About the Ohio Community Rights Network

Every Ohioan retains an unalienable right to participate in community local self-government in the place where they live. But every citizen of Ohio is denied the full enjoyment of that right, and many are denied it completely.

State laws that deny the authority of community governments to protect their health, safety, welfare, and quality of life violate fundamental rights. State laws that exempt agribusiness and fracking corporations from being governed locally, place the privileges of wealth and property over the democratic rights of citizens to determine the future of their own communities. Local officials regularly confess to their constituents that they wish they could do more, but their “hands are tied” by state preemptive law. These officials are told that if they honor their oaths to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community, they will be breaking state law.

The first communities in Ohio – Yellow Springs, Broadview Heights, Waterville, Oberlin and Athens – have adopted Community Rights Amendments/Ordinances which ban fracking and injection wells. These local laws passed by the people of these communities, not only prohibit specific activities that will cause harm to the community, but they also challenge state preemption and corporate powers by codifying our rights to local self-governance, to clean air and water, and the rights of nature – and removing corporate privileges and state authorities when they violate those rights.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for! On November 16, 2013, citizens from 11 counties in Ohio gathered in Columbus to form the Ohio Community Rights Network (OHCRN), a project supported by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). At the convention, attendees signed the Columbus Declaration resolving to form a network of people committed to securing for all Ohioans the right to local, community self government through the formation of county chapters.

Background

The current structure of law in Ohio systematically strips communities of their power to adopt laws to safeguard their own health and safety. When communities recognize the inherent danger in some commercial and industrial activities, they find that these activities are protected by state law, while their authority to protect themselves has been stripped by the state legislature.

 

This system thus prohibits communities from banning projects and activities they consider dangerous and harmful, including “hydro-fracking” for natural gas, the depositing of waste from drilling into injection wells, building infrastructure for transporting fossil fuels such as pipelines, water withdrawals for the “fracking” process, corporate factory farms, the land dumping of sewage sludge, and others.

Ohio communities have learned that not only is there no remedy under our current structure of law, but that a corporate minority, in partnership with the state, has control over our communities on almost any issue that really matters to us.

The communities comprising the Ohio Community Rights Network (OHCRN) recognize this system for what it is: illegitimate. We recognize that no state legislature or court is going to provide a remedy for the harms we face. In November 2013, we gathered together to form a people’s statewide network – a democratic, statewide organization focused on educating Ohio communities about their fundamental and inalienable rights to local, democratic, community self-government.

OHCRN formed as a response to the needs of Ohio communities engaged in the rights-based, grassroots organizing work of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). CELDF’s work began in 1995 in rural Pennsylvania. Today they are working in communities across the country to assert their civil and political rights to local self-governance and the Rights of Nature. OHCRN, CELDF, and seven other statewide Networks are partnering to advance these rights for all people and communities.

Stuck in the Box

 

Our current structure of law ensures that people are blocked from advancing their rights, governing their own communities and protecting the environment by upholding "corporate rights" over people and Nature. 

The "Box of Allowable Activism" depicts the 4 barriers that prevent people from enacting laws that serve the community and protect Nature. See the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund for more information. 

What Are Community Rights?

The Community Rights Movement empowers local communities to be decision-makers. Community Rights recognize, secure, and protect the rights of all those living within a community. Unjust laws and legal structures revoke our democratic right, bolster claimed "corporate rights", and prevent residents from saying 'no' to harmful permits and projects that threaten their access and right to a healthy environment and clean climate.  

 

Community Rights include:

  • environmental rights, such as the right to clean air, pure water, and healthy soil;

  • worker rights, such as the right to living wages and equal pay for equal work;

  • Rights of Nature, such as the right of ecosystems to flourish and evolve;

  • democratic rights, such as the right of local community self-government, and the right to free and fair elections.

The System is Fixed. We Need to Break It. 

Our network is comprised of communities working to advance local self-governance in order to uphold their democratic rights in their communities. We support a systems approach. Rather than expend energy, time, and resources on tackling single-issues - fossil fuel infrastructure, factory farming, water privatization - we realize that our structure of law is set up to deny residents the right to decide on what burdens are imposed on them. The issues may vary - but the system is fixed across the board. 

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