“Let us vote! Let us vote!” members of the Columbus Community Bill of Rights organization chant outside county offices and their state courthouse. “Let us vote!”
“It’s crystal clear that not only do we have a water problem. We also have a democracy problem,” says Lynn Anderson with the Youngstown Bill of Rights Committee.
“Democracy is being denied!” insists Kathie Jones with Sustainable Medina County.
These champions, and others like them across Ohio who are working in partnership with CELDF, have encountered the same roadblock to asserting Community Rights. Call it the “BOR vs BOE Dilemma.”
Local community members partner with CELDF to draft laws and charters that establish local Bills of Rights (BOR). Using their state constitutional right to initiative, residents gather the signatures, get their initiatives certified, prepare get-out-the-vote campaigns, and then have their BORs blocked from the ballot by the appointed – not elected – members of their county Boards of Elections (BOE).
The BORs would give community members the authority to protect their drinking water, their air, their soil from pollution, and enforce local ecosystems’ rights to exist, thrive and flourish.
In Toledo, toxic algae blooms from industrial farms and agriculture fertilizer runoff have made Lake Erie water unsafe, summer after summer. In parts of Youngstown, water runs brown from the faucets, while the water department has warned of high toxin levels that could cause serious health effects, including cancer. In Columbus, as well as Athens, Meigs, and Portage counties, the concerns center on fracking wastewater injection wells leaking into the underground drinking water sources. In Medina County the threats to air from the Nexus pipeline and compressor station are a constant concern.
In Youngstown, they’ve been through the BOR exercise nine times since 2013. 1900 signatures are required for each attempt. In Franklin County (Columbus) there were over 12,000 valid signers of the BOR petition in 2018. And in Medina County, where champions in three attempts collected over 18,000 signatures to take the initiative to a vote.
“We the people put in hundreds of volunteer hours collecting nearly 11,000 signatures because we’re alarmed about Lake Erie’s deterioration. We’re apprehensive about the safety of our drinking water,” explains Markie Miller with Toledoans for Safe Water. “We’re worried about our survival, too.”
Yet no matter how many signatures they gather over and above the required minimum, the BORs keep getting blocked by the BOEs.
“How is it that these four unelected people can strip over 500,000 registered Columbus voters of their right to vote to protect their water?” asks Bill Lyons, with the group Columbus Community Bill of Rights.
“Do we not have rights? How do you justify the Board of Elections denying an election?” Toledo’s champions asked their BOE members. “Who elected you?”
The various Community Rights groups, with CELDF’s help, have challenged the ballot refusals in the courts, pointing out that political appointees are usurping local democracy. The challenges also note that, by disallowing the ballot measures due to the content, rather than due to procedural errors, these administrators are usurping judicial functions. What the people have discovered is that the courts are backing up the BOEs.
Youngstown’s group received a favorable decision this past spring, but not until after the ballots for the election had been printed and mailed out to over 1,200 voters. Athens County’s Community Bill of Rights Committee was kept waiting until this past August for a decision regarding their November 2017 ballot initiative. Then they – like those in Franklin, Medina, Meigs and Portage counties – were denied their appeal.
“It was devastating to be without water for 3 days in 2014. This is worse,” says Crystal Janowski, who was part of the push for the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. “To know that the Lake and my children are at risk because it is legal for the polluters to pollute us, while our own government makes it illegal for us to propose a law to protect the Lake and our children, is beyond devastating.”
But she and her fellow Toledoan, Markie Miller, aren’t giving up.
“We don’t lose until we quit, and we’re just going to keep coming right back every time they try to stop us,” Miller says.
Austin Babrow, of Athens County, sums up the courage and conviction of all of these Ohio Community Rights champions.
“We’re here, we’re united, and we’re not going to stop demanding our rights until we truly have them.”
Your support makes our work with these Ohio champions possible. Be a Community Rights and Rights of Nature champion – donate today. Here is what your support provides:
Here’s what your help can do in 2019:
- $25 covers postage for 100 Common Sense newspapers.
- $50 ensures a community member can attend a Community Rights workshop, teaching the tools needed to confront corporate control and state interference on a powerful single front: people’s and nature’s inalienable rights.
- $100 covers travel expenses for our community organizer to speak at an event educating residents on Community Rights.
- $250 allows us to print and distribute informational handouts on Community Rights and Rights of Nature as tools to protect local communities.
- $500 helps pay litigation costs as CELDF fights for democratic and environmental rights on behalf of Ohio residents.
Featured image: Markie Miller at Cullen Park (Point Place)