A Community Rights Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

prepared for the Marion County Chapter of the Oregon Community Rights Network

What resources do you recommend for further study?

Why do you call it "community rights?"

What are the ultimate goals of Community Rights?

What do community rights activists do?

Why do you put so much emphasis on local self-governance?

What does local self-governance look like?

How does your work in Marion County affect laws in other counties?

Will your work jeopardize economic stability?

How does nature have rights when it can't speak?

How do you define "nature" "community" and "person?"

Where do you stand on corporate personhood?

Do you support "states' rights?"

Do you advocate for property rights?

What is your relationship to CELDF?

Don't we already live in a democratic republic?

The Purpose of the Constitution

The Process of the Constitutional Convention

The Outcome of the Constitutional Convention

Progress before and after the ratification of the US Constitution

Unfinished Work

Does opposing corporate personhood make you anti-corporation or anti-business?

Don't community rights weaken the ability of the government to protect civil rights?

Fear of Rights

Commercial Supremacy

Elevating Rights Protections

Securing Innovation

Why don't you just change the state and US Constitutions?

What's the difference between a right and a privilege?

How do court decisions affect community rights?

Aren't you just supporting more NIMBYism (NIMBY = Not In My Back Yard)?

Why don't you talk about responsibilities in addition to rights?

Why do you refer to community rights as a civil rights movement?

Why are rights inherent?

Why are rights inalienable?

What is a legitimate democratic government?

Ultimate Authority

Origin and Derivation of Power and Authority

Scope of Authority and Inherent Responsibility

How does our current legal system differ from one based in community rights (CR)?

What resources do you recommend for further study?

Please see our Resources page.  Links to other resources exist throughout this document.

Why do you call it "community rights?"

Historically, the community rights movement began because corporations use various legal tools to override the right to local self-government and violate the health, safety and welfare of entire communities – people and nature. We believe that the inherent and inalienable rights of communities to protect themselves remain sovereign to the legal privileges that corporations currently enjoy.

Lastly, this work to assert the rights of natural and human communities and persons occurs at the local, community level, because that is where we are currently the most likely to expand the rights protections needed for the common good of a community and its residents.  People must awaken to the fact that our rights are inherent rather than a privilege that the government gives us.

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What are the ultimate goals of Community Rights?

We believe the community rights movement exists to create a structure of law and government of the people, by the people and for the legal recognition and protection of the inherent and inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons.  Even though the work begins locally, it continues to the state and federal levels whereby those levels of government recognize, constitutionally, that the right of local self-government exists to protect the rights of communities and persons, not corporations. Colorado provides an example of how such a constitutional amendment would look like here in Oregon: http://celdf.org/downloads/CO_Const_Amend_%20FINAL_No_75_03_19_14.pdf

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What do community rights activists do?

In the broadest sense, community rights "activists" simply believe in and fight for the inherent, inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons.  Constitutions and Declarations are just pieces of paper stating the beliefs that people will fight for.  Just because something is legal doesn't make it right.  For example, it is legal for corporations to pollute, mine, exploit and destroy the earth's life support systems to the point that nothing remains for our children.  Is that right?

In this sense, community rights activists seek to

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Why do you put so much emphasis on local self-governance?

Decentralized government in the recognition of the inherent and inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons increases rights protections.

When we establish government primarily for the sake of rights protections, then local governments become the units of government closest to the people and therefore the most responsive and capable of protecting their rights.  As such, liberating local self-governance for the sake of rights protections strengthens those protections rather than undermining or removing them.  

Grassroots democracy creates subsidiarity, where communities retain the right and option of delegating the direct responsibility of rights protections to a higher (less local) level of government and rescinding that delegation as they please.  Higher levels of government retain the responsibility of protecting rights, and like their constituent persons, may never legally act directly or indirectly to violate another's rights.  As a result, the rights-based framework self-limits for the purpose of creating balanced protection of liberty.

Within this framework, local governments may create a federal system inherently respectful of and responsive to the diversity and needs of communities, while strengthening universal protections of the rights of natural and natural (individual) persons at the same time.  It comes at the cost of stripping corporations of their currently-unfettered access to natural, community and human resources, though.  As a result, corporate backlash is strong and corporations try to scare the people away from the pursuit of liberty.

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What does local self-governance look like?

That's something every community needs to determine itself, on its own terms.  Marion County Community Rights will convene a democratic Community Bill of Rights Convention to explore how the most fundamental structure of law for local self-governance might look.  

Thanks to subsidiarity, neighboring communities may delegate responsibilities and privileges to (and in doing so, create) a larger scale of government wherever they determine it is universally beneficial for them to do so.  That is, for example, how "service districts" come into existence.  We probably have most all the tools and experience we need to self-govern -- we just need a supportive frame of law that rightfully recognizes communities as the "parents" rather than the "children" of state governments.

That said, we are fortunate to have some wonderful local organizations explore the more practical dimensions of the question, such as Salem Leadership Foundation, Salem-Keizer NAACP #1166, Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality, Neighborhood Associations, Micronesian Islander Community, local cooperatives, and many others.

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How does your work in Marion County affect laws in other counties?

It doesn't affect neighboring counties directly, but probably does have an overall positive impact on the legal landscape.  When we recognize human rights as inherent and universal within the jurisdiction of our community, for example, then any human existing within our jurisdiction becomes legally subject to the protections they imply.  Indirectly, it puts "friendly competitive (and legal) pressure" on other communities to rise to the challenge of recognizing the inherent and inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons, especially where they violate those rights in other communities.

We believe that competition between communities to become more liberated, more just, more fair, more livable, and more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable is a good thing, and a change of pace and an about-face from our current "rat race to the bottom."

In addition, moving this work forward at the local level is a recognition that this is how we build the capacity to best effect the state and federal level changes needed and liberate communities to make their own decisions on the basis of protecting rights.

In other words, communities must assert their inherent right to local self-governance, one-by-one.  The adage is a simple one, “If we do it, then maybe someone else will do it, and then someone else will do it, and so on.”   That’s exactly what has happened here in Oregon. Benton County led the way for Lane County, which led the way for Josephine County and now Marion and a number of other counties in Oregon are following suit.

We cannot ironically "grant" the right of local self-governance to communities from above.  Doing so would reinforce the illegitimate top-down authority of the current system to deny us these rights protections, which is antithetical to the purpose of a legitimate democratic government.

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Will your work jeopardize economic stability?

Corporate domination already destroys stable local/regional economies and forces every kind of economic instability upon us. Reasserting human control and abolishing corporate control will improve every measure of human well-being, leading into a long-term economic stimulus that puts economic growth in line with ecological regeneration.

Consider that small, local-focused businesses have always been the largest source of employment.  The assertion of rights does not directly affect business activity, especially small business.  When corporate exploitation of individuals, communities and nature lessens, it will create room for more diverse, localized small business enterprises to take hold in ways that make them directly accountable to the communities they serve, increasing the long-term economic welfare, diversity and sustainability of communities.

How does nature have rights when it can't speak?

We already recognize the rights of persons who can't necessarily speak for or represent themselves (at present or ever) in a courtroom, such as children or an incapacitated adult (guardian ad litem). The inherent and inalienable rights of nature deserve recognition and protection for the same reasons and more, not in the least because nature comprises the life support systems we depend upon for our survival.

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How do you define "nature" "community" and "person?"

In the absence of human law, persons (living, breathing beings), communities (plants and animals in a particular ecosystem) and nature (collection of all the communities) all still exist.  Natural and human communities and persons all have an inherent physical presence and exist autonomously from and in collective sovereignty to human laws and legal governance. Contrast this with corporations, for example, that claim access to the rights of people, yet do not have an inherent physical presence, nor do they exist autonomously from the laws that create them.

Where do you stand on corporate personhood?

Slavery is the mistaken belief that people are property, and corporate personhood is the mistaken belief that property is people.  The Federal Government granted imaginary personhood to corporations (1886) before it acknowledged the real personhood of women (1920), a fact that alarms us greatly.

In Pennsylvania in 2013, Supreme Court Judge O'Dell-Seneca declared that "in the absence of state law, business entities are nothing." Corporations do not and never will exist autonomously from law, and so will never have inherent, inalienable rights of persons. "It is axiomatic," she asserted, "that corporations, companies, and partnerships have no 'spiritual nature,' 'feelings,' 'intellect,' 'beliefs,' 'thoughts,' 'emotions,' or 'sensations,' because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists...They cannot be 'let alone' by government, because businesses are but grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend, and prune at their pleasure and need."

We support Judge O'Dell-Seneca's stance on corporate personhood. It follows, then, that corporations have privileges, not rights -- including the privilege to exist and operate for a specific purpose.  The privilege to exist and operate rests contingent on a corporation's ability to avoid conflict with or violation of the inherent rights of natural and human communities and persons.

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Do you support "states' rights?"

No.  We don't advocate for something that does not and cannot exist.  States and all governments, as fictitious legal entities, have no inherent, inalienable rights or authorities. Instead, they have only responsibilities that persons and communities delegate to them. All legitimate democratic governments exist primarily to recognize and protect the inherent and inalienable rights of nature, persons and communities.

"States' Rights" is a strange concept that comes from monarchies and other colonial administrative governments, which derive all authority from the top of the hierarchy.  In the US, some white men used the idea as a tool against the centralization of power represented by the US Constitution.  In other words, they wanted "independence" from British Colonial Rule, not "liberty" at home and abroad.  In doing so, they reproduced the same error that caused the problem (the violation of the rights of persons, communities and nature) in the first place.  In other words, "States' Rights" advocates sought greater independence from colonial governments for themselves without wanting to recognize the inherent and inalienable rights of others, including black people and women.

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Do you advocate for property rights?

No. When corporations claim (and exercise) rights independent from people, then property becomes "the co-equal to its owners, the servant on par with its masters, the agent the peer of its principals, and the legal fabrication superior to the law that created and sustains it." [Justice O’Dell-Seneca] And so we currently have a national system of governance that grants property (and its owners) powers greater than the rights of the persons, communities and nature that create and sustain the property in the first place.  We believe this makes no sense and causes great harm.

All persons have inherent rights, not just owners of property. The concept of "property rights" chains "rights" and "liberty" to the "ownership of property," and has tended to work against, rather than for, the liberty and welfare of humans and nature. Property-based rights systems tend to support only the rights of property holders (such as slavers and land owners), and they have tended to treat other people as property under that system, in violation of their inherent and inalienable rights. Property in this manner should not be provided legal protection as a right but merely a privilege, and one that can never supersede the rights of natural and human persons and communities.

Today the system allows  "corporate property rights" to legally compete with and assert itself over persons, communities and nature itself. Not only is this willingness of the current structure of law and governance to protect corporate “rights” a complete perversion of who has rights and how those rights are to be protected and exercised, but also the outcome of such has become so dangerous that the planet itself is in systematic collapse because of it.

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What is your relationship to CELDF?

CELDF stands for the "Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund."  We welcome any support that they or other organizations offer communities who fight for the inherent and inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons.

Structurally, local groups have tended to coalesce as chapters of statewide community rights networks.  Both local chapters and statewide networks have sought and received CELDF support. In our experience, CELDF and its representatives have proven themselves as supportive and collaborative allies.

Nobody has all the answers, and the movement continues to learn as it develops.  Global Exchange, for example, promotes and supports the community rights movement in California.

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Don't we already live in a democratic republic?

No. The Framers of the US Constitution thought of it more as a "limited monarchy" based on English Common Law -- the very structure of law that American Revolutionaries fought to free themselves from in the first place.  

English Common Law in part creates top-down anti-democratic administrative hierarchies that declare the larger forms of government to be the sovereign administrative "parents" of the smaller, more local forms of government.  It also exists primarily to protect commerce in the service of profit, not inherent and inalienable rights in the service of liberty.  So we might more accurately call our government a "corporate republic," of big business, for the pursuit of commerce and profit, whereas the Community Rights movement envisions a democratic republic, of the people, for the pursuit of liberty and happiness.

There are a number of publications to read on this subject, such as

The land and people found themselves under the rule of English Common Law twice:  first, through British Colonial Rule and then a second time through the US Constitution.  The current US Constitution itself has a history of anti-democratic purpose, process and outcome, in that it exists to limit the power and capacity of the people to self-govern or even generally participate in governance.

The Purpose of the Constitution

"The people take it for granted that the framers of that document were imbued with the spirit of political equality and sought to establish a government by the people themselves. Widely as this view is entertained, it is, however, at variance with the facts." (J. Allen Smith)

The Framers created the US Constitution to "protect the opulent minority" (of wealthy property owners) against the "innovations" and "interests of the majority" (everyone else:  men, women, slaves, natives, and our communities and environments) to secure their power, wealth and social status.  They defined a "good government" as one that "gives the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government."

In this sense, they meant "federalism" to describe a strong central government capable of ruling its subjects (the states and local governments) like a "limited monarchy" rather than its more popular meaning as a democratic collective bound in mutual interest.  The resulting constitutional convention process began as a counter-revolution or coup against the much more democratic (though far from perfect) Articles of Confederation.  The strategic co-optation and nationalistic redefinition of the term "Federalism" on the part of the Framers forced the original federal or democratic republicans to accept the label of "Anti-Federalist" to explain their stance of the relative decentralization of powers.                  

All The subsequent debates occurred within this framework. In this sense, the advocates of liberty lost the constitutional debates before the debates even began.

The Process of the Constitutional Convention

The Framers operated their constitutional convention in secret, behind lock, key and armed guard.  They deliberately excluded anyone who was not a wealthy, slave- and property-owning white man trained in English Common Law.  In essence, they usurped the work of the American Revolution to  foist a self-serving structure of law on the common people who ironically fought -- and died -- for freedom from that same tyrannical structure of law.  Fearing that their discussion would reveal their ironic and narcissistic intentions (it did), sabotage their plans (probably) and jeopardize their safety (perhaps), the Framers then swore themselves and their constitutional discourse to the secrecy of their graves (fortunately, they kept good record of their outrageous discussion, and we now have unfettered, public access to those records).

The Outcome of the Constitutional Convention

The Framers created a "limited monarchy" of top-down, anti-democratic administration where a powerful central Government "grants" powers and privileges to the states, and the "states" in turn grant powers and privileges to local governments -- again, like the "limited monarchy" of their dreams.  Two and a half of the three branches of government were not democratically elected: Senators originally served by state legislative appointment until Amendment 17 to the constitution in 1913, to encourage state governments (rather than their people) to stay loyal to the federal government; Supreme Court judges still serve for life by appointment of the Commander in Chief, and the Commander in Chief serves by appointment of the Electoral College, which itself is a historical institution of monarchies (where kings ruled only with the consent of the ruling class).  

The only democratic aspect of the system was the House of Representatives, which the Framers "checked" against the other 2.5 branches of government marching in lock-step to secure the special privileges of the "opulent minority" against "social innovation," making Congress at best a marginal, irrelevant voice in our government, and at worst another vessel of the ruling class.

The US Constitution, like its English Common Law precedent, exists primarily for two purposes:

  1. To encourage, facilitate, protect and legitimize the exploitation of natural and human resources, and
  2. To confine, undermine, control and over-ride the democratic authority of the Legislature via Presidential veto and Supreme Court opinion.

The fundamental rights asserted in the Declaration of Independence are absent in the US Constitution. To the extent that the constitution represents any democratic republican values at all, we owe to the participatory dissent of the "Anti-Federalists" against the Federalist Framers' two-faced intentions:

"As for the Federalists’ high-toned rhetoric about liberty, it is remarkable how little language bearing on that subject is found in the original, pre-amendment text."[1]

Some historians (e.g., McDonald) argue cynically that the period immediately following the American Revolution represented a "golden age" of liberty that has steadily eroded over time.  A more accurate view might be as follows:

Progress before and after the ratification of the US Constitution

  1. The Articles of Confederation in the American Revolution, modeled in-part after Native American governments, greatly decentralized the power of governments to free the people from the tyranny of monarchies, but did little to stem socioeconomic exploitation.
  2. The Bill of Rights in 1792 -- The unveiling of the US Constitution to the ratifying states prompted much outrage. The Anti-Federalists threatened non-ratification of the US Constitution unless it included a Bill of Rights,[3] and began work to rewrite the constitution in a second, more democratic and transparent constitutional convention.  James Madison strategically authored the Bill of Rights to limit its authority (compared to an Anti-Federalist draft) and undermine the growing momentum toward a more transparent and democratic constitutional process.  His strategy seemed to work, and a limited Bill of Rights passed, which helped to diffuse the opposition to the US Constitution for a time.
  3. The Abolition of Slavery in 1865 -- The US Constitution required all states to return slaves to their owners, but communities and states across the US and internationally increasingly opposed such mandates with outright bans on or incremental "phasing out" of slavery, leading to the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution.
  4. Women's Suffrage in 1920 -- activists fought for women's right to vote, culminating in the 19th Amendment.
  5. Civil Rights -- the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Fair Housing Act of 1968 collectively banned discrimination in employment practices, public accommodations;  recognized voting rights; and banned discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of housing.
  6. Present day -- Gender and sexual minorities; Undocumented and migrant workers; the people and communities of US Colonial territories such as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam; representatives of animals and nature all fight for their liberty and inherent rights and against the alleged "rights" of corporations and governments that give such “fictitious entities” legal privileges and protections above those afforded to persons, communities and nature.

Unfinished Work

A common theme of the aforementioned historical movements:  Activists from each identified unjust laws and set about neutralizing them.  Under their current legal system, both the work they did as well as the results they sought were illegal.

Abolitionists, suffragists and other rights activists worked outside of the limiting frame of (and quite simply broke) existing law where necessary, until the law evolved to recognize the rights they had demanded and asserted.  Their work, and the Work of the American Revolution, however, remains unfinished.  We still must achieve recognition of the inherent rights of natural and human communities and persons, and we must work to assert and protect legally-recognized rights locally in our communities to flip the colonial US legal system on its head and turn our country into a real democratic republic.  Local chapters of the Community Rights movement help gather momentum toward finishing this work through the legal recognition of inherent and inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons, ensuring their practical implementation on local levels to force the higher levels of government to acquiesce to, recognize and protect local rights elevation.  In doing so, community rights creates a system of governance more responsive to future struggles for liberty and justice.

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Does opposing corporate personhood make you anti-corporation or anti-business?

No.  We welcome corporate commerce wherever it respects the inherent and inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons.  In the words of Mari Margil of CELDF:  "We're not anti-corporate.  We are against the structure of law that gives corporations the right to override community decision-making."  Communities have the inherent and inalienable right to self-determine the nature of their economies and food systems, for example.

The current constitution makes liberty dependent on commercial activity, which makes commerce more powerful than liberty itself.  The framers and other apologists claim that "what's good for commerce is good for the people."[4]  In practice, unbridled commerce -- when sovereign to liberty -- destroys people, communities and ecosystems.  It depletes resources, leaving little or none for future generations.  It leads to wars -- all in the name of a privileged minority's acquisition of material wealth.  Without liberty, there can be no commerce -- only corporate oppression and colonization.  

We insist that "what's good for commerce must be good for people, communities and nature."   Liberty and common welfare must prevail wherever commerce provokes conflict.  There can be no compromise here -- our future depends on it, and our systems of law and governance must recognize this fact.

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Don't community rights weaken the ability of the government to protect civil rights?

No. Community Rights work strengthens and protects existing social gains. The Colorado Constitutional Amendment provides an example of how this works. Community Rights Portland explains the movement as demanding that "local government be able to expand rights, not restrict rights. In other words, the role of federal and state government should be to provide a floor but not a ceiling with regard to rights."[5]

Community Rights refocuses the government and makes it more democratically accountable as a tool of liberty and justice. All community rights work strengthens rights protections at every level of government.  In some cases, social gains duplicate at the lower levels of government wherever the people see fit to do so.  In all cases, lower levels strengthen rights protections beyond those of the federal government, with the eventual goal of driving more comprehensive rights protections for natural and human communities and persons into law at the higher levels.

This is a complex issue -- we discuss some of the internal and structural aspects, below: Fear of Rights, Commercial Supremacy, Elevating Rights Protects, and Securing Innovation.

Fear of Rights

Those who fear the recognition of the inherent and inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons in law through grassroots democracy have historical precedent in the similar arguments that others made against women's suffrage and the abolition of slavery -- that these transformations, particularly granting women and people of color equality under law, would somehow undo the progress of the nation or throw it into chaos.  That argument, at its core, has two premises:

  1. The federal government will necessarily comprise of smarter, wiser people leading the government to act in a manner somehow ethically superior to that of local communities.
  2. There exists a justifiably ethical or moral rationale behind the historical disenfranchisement and marginalization of groups in violation of their inherent and inalienable rights.

These two premises have their common origin in and purpose of justifying illegitimate authoritarian regimes, such as monarchies -- namely, by arguing that all decisions the ruler makes, one way or another, are just and wise.  This justification activity has split into two different camps in our society, creating a false sense of conflict between liberals and conservatives that justifies the status quo and distracts us from the real issues of corporatist and government infringement on civil liberties and violation of inherent and inalienable rights as we work for democratic progress.                 

The question of progress vs regression often appears linking local self-governance with oppression. For example, "Won't local self-governance give local communities the authority to become socially regressive and oppress the minorities that live within their jurisdiction?" This question indicates a vestigial mode of thinking left over from life under a monarchy, a form of internalized oppression we must shed in order to enact the true spirit of a democratic republic. Let's look at the issues of minorities, oppression and regression more closely:

  1. How do we define "minority," and why do we use the term?
  1. We uncritically adopted the language that the ruling elite used to describe themselves, the "opulent minority" -- a population that suffered few if any oppressions, but feared the democratic authority of everyone else in society.
  2. Women suffered (and in many cases still suffer) immense oppressions, yet constitute half the population even excluding the immense support they receive from male allies, so we can't mean a numerical, mathematical minority.
  3. Similarly, consider Harriet Tubman's quote, "I freed a thousand slaves and would have freed a thousand more had they realized they were slaves." So nor is it a simple issue of "black vs white," as many abolitionists were white.                 
  4. It isn't a question of mathematical numbers and artificial dichotomies, but whether our society values the perennial struggle for liberation, wherever and however it occurs. Most people in our society do, but our current structure of law and government does not, because it was designed by the ruling elite who feared liberty amongst the majority.
  1. Oppressed peoples were oppressed by previous colonial forms of government for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Through community rights, they gain access to legal tools to change their predicament in much more efficient and effective ways, while creating precedent for federal recognition of liberatory struggles. Communities with a regressive tendency have no precedent from any community rights work to enact regressive laws that violate the inherent rights of natural and human communities and persons, and will become more vulnerable to legal and political opposition for doing so.
  2. Community rights work focuses on empowering local communities to protect their health, safety and welfare by closing regressive loopholes at state and federal levels that are enforced through pre-emption (itself a vestige of colonial administrative governance). Again, the Colorado Amendment provides a concise and graceful example of how this legal form of empowerment works. Local governments can become responsive leaders of liberty and justice without fearing pre-emption, except in cases where local lawmaking regressively violates existing state- or federally-recognized rights of natural and human communities and persons (e.g., the right to vote or the right to free speech). In other words, we get the best of both worlds: local control and freedom without fear of social regression.

It frustrates us that the same people who ask this question often celebrate federal interventionism while ignoring the true, grassroots heroes of democracy. For example, we regularly hear liberals praise "federal intervention" in Arkansas while ignoring the immense courage and leadership of the Little Rock Six and the communities that supported them. Likewise, we don't see the federal government taking any leadership on gay marriage, today, yet local governments are still subject to federal pre-emption even as they do lead on this issue.                                   

When we recognize that rights are inherent and inalienable, then we can march more quickly on the long road ahead of us to achieve the democratic republic we envisioned in our Declaration of Independence.

Commercial Supremacy

The constitutionality of landmark civil rights arguments exist in a framework of commercial supremacy, where noncommercial interests (i.e., people, communities and nature) are either don't merit consideration, or they exist as passive objects, subservient to and dependent on commercial (including corporate) interests and related government regulation.  The current constitutional framework of our society simply does not directly prioritize any consideration for the inherent, inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons.  Community rights work changes that by creating legal frameworks that give inherent, inalienable rights the priority consideration that they deserve.

Past civil rights gains have depended on the Commerce Clause for their constitutionality and enforceability, because the current US Constitution does not recognize, nor does it grant authority to protect, inherent and inalienable rights separately from commerce.  For example, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) supporters have stated concerns about the viability of the civil rights-based law[6] due to its dependence on the recently-limited Commerce Clause as the source of constitutional authority to enforce civil rights laws in the wake of United States v. Lopez.[7]  Two years later, United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598 (2000) struck down the civil rights remedy of VAWA because it "exceeded Congressional authority."  Supporters of the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act have expressed similar concerns about the viability of environmental protection laws.[8]  The constitutional dependence of civil rights interests on commercial interests has a longstanding history.  

A few examples:

Since most considerations of rights and liberties -- whether civil or natural -- exist completely dependent on commercial activity, commercial interests prevail wherever they conflict with inherent and inalienable rights. Commercial supremacy creates artificial conflict between people who support limitations to the regulatory authority of government and those who seek to advance the causes of civil and environmental protections.  Commerce-dependent victories expand or simply reinforce the power of the federal government and corporations to violate rather than protect inherent, inalienable rights in other ways by reinforcing the constitutional system of commercial supremacy that treats natural and human communities and persons like corporate property and profit, subject to nearly-unfettered corporate exploitation and authoritarian rule in the pursuit of profit.[9]

This system finds its footing in the combination of corporate personhood and corporate "civil rights" protections against accountability; nearly-unfettered access to vast legal, political, financial, human and natural resources; a legal system that values commerce above all else; and an authoritarian hierarchy that structurally forbids persons, communities and nature from defending their inherent, inalienable rights against competing commercial interests.  Authoritarian nationalism embodies tyranny, relies on oppression and creates de facto disenfranchisement as politicians become a part of the system they were elected to change.  An authoritarian regime cannot "declare" its subjects liberated without dissolving itself in the process, nor can it recognize the inherent and inalienable character of rights without threatening its own legal authority.  Until we succeed in fundamentally changing our society's structures of law and government, the recognition and enforcement of rights will remain dependent on federal whims and commercial interest.

Societal progress recognizing the inherent and inalienable rights of persons has created a condition where the framework of the current system simply cannot gracefully accommodate demands for the protection of inherent and inalienable rights.  Government has a growing mandate to uphold civil rights and liberties, but few tools for doing so that are not tied to its original, problematic scope of authority (commerce, taxation, land, and defense).  Thus, there currently exists no way to expand constitutional protections for persons, communities and nature without also expanding the authority of governments and corporations to violate inherent and inalienable rights with impunity.   By tying civil rights to commerce, we make civil rights subservient to commercial interests, and have bumped against the limits of how far this framework can take us in creating a liberating society.

Even as we use the commerce clause to enforce and uphold civil rights laws, commerce may legally violate the inherent and inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons if exercising and asserting those rights interferes with commerce in any practical or even theoretical way. Likewise, corporations, through corporate personhood, have used the civil rights laws more than real persons have, to protect their operations from accountability -- including the violation of real persons' civil rights! [need #s comparing corporate use to human use of laws]

As a result, our current legal system -- in practice and theory, and from top to bottom -- grants rights and legal privileges to corporations and economic transactions above the inherent and inalienable rights of persons, communities and nature itself. In effect, it turns persons into corporate property and "potential profit" -- a frame of law that remains logically, morally and ethically indefensible and ultimately economically and ecologically unsustainable.

Elevating Rights Protections

Corporations, e.g., through organized efforts such as ALEC, have used the constitutional authority of the federal government to expand their power over persons, communities and nature, from the top-down -- most recently at the local level, with the ACCE.  In contrast, the community rights movement seeks to permanently and decisively assert and elevate the inherent and inalienable rights of persons, communities and nature while refocusing the authority of governments from regulating commerce to recognizing and protecting the rights and liberties of natural and human communities and persons independently of commercial interests.  Such a shift starts locally, values prosperity as a complex, highly-individual pursuit, and protects prosperity by putting liberty above profit wherever the two conflict.

The community rights movement empowers local communities to fight for their inherent right to local self-governance for the purpose of protecting their health, safety and welfare, outside of and against this top-down system of administrative and corporate trespass.  Our work lays the foundation for a rights-based framework of law and government at every level of society.

The work of community rights transforms law so that all levels of government recognize and protect the inherent, inalienable rights of persons, communities, and nature. Following this work through to the higher levels from the local will strengthen, clarify, and bound what the higher levels of government and corporations can or can’t do. The right to local self-government, the people, becomes the ultimate check on corporations and the higher levels of government.

Securing Innovation

The outcomes of the community rights movement can empower social progress and yet minimize social conflict, for several reasons:

        1. Communities as laboratories:  Innovation occurs at a local level, first (consider the results of Rosa Parks' courage, for example).  Innovators who exist and operate within a framework of law that recognizes their inherent rights will have more freedom from the fetters of the current top-down governance system to innovate.  Likewise, local innovation serves the greater good:  Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote in 1932 "that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country." In a decentralized system recognizing the inherent rights of natural and human communities and persons, ideas can be tried at the local level, where learning occurs, ideas are improved and then may begin to diffuse throughout the rest of the country.  The community rights movement's organizing structure follows this principle to build "best practices" approaches.

        2. Creating options and opportunities:  By decentralizing power through the recognition of rights inherent in natural and human communities and persons, we gain the freedom to choose solutions that best fit our diverse circumstances         as well as greater ability to affect positive, rights-elevating changes at all levels of government.  The US is a geographically, culturally, and historically diverse nation, and therefore contains a wide range of diverse preferences.  The diversity of preference view says that even in the long run, policies will differ across jurisdictions because people have different preferences, and the more diverse a society is, the more decentralized and smaller scale its institutions should be.  The major limitation is that no solution, no matter how diverse, can legally violate the inherent and inalienable rights of another.

        3. Competition for innovation:  Through existing diversities of preference, we create options for individuals and "friendly competition" amongst communities to most effectively recognize and protect the inherent rights of natural and human communities and persons.  For example, couples or religious minorities may move and devote their resources to more supportive communities who accept and protect their inherent rights as persons.

        4. Inherent subsidiarity:  The recognition of inherent and inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons encourages subsidiarity, which is a democratic structure of government where people come together at the smaller scale to create a larger scale solution to shared problems when it is collectively beneficial to do so.  In a community rights-based system, the state and federal governments serve as "ratchets" that retain and synthesize locally-fought struggles for justice and liberty to make them more permanent and universal while limiting the potential for regressive backsliding.

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Why don't you just change the state and US Constitutions?

Practically speaking, easier said than done.  Ethically speaking, it would be ironic at best for us to attempt to assert inherent and inalienable rights from the top-down.  Strategically speaking, direct work at the state and federal level amounts to us merely "asking" for change.  If we "ask" for rights, we will at best receive privileges instead, so we must assert rather than ask for our inherent and inalienable rights.  Our actions must coincide with the structure of law and governance that we seek.

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What's the difference between a right and a privilege?

When something from above "gives" us protections, these are, structurally-speaking, privileges, not rights.  Privileges can be given and privileges can be taken, and possessors of the authority to give privilege also have the authority to take privilege away.  Life, for example, is a privilege, because it can be given and taken.  Rights do not equal privileges, because we cannot give, take away, receive, create or destroy rights -- they are inalienable.  But we can violate the inherent, inalienable rights of others.  When violations of inherent rights occur, we have an ethical responsibility to defend and reassert the violated rights, because the arbitrary or universal violation of anyone's inherent rights jeopardizes the rights and liberties of everyone.

Hypothetically-speaking, let's say that CELDF sues the US and that case somehow wins.  The Supreme Court would be mandating, in effect, the dissolution and nullification of the authority behind its very mandate.  That makes no sense.  Hypothetically-speaking, let's say that CELDF somehow manages to gain federal legal recognition of the "inherent rights of nature, communities, and persons" through constitutional amendment.  Would the federal government then ironically mandate that local communities obey this new law, further legitimizing the very centralization of power and authority from which communities seek to free themselves?

In other words, the community rights strategy must consist of a process in alignment with its intended structural results.  If the structural results include democracy, then "efficient" top-down processes will not work strategically.  As a result, CELDF only works with the communities and state coalitions who ask for support in protecting their health, safety and welfare.

We must explore what grassroots democratic self-governance looks like in practice.  It takes time to build the capacities of people and communities across the globe.  The more highly developed local capacities for self-governance become, the more local communities will assert and demand the recognition of the inherent rights of natural and human communities and persons.

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How do court decisions affect community rights?

When court decisions recognize the inherent rights of nature, communities, and persons, we celebrate.  When they violate the inherent rights of natural and human communities and persons, we work to change the core and fundamental underlying structures of law that create or legitimize the violation.  In order to understand and identify those violations and gather democratic support, we must first define and democratically assert the related rights in our respective communities.

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Aren't you just supporting more NIMBYism (NIMBY = Not In My Back Yard)?

No.  Community rights will require that we find universal solutions to the problems we face, because it gives everyone the equal right to reject an imposition that negatively impacts the health, safety and welfare of their community or violates inherent and inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons in other ways.

Community rights work has evolved beyond communities rejecting corporate harms to advocating for the viable, resilient needs of their communities (e.g., localizing healthy food or sustainable energy systems).  For instance, some communities in New Hampshire exercised their right to reject harmful corporate energy projects, and at the same time advocate for localizing energy production for the sake of the communities' viability and resilience.  Those same New England communities often say to these destructive proposals (industrial wind, private commerce highways, corporate water withdrawal), "Not in Our Backyard, Not in Anybodies' Backyard," a call of solidarity and a far cry from "Not in My Backyard."

NIMBYism currently remains a tool only available to a privileged few who have the political, financial and human resources to outsource or externalize the negative affects of their lifestyle to other, less-privileged communities.  For example, we produce waste, but most of us don't want a landfill in our backyard.  We consume natural gas, but don't want our water to be flammable thanks to upstream fracking.  We use electricity, but don't want lung cancer, nuclear fallout or polluted streams.  We eat food but don't want to live near a factory farm.          

Currently, only extremely wealthy or powerful entities have the capacity to say "no" to these things, yet they are universal desires. When all communities have the same power to reject harmful impositions, we will find new, universal "win-win-win" solutions that respect the inherent and inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons equally, and that do not violate any of those rights anywhere. Community Rights becomes a tool and framework for communities to act in solidarity and to take a collective look at politically- and environmentally-sustainable solutions that meet our core needs without violating the rights of others. It encourages innovation by allowing democratic, grassroots rejection of unsustainable or oppressive solutions.

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Why don't you talk about responsibilities in addition to rights?

We do, all the time, actually (in several other locations in this very document, for example!).  Rights-bearing natural entities have a responsibility to assert rights, and legitimate governments have an inherent responsibility to protect rights.  

Many responsibilities derive from rights, and vice-versa.  We must first recognize, define and assert our rights.  After that, we can discuss responsibilities pursuant to those rights.  For example, we all have the right to access clean water.  Ethically-speaking, I have a responsibility to use the water resource I have a right to access in a way that leaves it available for everyone else to access.  If I use up or pollute all the water, then it denies other people the same right.  Therefore, what I'm doing to spoil the water supply is inherently illegal in our rights-based frame of law, and in alignment with our ethical responsibilities.

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Why do you refer to community rights as a civil rights movement?

Historically, civil rights movements have worked to allow a greater diversity of persons more inclusive access to legal rights of persons in a society.  Corporations have hijacked this trend and begun to assert their "civil rights" as fictitious "persons" to facilitate the exploitation of natural and human communities and persons during their pursuit of profit.

In addition, there are still many categories of persons and places who remain arbitrarily excluded from equal protections under the law in recognition of their inherent rights.  Thus, we have a situation where many have their inherent rights denied or violated -- even to the point of being legally defined as property existing for the purpose of commerce -- by governments and corporations.

We stand in solidarity of all persons, places and nature seeking recognition of their inherent rights under the law, and we also work to right the wrongs of corporate personhood embedded deep into federal and state law and many of our psyches.  Power is inherent in the people!

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Why are rights inherent?

As Thomas Berry observed, "rights originate where existence originates."  Thus, the only way to "take away" rights is to eliminate the existence of all rights-bearing entities (e.g., all mountains, all forests, all people).                  

Natural entities (including humans) exist autonomously from our system of law, and therefore have inherent rights transcendent to that system of law. The law, in turn, has a responsibility to recognize and protect those rights, otherwise it may serve to destroy rather than protect the existence of such natural entities, such as human and natural communities and persons.

Similarly, any legal fictions arising from our system of law have rights based in and defined by that system of law, subservient to the rights of the natural entities who created them. Other rights derive from inherent, inalienable rights. For example, we have an inherent right to self-defense, which manifests in part as legal rights to both public safety and privacy.

Why are rights inalienable?

Because they are inherent characteristics of the rights holder.  For example, a tree has a right to clean water, clear sunlight, healthy soil and other habitat.  When it can no longer access those things, it stops being a tree -- it dies and becomes other things in the process.  People have an inherent right to clean air and water, and we have a responsibility to access them in a way that does not violate that right (e.g., by polluting the air or water, or using it all up until there is none left).

Rights cannot be created or destroyed independent of the rights holder.  They cannot be given to or taken from the rights holder.  They simply exist inherent to the rights holder as a part of their being.

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What is a legitimate democratic government?

There are a few main points contributing to the democratic legitimacy of a government:  Who has ultimate authority (and how), where authority comes from, and the purpose and scope of the government itself.

Ultimate Authority

Every institution exists under the final, democratic authority the people within its jurisdiction at every level of government (whether neighborhood, city, county, state, regional, national or international).  Most of the time, this means that the people retain the right to direct, democratic recourse when governing institutions or the people in them fail in their duties to protect the inherent rights of natural and human communities and persons.  Examples of this include recalls, referendums, and ballot initiative processes.

Respecting this quality of legitimate governments in practice requires considering more details about the scope of democratic governance privileges the people wish to give themselves in recognition of their right to democratic self-governance, which are complex discussions that exist at every level of governance.  For example, the people in one jurisdiction might decide that they have the right to recall all elected officials at once or to force the reformation of an entire institution (however rarely the population may exercise the right).  A neighboring jurisdiction may have a more limited vision of democratic self-governance.  In order to combine at the next level, both jurisdictions must work through the differences they hold.

Origin and Derivation of Power and Authority

A legitimate democratic government recognizes that power is inherent in the people, and thus the power to govern not only requires the consent of the governed, it derives from that consent, from the bottom up.  That means that local communities and their constituents retain democratic control of the larger-scale governing bodies of which they are a part.  In other words, the state derives its authority to govern from the democratic consent of constituent counties, cities/towns, neighborhoods and most directly from the final authority of the constituent natural and human communities and persons themselves wherever they conflict.

This still allows for division of labor between levels of government, but ensures that large, powerful entities such as states remain accountable to the inherent democratic authority of the communities and people they serve.

In practice, there are a lot of details that local and regional institutions need to work through, most of which involve the question, "What does the consent of the governed look like?" at various levels, at various times in various places.

Scope of Authority and Inherent Responsibility

The government exists within the scope of serving rights-bearing entities (persons, communities and nature), in part by protecting and enhancing said inherent, inalienable rights.  Correspondingly, the government's arbitrary violation of those rights anywhere inside or outside its jurisdiction renders the government illegitimate.  Similarly, a government becomes illegitimate when it allows other (including non-government) entities to violate the inherent, inalienable rights of natural and human communities and persons.

Again, practical application exposes many more complexities.  For example, governments (and, implicitly, the people) probably have an ethical duty to protect the inherent and inalienable rights of entities first and foremost within their jurisdiction, and also within neighboring jurisdictions.  This probably means replacing replacing the punitive justice system with a restorative justice frame. Punitive justice systems depend on authoritarian regimes to mete out punishment, whereas in restorative justice frameworks the government or community facilitates restoration and reconciliation on behalf of the harmed parties. The restorative frame focuses mainly on incidents or issues concerning the violation of rights within and between communities, rather than concerning itself with incidental behaviors that happen to violate the self-imbued authority of the state (e.g., drug use).

There are probably others, but this can start the discussion.

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How does our current legal system differ from one based in community rights (CR)?

Another excellent question that we need to explore in greater detail on conceptual and practical levels. Here's a start:

A CR legal system maintains a more just relationship between local, state and federal levels of government, where the different levels of government provide active checks and balances against one-another. For example, the federal government may legally pre-empt and regulate localities who violate the federal civil rights protections of their citizens, e.g., through voter suppression. At the same time, local governments have the freedom to enhance civil liberties beyond those protected by the higher levels without fear of pre-emption from regressive federal laws, e.g., through legalizing marijuana.

A CR legal system recognizes that its existence originates from, and therefore remains subservient to, the existence of natural and human communities and persons. As a result, all lawmaking at any level of government must ultimately stand up to the question of whether it enforces, expands or violates rights protections of natural and human communities and persons. This shifts the primary focus of government away from regulating commerce and toward recognizing and protecting rights, and makes the rights of human and natural communities and persons sovereign to and independent from commerce and the regulation of commercial activity.

In a CR legal system, the inherent balances of rights between natural and human communities and persons provides a built-in check on the rule of law. This inherent balance occurs in the context of a single right or between different rights. For example, one community's or person's inherent right to clean drinking water shall not violate another community's or person's inherent right to clean drinking water. Likewise, both communities' right to drinking water shall not violate the rights of freshwater fish to exist and flourish. Similarly, deer hunters' right to food shall not violate the right of deer to exist and flourish.

Ultimately, CRB legal systems benefit from increased responsiveness to the will of the people to solve important problems, while preserving important checks that prevent democratic regression.

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[1] Stromberg, 1999, from http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/print.aspx?article=1262

[2] ref. Shays, Whiskey and Fries Rebellions

[3] ref. the Massachusetts Compromise

[4] e.g., http://www.mmisi.org/pr/21_01/stevens.pdf, quoting Leo Strauss from Locke that the unbridled acquisition of material wealth "does not require the spilling of any blood."

[5] from The Slippery Slope: What's to prevent certain municipalities from stripping people of hard-won federal rights? http://communityrightspdx.org/portland-bill-of-rights-2/f-a-q/, accessed May 2014

[6] The text of the clause recognized the "right to be free from crimes of violence: All persons within the United States shall have the right to be free from crimes of violence motivated by gender."

[7] ref. Lisanne Newell Leasure, "Commerce Clause Challenges Spawned by United States v. Lopez are Doing Violence to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): A Survey Of Cases and the Ongoing Debate Over How the VAWA Will Fare in the Wake of Lopez " in Maine Law Review, volume 50, 1998.

[8] ref. Lori J. Warner, "The Potential Impact of United States V. Lopez on Environmental Regulation " in Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum , volume 7, 1997.

[9] For example, Wickard v. Filburn 317 U.S. 111 (1942) ruled that the Commerce Clause power extended to regulating non-commercial activities because they indirectly impact commercial activities. Nearly every human activity affects interstate commerce under this ruling. Similarly, Gonzalez v. Raich 545 U.S. 1 (2005) ruled that Commerce Clause allows the federal government to prosecute someone growing marijuana at home for use as medicinal Marijuana under state medical marijuana law. An environmental organization filed an amicus brief supporting the prosecution under the belief that it would positively impact environmental regulations. Justice Thomas wrote a fiery dissent, saying "If the majority is to be taken seriously, the Federal Government may now regulate quilting bees, clothes drives, and potluck suppers throughout the 50 States..."