Bellingham Community Rights vs. Corporate Rights

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Fri, Aug 17, 2012, 9:21 am  //  Guest writer

Guest writer Suzanne Ravet is a member of Coal-Free Bellingham, the sponsors of the No Coal! initiative and Bellingham Community Bill of Rights.  A resident of Birch Bay, Suzanne is concerned - for herself and her child - about health issues associated with a nearby coal terminal the size of Gateway Pacific.  Suzanne founded Sustainable Communities ALL Over Puget Sound (SCALLOPS) in Enumclaw / Buckley and won an award from the Pierce County Workforce Development Council for her advocacy for youth and labor pre-apprenticehip program in schools.

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Why I support the Coal Free Bellingham Community Bill of Rights:


“The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.”  Abraham Lincoln

I believe this quote sums up one of the main purposes of the CFB Community Bill of Rights.

We are currently in a situation where elected officials are required to uphold laws that have been manipulated and molded by ‘piles of money,’ not people, for the past 100+ years.  Many, if not most, people didn’t sign Prop 2 because they believed it would be enacted into law; they did it to protest the current structure of law, and in the hope of changing that structure in the future. 

The uproar surrounding Prop 2 exposes the depth of prejudice and absolute inability of people to protect their community and property.  I hear more talk about the history of railroad tyranny (especially from right wing people) than ever before.  I hear labor people talk about how we can’t stop the terminal from coming, so we might as well ‘pick our poison.’ 

The second step, after knowledge, is the willingness to shatter our existing framework and change it to something that is actually humane. People are moving closer to that every day.  Personally, I’ve been called names on the Bellingham Herald website and been verbally attacked while tabling.  In both situations the end results were good.  People came out of the crowd to my defense, which called more attention to the issue, and inspired more desire to learn why I was there and willing to endure the assaults of others. 

I’m just an average person, one who has spent some time and energy to try to figure out what is going on in this society.  And I believe when average folks have the courage to challenge the law, our culture gets the necessary momentum to shift. 

Finally, I’ve heard more conversation from retired people, doctors, teachers, accountants,  students, etc. about a willingness to tie themselves to the tracks, especially after the judge declared, in essence, that we don’t even have the right to free speech.  That’s powerful stuff.  When we let go of fear, hope, and constructs that no longer fit, amazing things happen. 

Alas, part of me still wonders if there is a secondary objective we have yet to learn about, because these people/corporations are never transparent.  A Community Bill of Rights covers any future intent yet to be uncovered.  Expose away CFB….

2.  Sustainability Law:

“Let us have the candor to acknowledge that what we call “the economy” or “the free market” is less and less distinguishable from warfare.”  Wendell Berry

Transition Whatcom is an indispensable group focused on localization.  I admire the work every person in that group is doing.  In reality, the work Transition Whatcom is doing will make our very survival possible, should a major crisis happen.  However, current law makes what Transition Whatcom is doing illegal. 

A culture based on economic nationalization and globalization will never be sustainable or support human life, and we all know it.  There’s a major drought in this country right now.  For our very survival, we must be able to provide food and water locally.  Unfortunately, we will never be able to truly secure, nor keep safe, our food and water under the current national and global laws. 

Although I’m a good person and don’t mind helping others in a crisis, I certainly don’t want the Nestle Corporation buying up our water, selling it to Arizona, and then forcing us to purchase water from another city.  I’ve already lived through this very real scenario.  When I lived in Enumclaw, WA, the Nestle Co. wanted our spring water.  Nestle courted the mayor for a year in secret; the mayor didn’t even tell the city council.  The decision to lease the water to Nestle came out in the paper with a decision to be made by the city council within the week.  Of course there were wonderful ads in the paper about a new sports complex, revenue, jobs, etc.  Nestle touted themselves as a transparent and community-centered company.  Nestle products were on sale, cheap, out front at the two local grocery stores.  It was an amazing and skillful production.  Fortunately, the folks in Enumclaw rose up and stopped this craziness.  From there, Nestle worked on the other towns in South King County and Pierce County.  Unfortunately, city public utility officials told me that Nestle can still set up a water bottling plant using municipal water in Enumclaw (just not the spring water they had intended to lease). 

I hear that Anacortes is now in this same situation.  Sometimes, I wonder if we are just a big experiment for Goldman Sachs – to see how much money it will take to brainwash and immobilize the general public.  If we are to protect our home, we must have laws that support sustainability, because it is currently illegal to protect our community.  The CBR does just that.

3.  Claiming What We Want

“Happy for us that when we find our constitutions defective and insufficient to secure the happiness of our people, we can assemble with all the coolness of philosophers and set it to rights, while every other nation on earth must have recourse to arms to amend or to restore their constitutions.”—Thomas Jefferson to C. W. F. Dumas, 1787. ME 6:295, Papers 12:113

What I like most about the CFB Community Bill of Rights is that it claims what we want.  We all know what we don’t want, but somehow we lack the courage and responsibility to claim what we do want. 

U.S. law claims to be in place to prevent injustice, but it is doing a poor job.  The three components of the initiative buttress and support one another.  Claiming what we want: 

1) Ban coal trains (issue of safety)  

2) Subordinate corporate rights to community rights (We can’t ban coal trains unless we institute this step because current laws give corporations more power than living, breathing people.)  

3) Give the environment rights (This is essential, otherwise every community can do whatever it wants,  including implement unjust laws. The intention of the initiative is to claim more rights regarding safety and security -- not less – and to stop an injustice. 

These three work beautifully together.  Some folks say, “What about communities who might want to ban such things as women’s right to vote?” That is a fear-based response lacking in imagination and inspiration.  We can maintain our federal civil laws and current regulatory systems while increasing our local rights to safety and security.  In fact, our forefathers, per the above quote, were aware that a rigid and stagnant constitution was insufficient.  CFB challenges us to determine what we want and put that into law.

Some say it is other people's responsibility to change the law. But change doesn’t come from the top down, it comes from the bottom up: Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Fredrick Douglas, and the list goes on…. They didn’t wake up one morning and say, “I wish somebody with more power would do the right thing.”  They got up every day and did the morally right thing with the knowledge they were working for future generations. 

Who knows what the outcome of Prop 2 may be?  It’s possible that 10, 100, 1,000 more communities will rise up and claim what they want, too, driving us to a place of real change regarding laws that protect our safety and security.  In fact, that is already happening. 

Prop 2 is a brilliant examination and voyage into the potential for a utopian future and livable planet.  We deserve so much better than we are getting and it’s time to claim it.  Real change always begins with struggle and effort as communities rise, then eventually something seems to shift from the top down.  Prop 2 is that first-stage, root struggle and investigation.

4.  The Cost of Coercing a Community:

“I think we’re facing a very strong, almost revolutionary movement to try to get off oil worldwide, and it creates a lot of passion and drive in those revolutionaries that are trying to change the environment in which we work.”  Enbridge CEO, Patrick Daniel, regarding the Tar Sands opposition

The recent coalition of big business for ‘Terminals = Jobs’ in the Pacific Northwest is scrambling and desperate.  Look at their advertisements on TV, their mailers, corporate sponsored yard signs, hired PR guy, door-to-door paid canvassers, and video at the recent city council meeting.  How much money have they spent on this already?  The reality for these corporations is that they are shelling out big, big money on public relations, only because they must.

I encourge you to welcome CFB (and all other groups fighting coal) today, tomorrow, next year, the year after, and so on – as corporate power will be required to pour more and more and more into their forlorn and desolate attempts to persuade a community to buy into its’ own demise and ruin.  No group fighting the impacts of coal is going away, in fact the very struggle makes us all stronger, more committed, and more forward thinking.

The above quote regarding tar sands could easily apply to the coal situation in the Pacific Northwest.  In fact, many anti-coal ‘sleeping giants’ along the train route from Montana to Bellingham have yet to weigh in.  This intricate web of coal opposition, including regulatory, economic, public opinion, corporate power, and/or nonviolent civil disobedience, weaves a solid and resilient impediment to those who desire to destroy our community for their greed and profit. 

The CBR may be a tactic, but it supports and binds a broader strategy. I encourage our officials to let it run its due course as we watch these parasitic corporations scramble and squander more and more of their capital.

davidhopkinson  //  Sun, Aug 19, 2012, 8:06 pm

Well done, Suzanne!

“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately” - Ben Franklin

If every town and city along the rail-line had a CBR, it would be difficult for mega-corporations to successfully intimidate any one of them. We need a return to a balance of power among the levels of government, a restoration of municipal power which has been eradicated in the name of interstate commerce. We have to start somewhere, and we have to start now.

Larry Horowitz  //  Tue, Aug 21, 2012, 9:38 pm


Thank you for taking time to help us all understand why the ‘average person’ benefits from the struggle to improve how we both govern and are governed.

Thanks also for the courage to speak your truth and bear the brunt of being on the front line.  Know that there are many of us standing beside you and behind you who appreciate your willingness to hold onto your convictions and make your views public.

You have eloquently expressed the benefits of changing a political and legal system that no longer works for the vast majority.  When our structures provide such disproportionate benefits, it’s time to look at the structures themselves.  Doing so does NOT necessitate chaos and anarchy and can lead to higher and more evolved levels or organization.

Few initiatives are perfect.  In that way, they are like every other law our governments adopt.  Can the Community Bill of Rights be improved?  Sure.  But does the CBR:

- expose the deficiencies of our current structure?
- attempt to establish laws that will enable us to live sustainably?
- identify the changes we want and need?
- help establish a true obstacle, rather than simply a speed bump, to prevent a disastrous project from moving forward?

Yes, as you have thoughtfully explained, the CBR is an initial attempt to accomplish these things.  And for that reason alone, it can be considered a success.

I hope you will continue to have the courage to speak your truth, and I hope more and more of us will be willing to stand beside you.

It would be my pleasure to do so.


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With a smarmy October Surprise

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