125 Cities Passed Laws Placing Rights of Citizens, Nature Ahead of Corporations

Despite the ongoing trend towards granting corporate entities more rights and influence (hello, Citizens United), a number of cities and townships across the nation have stubbornly forged a legal resistance. Over 125 cities have passed laws that explicitly put the rights of citizens — and the protection of local ecosystems — above corporations. Such laws may seem at first glance to consist mostly of hippie-ish semantics, but they’re anything but: these laws and ordinances have proved to be a powerful tool in banning corporations from dumping toxic waste in public grounds, extracting water for bottling from public reserves, building factory farms, and so forth.

By disregarding the eminent status often granted to corporate operations, these towns are able to deliberate and make decisions and policies that truly reflect the best interests of its citizens. It’s a move towards the restoration of the powers of local government, and a reclamation of a truer form of democracy. Here’s Yes Magazine:

Since 1998, more than 125 municipalities have passed ordinances that explicitly put their citizens’ rights ahead of corporate interests, despite the existence of state and federal laws to the contrary … Many have explicitly refused to recognize corporate personhood. Over a dozen townships in Pennsylvania, Maine, and New Hampshire have recognized the right of nature to exist and flourish (as Ecuador just did in its new national constitution). Four municipalities, including Halifax in Virginia, and Mahoney, Shrewsbury, and Packer in Pennsylvania, have passed laws imposing penalties on corporations for chemical trespass, the involuntary introduction of toxic chemicals into the human body.

And evidently, these towns stick together, and prove to be good neighbors — for instance, when the attorney general of Pennsylvania threatened to sue one of the municipalities for banning corporations from dumping toxic waste on its lands (how dare they, right?), 23 nearby towns in the region immediately adopted similar measures in a show of solidarity. The ban stood.

The provisions aimed at protecting nature are pretty revolutionary, too. As we know, the market economy naturally has difficulty in preventing individuals and companies from exploiting nature reserves and natural resources — there’s rarely enough financial incentive to keep forests from becoming timber, or lakes from being drained to bottle water, and so on (there sometimes is, in the form of local tourism that thrives on natural areas remaining pristine, but corporate incentives to raze are often much more powerful). And as we know, we’ll soon be facing a number of widespread crises concerning natural resources. Laws like these that strive to protect them, by eliminating corporate eminence over nature, again, may sound new wave-y, but mark an important legal strategy that has held up in the court of law.

The movement continues to grow, even today — as we speak, the municipality of Shasta, a city of 3,500 in northern California, is preparing to vote on an ordinance that would “explicitly place the rights of community and local government above the economic interests of multinational corporations, and recognize the rights of nature to exist, flourish, and evolve.” It would also refuse to recognize corporate personhood. The law would prevent Nestle and Coca-Cola from extracting water for bottling from a local aquifer, and set an important precedent for the future.

Most Americans are in agreement that corporate influence has sullied our politics — it’s why calls to kick lobbyists out of Washington are one of the go-to campaign promises every election (that always fail to be fulfilled). It’s why we (rightly) disdain the ‘powerful special interests’ that mar the legislative process by exerting influence on nascent laws to reflect their will. But instead of just hating the corporate culture that has come to dominate our breed of politics, and decrying its existence in barrooms and on blogs, these 125 cities have taken decisive action. And on a fundamental level, these ordinances uphold principles most would agree upon: that the rights and well being of human beings should take precedence over that of corporations’. It may be time to export this extremely democratic model to a larger stage.

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Image: Shadbush Collective

About Brian Merchant

Brian Merchant is a founding editor of the Utopianist.. When he's not helming the Utopianist, he is TreeHugger's politics writer, contributes the Getting Samy Out of Burma column to, and freelances for the likes of Salon and Paste. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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