Seeger’s metaphor for the teaspoon brigade involved a teeter-totter which had a concrete weight at one end and a porous laundry basket on the other. He asked us to imagine that people were trying to fill it with teaspoons of sand that simply ran out. Others would laugh at them, saying ‘How can you expect to fill that!”. He asked us to further imagine if a lot of people were doing this and it became full, so that people would say, ‘Now how did that happen so quickly?’
A basket was filled in my town last week by a small determined group of people who have been loading their teaspoons of sand over the past two years when their Food Bill of Rights Ordinance finally passed Constitutional muster and can now appear on the ballot.
The Benton County Local Food System Ordinance establishes a right to local and sustainable food systems, seed heritage, clean air, water and soil for Benton County, and prohibits unsustainable activities – like the planting of GMO’s – that would violate these rights.
These three people—two longtime farmers (organic and conventional) and a former farmer now home baker—represent the growing ranks of local grassroots efforts under the banner of the national Community Rights Movement. Local communities are successfully applying the direct democracy tactics of county and state ballot initiatives to bypass the Federal, State and local officials who are firmly in the grip of corporate interests.
Popular sovereignty, which supports this kind of citizen action, is enshrined in the first article of the Oregon State Constitution:
Article 1: Section 1. Natural rights inherent in the people. We declare that all men, when they form a social compact are equal in right; that all power in inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; and they have at all times a right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such a manner as they think proper.Long urged by the Progressive movement as the basis for calling a new Constitutional Convention on a national level, these natural rights can be extremely effective on the local level to claim the people’s sovereignty to deal with all the ills brought upon their communities from harmful corporate activities such as fracking to water-despoiling industries to GMO contamination of conventional and organic crops.
Make no mistake, this is a battle for our rights to protect our communities from corporate rapaciousness, and there will be pushback. Congress passed the Monsanto Protection Act which forbade federal courts from halting the sale and propagation of genetically modified seeds and crops if safety tests revealed safety concerns. It was mercifully allowed to die through the prodigious efforts of progressive U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Md) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) backed by overwhelming public support.
Threatened by GMO bans in three counties, the Oregon legislature attempted to pass a bill dubbed the “Oregon Monsanto Protection Act” which would preempt counties and local municipalities from enacting laws concerning agriculture. It failed due to overwhelming public outcry. As we have seen on the federal level, this legislation was “gutted and stuffed” into an appropriations bill in order to secure Republican votes and was made law. Proponents of this law argued that it was necessary to prevent a “crazy patchwork quilt” of ordinances which would hurt commerce.
What if all those crazy quilt squares of local communities and counties keep being stitched together until they form a quilt to cover all thirty-six counties in Oregon?
Lane and Benton Counties’ initiatives have passed judicial review and are on their way to the ballot. Many other Oregon counties have expressed interest in launching their own grassroots initiatives for such ordinances.
There will likely be legal challenges, particularly concerning Oregon’s Monsanto Protection Act; however, in a contest between the first article of our Constitution and an act that did not pass legislative muster, I am betting on the people to prevail.
Photo by occupystephanie
Caption: Chief petitioners Harry MacCormack, Dana Allen, Clint Lindsey, and their attorney, Ann Kneeland, on the courthouse steps after the ruling that the Local Food System Ordinance had met the constitutional "single subject" requirement for initiatives to be placed on the ballot.