the organization three years ago, for example, CELDF moved away from a hierarchical structure of decision making to one that is egalitarian and democratic.
We embarked on internal work related to a broad range of issues from gender identity to cisheteropatriarchy to micro-aggressive behavior to white supremacy to Indigenous rights and traditional ecological knowledge, as an effort to inform us as individuals, as an organization, and in our work with others. We adopted a conflict resolution policy based on restorative justice principles. We have employed a consultant to work through conflict issues within the organization who also subscribes to restorative justice practices. As an action of solidarity we have publicly posted a diversity statement. We reached out to other organizations to brainstorm and then create a symposium to provide a setting to reflect the power of diversity and inclusion as vital to the creation of a people’s movement.
If we had to tell a story about ourselves, this is the true one worth telling.
Are there issues and conflicts within CELDF needing to be addressed? Absolutely, as there are in any other organization. However, those real issues cannot be worked through if attempts to address them are consistently sabotaged and an alternative narrative is substituted for the truth. The issue here is greater than just the internal functionality of CELDF. This misguided, misinformed campaign does real harm to advancing the rights of transgender and all people, as well as the ecosystems of Thacker Pass, and everywhere.
We stand fully and resolutely by our recent statement on Thacker Pass and our publicly posted diversity statement. We stand firmly and resolutely by our commitment to continue to do the necessary work to move beyond a white supremacist colonial structure, both in our internal work and also in how we engage with and continue to assist and support others in rights-expanding efforts.