April 14 – Community Conversation about the Community Bill of Rights
(From Javan Briggs)
On Sunday, April 14 at 2:30 p.m. at Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe, get to know your neighbors and your rights! Join State College residents in a community conversation about our Community Bill of Rights . We will be joined by guest speaker, Chad Nicholson of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) which assisted residents in writing our Bill of Rights that passed in 2011 with a 72% supermajority of voters.
Together, we will explore how our community rights provide the groundwork for addressing a current threat to our safety and sustainable future: a plan by Penn State and Columbia Gas to install a large, high-pressure pipeline through our borough. Everyone is welcome.
Blog Editor’s Note:
I first joined forces with CELDF in 2007 when I lived in New Jersey and was beginning to work in a focused way on sustainability and post-carbon community planning. When I attempted to persuade local leaders to consider converting a historic convent and its grounds into a community gardening and education center, I quickly learned about corporate privileges, corporate influence in national politics, corporate control of state legislatures and corporate dominance of local decision-making systems. I learned how the web of regulatory and legislative bindings make it virtually impossible for community members – however passionate and well-organized they are – to make important decisions about their own communities’ futures. The stakes for that paralysis are getting higher as the effects of economic contraction, fossil fuel depletion and climate change intensify.
In 2007, looking for a way to break free of the regulatory system to stop the planned demolition and rebuilding at the Villa Maria site, I formed a community organization (North Plainfield Citizens for Community Rights) and we reached out to CELDF organizers for help drafting a community rights ordinance. We attempted to place the measure on the municipal ballot for an “initiative and referendum” vote, under applicable New Jersey laws, and were stopped before the ballots were printed, by the Borough Solicitor, on behalf of the Borough Council. I pursued the issue in Superior Court, representing myself, with some assistance from CELDF. After the judge sided with the solicitor, against the petitioning residents, and even after our family moved to State College – coming back to our college town as PSU alumni seeking a more sustainable community – I continued working with CELDF, attending democracy trainings and working as a freelance paralegal to help CELDF with other legal cases brought by other municipalities in other districts.
The work was exciting and emotionally-draining, as civil rights movements always are. Eventually, I decided to invest more time in other community resilience-building strategies – Transition Town State College and later Spring Creek Homesteading Fund.
I remain strongly supportive of CELDF’s important work shedding light on and helping communities challenge current unjust laws and judicial precedents that hamstring people attempting to create strong local systems to provide for their own food, energy and other basic needs. After almost two decades in the trenches, the primary political tool they’ve developed is the Community Bill of Rights, a template for an increasing number of acts of municipal civil disobedience being committed by and for communities all over the country.
I supported Braden Crooks, Groundswell and the State College Community Bill of Rights during the campaign in 2011 and was among the 2,007 local voters who voted “Yes” for the charter amendment on November 8, 2011. I plan to continue supporting our local Bill of Rights and its promise and protection for genuine local self-governance, and I encourage others to learn more about CELDF’s history, the history of social justice movements, and how our local efforts – including our Community Bill of Rights – fit into the global sustainability movement.
-Katherine Watt, Philosophy ’96