This page is a Work In Progress. Our initial goal is this very short history of the beginnings of this movement. Over the next few months, this brief history page will expand massively to include many voices.
But let’s begin this brief story with Richard Grossman and Ward Morehouse who co-founded and co-directed the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD) in the early 1990’s. They were joined by ten other extraordinary movers and shakers to form a kind-of think and research tank of twelve members. Their founding meeting took place at the Highlander Center in Tennessee.
POCLAD led dozens of extraordinary weekend sessions all across the United States, called “Rethinking the Corporation, Rethinking Democracy” workshops.
In the late 1990’s, Richard Grossman left POCLAD and began to collaborate with Thomas Linzey, who was the Executive Director and lead attorney with Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) based in rural Pennsylvania. Together they created a new training called the Daniel Pennock Democracy School, named for a boy in Pennsylvania who died after exposure to sewage sludge. Jane Anne Morris, who had been one of the principal players at POCLAD, became a major contributor to the building of the curriculum for these weekend schools.
In 1999, CELDF made a dramatic turn in its public interest environmental law work when it stopped being involved with more conventional single-issue one-corporate-harm-at-a-time legal defense work through the regulatory arena of law, and instead began to help rural communities to write paradigm-shifting laws that banned (rather than regulated) harmful corporate activities, and challenged for the first time the legitimacy of corporations exercising constitutional so-called “rights”. It was at this point that the movement took on the name Community Rights, a name that has since stuck.
It all began in the conservative family farming community of Wells Township, Pennsylvania, when the local farmers rose up to stop a massive farm factory of hogs from being built in their township. Their township supervisors unanimously passed an anti-corporate-farming ordinance that directly challenged three structures of law that the farmers considered to be illegitimate – corporate constitutional “rights”, state preemption, and Dillon’s Rule. From there, the movement took off across rural Pennsylvania, rural Maine, and beyond.
Fast forward to the present, and there are now more than 200 communities and counties in eight states that have successfully passed Community Rights ordinances. And so far, only about 5% of these places have had their local ordinances legally challenged.
In recent years, a number of states have taken this effort one major step further, by creating State Community Rights Networks, made up of all of the local communities and counties (in their respective states) that are actively working on passing Community Rights ordinances. One of the primary goals of these new state networks is to change state laws so that local communities and counties have a guaranteed and inherent right of local self-government, as originally intended by those who fought and died in the American Revolution.
Although the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund has been the primary driver of this movement since 1999, there are other folks working independently towards near-identical goals. One of them is Paul Cienfuegos, trained originally by POCLAD in 1995/1996. Paul created his own workshop, which he named “We the People Are More Powerful Than We Dare to Believe: First Steps in Dismantling Corporate Rule”. Paul has since led this workshop dozens of time across the US.
Paul was instrumental in the creation of the Oregon Community Rights Network, and did the initial trainings for a majority of the currently active local groups in that state.
In the past four years, Paul has been invited fourteen times to lead his workshop in more than twenty rural counties across Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. This region is now on fire with Community Rights activism, and has already held two day-long regional Community Rights gatherings – each of which has brought more than a dozen counties together to discuss how to support each other’s local organizing and outreach efforts. (Check out these videos of numerous sessions held during the second regional gathering in Whitehall, Wisconsin in February 2015.) In the not too distant future, local communities there will overcome the cultural and legal barriers they face, and will begin to pass Community Rights ordinances across the rural Midwest.
In April 2017, a second national Community Rights support organization was launched – Community Rights US. That’s us! Based in Portland, Oregon, we are incredibly excited to be taking new leadership in this essential movement to take back our society from corporate rule, from the local up!
Over the next year, we will be building out many facets of our new website, adding new layers of interactivity such as a Comments section for each of the News Stories we are posting. If you have time to volunteer, we’d like to connect with you. If you’re interested in starting a new Community Rights local group, please review the services we are initially offering.
And last but not least, if you have first-hand knowledge of the history of our movement (beginning in the early 1990’s) we’d love to hear from you, as we are hoping that this historical page becomes a place where many voices can intertwine to create a powerful chorus of perspectives. May a hundred flowers bloom!
And a brief post-script….. The world has since lost both Richard Grossman and Ward Morehouse. A major loss for all of us.