In Colorado, A Revolutionary New Coalition Stands for Community Rights
by: Simon Davis-Cohen Posted on: August 26, 2015
Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on theleap.thischangeseverything.org, the website of Naomi Klein’s landmark book on Climate Change This Changes Everything.
In Colorado, local governments cannot raise the minimum wage, pass rent control laws, or ban fracking. A system of state “preemption”—a favorite tool of the fossil fuel industry—stands in their way.
Local activists have long been outspoken about this legal barrier to keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Now, a coalition embodying a range of economic and environmental justice fights is coming together to directly challenge the basis for state preemption: On August 17, a statewide initiative was launched by Coloradans for Community Rights to do just that. It may be the first time that anti-extraction and workers’ rights movements have allied behind a concrete political tactic in modern US history.
The “Colorado Community Rights Amendment,” which needs some 99,000 signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot, disrupts preemption by granting local governments a constitutional right to raise state standards—empowering them to boost the minimum wage, bolster environmental protections, and strengthen tenant rights, for example. It would recognize the authority of local governments “to enact local laws that protect health, safety and welfare by recognizing or establishing rights of natural persons, their local communities and nature.” (A similar community rights initiative was proposed in 2014, but did not collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.)
Crucially, the proposed amendment also elevates local lawmaking above “competing rights, powers, privileges, immunities, or duties of corporations.” This means that if a local law conflicts with a corporations’ constitutional “right,” the local law would prevail—in direct contradiction to our current legal structure, which allows corporations to sue local, state, and federal governments that restrict property rights. The amendment doesn’t read like a manifesto, but it could be revolutionary.
This coalition is not only taking on well-established law—it aims to break it. As Cliff Willmeng, a registered nurse and organizer with the Coloradans for Community Rights, says: “All movements identify the law as illegitimate, and voluntarily organize to break it.”
The initiative is part of a multi-state “Community Rights Movement” working to introduce the right to local self-government, and to elevate that right above corporate legal privileges and the state governments that act to protect them. The movement’s work, which takes legal council from the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, has recently gained some mainstream notoriety; this summer, CELDF received a grant from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
In Colorado, the Community Rights Amendment would also undermine the bedrock “private law exception,” which has historically limited local governments’ authority to regulate private relationships between employer and employee or landlord and tenant, for example. It’s this “exception” that provides the ideological basis for preventing cities from raising the minimum wage or passing sick leave ordinances.
Willmeng says, “the Colorado Community Rights Amendment fuses all of this stuff together, you’ve got a lot more tributaries starting to lead in. Where it will go, I just don’t know….It’s not just fracking, it’s rent control, it’s cyanide use, it’s the local living wage, all of that stuff is all underneath that same kind of preemption.”
I sat down with Andrea Mérida of 15 Now Colorado, a group supporting the effort to qualify the initiative for the 2016 ballot and fighting to raise the state minimum wage.
Why do you think local governments should be able to raise the minimum wage?
Very simply, we see a wage high enough to live in dignity as a human right, and we believe it is the responsibility of local governments to ensure that every taxpayer enjoys that right.
In 2006, Arizona passed a ballot measure that struck down the state’s minimum wage preemption. However, the measure did not establish any constitutional right to local community self-government, as the “Colorado Community Rights Amendment” would. Why not just replicate what Arizona did in Colorado?
15 Now Colorado wants to go one step further. Our calculations show that $15 an hour is already a compromise, and that in order to live in dignity, workers really should be earning upwards of $20 an hour. Rents in the Denver metro area are skyrocketing, and ultimately local governments also need the flexibility to consider further actions such as rent control and breaking up utility monopolies to help workers make ends meet. If we don’t strengthen local rights now, we will be back at the ballot box again soon, because the cost of living could quickly outpace any minimum wage increase.
What was the hardest obstacle to making this coalition a reality? How was it overcome?
This coalition was such a logical step to strengthen 15 Now Colorado’s work that there was no difficulty at all.
Why are 15 Now organizers sympathetic to the anti-fracking strand of Coloradans for Community Rights?
Because we believe in the holistic vision of a dignified life, we cannot turn a blind eye to the effects of environmental racism on working-class communities who would most benefit from a minimum wage hike. These are the communities with the most polluted air and water, and fracking is wreaking havoc in these communities and more all across Colorado.
What is the significance of this coalition?
Single-issue organizing has one fatal flaw: it can be siloed and defeated easily with the right corporate resources targeted at it. The human right to live in dignity is part of a holistic vision that we all hold, and solidarity is our best weapon against market-based forces that seek to put the priorities of profit over people.
Why do you think it makes sense to incorporate a community rights critique of preemption into the fight for economic justice?
15 Now Colorado believes that it’s time to recalibrate the way we see ourselves in society. Government exists to serve the interests of workers first, but unfortunately, this is not the reality. Too often the requirements of excessive profit trump the right to live in dignity, and by using our state constitution to change that paradigm, we believe that we can finally create a Colorado that serves everyone.
Many people are wary of local self-governance in America. Racist discrimination comes to mind. How does the proposed 2016 Colorado Community Rights Amendment address these concerns?
The language of the proposed amendment makes very clear that no law can be passed that takes away rights already established. It would not be possible, for example, for a state law to preempt Colorado’s public accommodations law, for example.
Where this is all headed is yet unknown, says Willmeng. “Who knows, you could come back here five months from now and we’ll have completely dissolved. I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think that far more likely you’re going to see that we’ve grown exponentially. But there are a million unseen hurdles—forces. When you’re fighting these types of people, shit happens. We’re certainly making some very powerful enemies.”
Banner image by 15 Now Colorado.
Leave a Reply
Articles On PRESS
PRESS: Republished press from our community wires.
- Jun 13 The Fight For Local Democracy in New York City
- May 25 Crown Heights Tenant Union: Building Power One Building at a Time in NYC
- May 25 Activists Occupy Shipping Container to Halt AIM Pipeline Construction in Upstate NY
- May 25 Barrington, NH votes 795 to 759 to Adopt Community Bill of Rights to Protect Waterways
- May 25 Revoking The Consent to be Governed
- Apr 25 Announcement of Nationally Coordinated Prisoner Workstoppage for Sept 9, 2016
- Apr 19 The Spirit of Occupy Lives on in France’s Emerging Direct Democracy Movement
- Apr 19 How Sanders Could Lay the Foundation for a Third US Political Party
- Apr 10 Some Possible Ideas for Going Forward
- Apr 7 Reclaiming Black Land in Grafton, New York
- Apr 7 Meet the Lead Organizer Behind the Upcoming Mass Sit-Ins to get Money out of Politics
- Mar 28 Dismantling Corporate Control Isn’t a Spectator Sport: An Interview With Thomas Linzey
- Mar 16 Preempting Trump: Barnstead, NH Adopts First-In-Nation Law Protecting Against Religious Persecution
- Mar 4 This New Era Of Unrest
- Mar 1 Washington State Supreme Court Guts Local Ballot Initiative Process
- Feb 9 Debating A ‘New’ Pan-European Anti-Austerity Movement
- Feb 9 How New York Stopped A Liquefied Natural Gas Project In Its Tracks
- Jan 28 Food, Land, and Freedom
- Jan 27 One Oregon Tribe’s Fight for Federal Recognition
- Jan 20 Worker, Civil and Environmental Rights as Legal Ends: Defying Commerce’s Logic
- Jan 20 Fast-Food Workers Plan Wave Of Strikes For 2016 Primaries
- Jan 18 Greece’s Varoufakis to Launch Pan-European Progressive Movement
- Jan 6 California’s Largest Tribe Passes First-In-Nation Enforceable Ban On GM-Salmon and GMOs
- Dec 29 The Leap Manifesto
- Dec 29 “People’s Injunction” Launched to Block Canadian Pipelines
- Dec 29 How Black Lives Matter Came Back Stronger After White Supremacist Attacks
- Dec 29 Can Local Law Enforcement Be Democratized By A People’s Movement?
- Dec 9 Preempting Democracy: What’s Not Being Voted on This November Is Sinister
- Dec 9 A Bill of Rights That Puts Workers Above Corporations
- Dec 9 Government and Gas Industry Team Up Against Local Fracking Ban Initiatives in Ohio
- Dec 9 Fighting Fossils, Letting Go of Regulatory Law
- Aug 26 In Colorado, A Revolutionary New Coalition Stands for Community Rights
- Aug 26 Climate Crisis Pits Local Governments Against 19th-Century Legal Doctrine
- Aug 26 Hundreds of Communities Are Building Legal Blockades to Fight Big Carbon
- Jul 21 Will Labor Go Local?
- Jul 20 Challenging Bedrock Law: “Dillon’s Rule” in Detroit and Beyond
- Jul 19 Defining a Federalist Approach to Immigration Reform
- Jul 18 Why Are Fracking Hopefuls Suing a County in New Mexico?
- Dec 8 Finally, The Court Case We’ve All Been Waiting For
- Nov 8 Ohio and Colorado Voters Adopt Community Bills of Rights
- Nov 8 Community Rights Organizer Sets Sights on Fracking in Southern Illinois
- Nov 8 Critical Issues Deserve a Higher Standard
- Nov 7 Indigenous Peoples Experience Of Climate Change And Efforts To Adapt (Video)
- Oct 8 Naomi Klein Addresses New ‘Mega Union’
- Oct 8 Disco may be the only way to stop Monsanto (Video)
- Oct 8 (Ohio) Frack-Backers Launch Preemptive Strikes against Democracy Attempt to Block Community Bills of Rights from Voters
- Oct 8 The California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Speaks to the Need for Wise Immigration Reform
- Oct 8 Support Local Food Rights Will Not Be Deterred by Legislature’s Blow to Democracy
- Oct 8 Economic Sovereignty At Stake
- Oct 8 Sangerville, Maine Adopts Community Bill Of Rights Ordinance to Reject Transportation and Distribution Corridors
- Oct 8 Sacred Headwaters
- Oct 8 Oregon Communities Launch Statewide Network for Community Rights
- Sep 8 Bowling Green, OH Group Submits Bill of Rights Petition
- Sep 8 Judgment Day
- Sep 8 Judge Blocks Envision, SMAC Initiatives from Appearing on Ballot
- Sep 8 Why a Rights Based Ordinance In Nottingham, NH?
- Aug 8 What is the Local Food System Ordinance of Lane County?
- Aug 8 Lane County Initiative to Protect Local Farming Encounters Hurdle; Campaign Still Targeting May 2014 Election
- Aug 8 Benin: Local Knowledge And Adaptation To Climate Change In Ouémé Valley, Benin
- Aug 8 Local Food System Ordinance of Lane County, Oregon
- Jul 8 Envision Spokane Statement to Legal Action to Block the Community Bill of Rights from the Ballot
- Jul 8 Why does the Spokane City Council continue to ignore and distort the substance of the Spokane Community Bill of Rights?
- Jul 8 History of Efforts to Keep the Spokane Community Bill of Rights Initiative off the Ballot
- Jul 8 East Boulder County United Launches Campaign for the Lafayette Community Rights Act to Prohibit New Oil and Gas Extraction
- Jul 8 Benton County Community Group Files Petition for the Right to a Local, Sustainable Food System
- Jul 8 Rivers and Natural Ecosystems as Rights Bearing Subjects
- Jun 8 Caring for Home through Nature’s Rights
- Jun 8 From Field to Table: Rights for Workers in the Food Supply Chain
- Jun 8 Will Ohio Be Fracking’s Radioactive Dumping Ground?
- May 7 First County in U.S. Bans Fracking and all Hydrocarbon Extraction – Mora County, NM
- May 7 Self-Replication at Stake in Monsanto Patented Seed Case
- May 7 Guatemala: Mayan K’iché Environmental Sustainability As A Way Of Life
- May 7 Small Farms Fight Back: Food And Community Self-Governance
- May 7 State College Borough Gov Denies Pipeline Permit: Fight Isn’t Over
- May 7 Muzzling Scientists is an Assault on Democracy
- Apr 8 An Addition to the Climate Movement-Civil Disobedience Toolkit
- Apr 2 Thornton, New Hampshire Rejects Community Bill of Rights To Ban Land Acquisition for Unsustainable Energy Systems
- Apr 2 Grafton, New Hampshire Adopts Community Bill of Rights That Bans Land Acquisition for Unsustainable Energy Systems
- Apr 2 Highland Township Adopts Community Bill of Rights That Bans Toxic Injection Wells
- Apr 2 PSU Pipeline Violates Community Bill of Rights
- Jun 26 The United States Conference of Mayors Resolves that Corporations are not Natural Persons etc.
- Apr 30 Information and Documents concerning Oregon LNG
- Mar 9 1st Annual Read the Dirt Writing Competition!
- Feb 24 Oil Sands Pipelines, here?
- Feb 23 PRESS: Genetically Engineered Animals?
- Feb 23 PRESS: The 9th Annual Skagit Human Rights Festival March 2012
- Jan 27 Bellingham Rights-Based Ordinance Proposed to Stop Coal Trains
- Jan 26 PRESS: Occupy Seattle Joins in Solidarity with United Farm Workers
- Jan 20 Planning For a Future (Original)
- Jan 8 PRESS: Associated Students of Western Washington University Adopt Resolution Opposing Cherry Point Coal Terminal