Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

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1. Mission:

"We believe that we are in the midst of an escalating ecological crisis, and that the crisis is the result of decisions made by a relatively few people who run corporations and government. We believe that sustainability will never be achieved by leaving those decisions in the hands of a few – both because of their belief in limitless economic production and because their decisions are made at a distance from the communities experiencing the impact of those decisions. Therefore, we believe that to attain sustainability, a right to local self-government must be asserted that places decisions affecting communities in the hands of those closest to the impacts. That right to local self-government must enable communities to reject unsustainable economic and environmental policies set by state and federal governments, and must enable communities to construct legal frameworks for charting a future towards sustainable energy production, sustainable land development, and sustainable water use, among others. In doing so, communities must challenge and overturn legal doctrines that have been concocted to eliminate their right to self-government, including the doctrines of corporate constitutional rights, preemption, and limitations on local legislative authority. Inseparable from the right to local self government - and its sole limitation - are the rights of human and natural communities; they are the implicit and enumerated premises on which local self government must be built." (

2. Rose Aguilar:

" Through his work with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and the Daniel Pennock Democracy School, Linzey and others are helping communities across the country learn how laws actually work and organize effective responses to corporations exploiting water, air, resources and land.

The Daniel Pennock Democracy School is named in honor of Danny Pennock, a 17-year-old from Berks County, Pennsylvania, who died of sludge poisoning on April 1, 1995.

The School "examines the way the US Constitution was written, how it was anchored in an English structure of law, and how the Supreme Court has slowly interpreted it to enshrine the rights of corporations into settled law. The school explores a number of those judicial interpretations, which have led to the Bill of Rights protecting corporations from everyday citizens."

It also encourages participants to reframe the issues they are dealing with, so that, instead of fighting against something, they are fighting for something and creating a vision of the community in which they want to live.

Patty Norton from Peaceful Valley, Washington, told Linzey, "It' hard to change the conversation from "what can we get" to "what do we want?" We've been so beaten down, we were only focused on what little concessions we could get. Democracy School helps you change that conversation."

When the sessions are complete, the CELDF helps participants draft local laws aimed at achieving their goals for their communities and works with community leaders to adopt them.

Over 100 communities across the country have adopted Legal Defense Fund-drafted laws intended to assert local, democratic control directly over corporations. Campbell points out that the citizens are not begging the government to give them more rights; they are manifesting new rights for themselves and their communities through lawmaking at the local level.

Citizens in Santa Monica, California, are working on an ordinance called the Sustainability Bill of Rights, which would declare that Santa Monica residents, natural communities and ecosystems have a right to a healthy environment. Under the ordinance, corporations "shall not have the rights of 'persons' to the extent that such rights interfere" with its components.

Citizens in Mt. Shasta, California, are preparing to vote on an ordinance that would refuse to recognize corporate personhood and ban corporations like Nestle and Coca-Cola from extracting water from the local acquifer.

"Today, it is our communities and natural systems that are treated as property under the law - just as slaves once were - because people living in communities can't control their own futures, and what's in our communities is routinely bought, sold, and traded without a whisker of local control," says Linzey. "In many ways, this work is about walking in the footsteps of those prior movements to transform ourselves from being property under the law to becoming people who harness the power of government to defend and enforce our rights." (

More Information

See the book: How_to_Get_What_You_Want_Through_Community_Self-Government