Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Watching "We The People 2.0" In Salem

I attended the showing of the film "We The People 2.0" in Salem last night. The Salem Progressive Film Series folks sponsored the showing and a panel discussion with q. and a. after the film. Dr. Ed Dover, Ann Kneeland and another speaker from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) spoke. The film is described in these words:

We the People 2.0 confronts its viewers with the ravages of mine tailings and leaky containment ponds, of sludge and ooze and grue, all of which, the film documents, are killing people, particularly in the cancer-blighted small towns of North America. The film’s brief is laudable: Alongside documenting grassroots activism, including the kayak flotillas that protested Shell Oil in Seattle, the film focuses on legal challenges presented to corporations by granting rights to ecosystems. Talking heads come from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit that helps small towns draft laws against fracking, factory farming, and water privatization. The voice of narrator Walton Goggins, formerly of TV’s rural meth-opera “Justified,” is a great boon to the film, perhaps making viewers wish he would just let it rip in the grandiloquent manner of his TV character Boyd Crowder. The “2.0” in the title refers to what the filmmakers have dubbed “The Second American Revolution”—a battle not against a foreign power, but against corporate power.

A film trailer can be found here.

The film focuses on five struggles for environmental justice---one in California, three in Pennsylvania and one in Ohio. It's full of talking heads and interesting footage, but only one of the activists profiled is a person of color. I'll return to why this is important in a moment. The film pivots at some point from talking about the environmental justice struggles to money in politics, the need for reform and local control and Constitutional questions. It felt to me as if the film ran almost twice as long as it had to in order to make its point and that what was lacking were arguments or footage from the other side and the kind of basic grounding in law which someone like me needs. I came away somewhat confused by where the local control legal cases stand now. It did not help that passing mention was made in the film of a need for another Constitutional convention.

On the other hand, many progressives in Salem will be familiar with the issues raised in the film. Groups like Move to Amend and are popular here among a subset of mostly older and mostly white middle-class people who feel a stake in the country and feel betrayed by corporate America and the government, and especially so after the last two crashes. In some sense they form a liberal answer to the right-wing Constitutionalists who are also popular in parts of Oregon.

The main argument taking place after the film showed concern over the idea of local control. Do we need a revolution, as the CELDF speaker said, to win local control or do we need to work on changing state and federal structures and take a nuanced view of federal power? Would local control guarantee environmental justice and build on civil rights or would local reactionary groups use it to undermine environmental regulations and civil rights? The film made the case that the movement for local control is advancing and Ann Kneeland, an Oregonian, and the CELDF speaker gave examples of how this is happening here in Oregon. I wondered what we were arguing about: is going on the offense for progressive local control even an option at this point? Is this an argument for secession in the face of Trump's win or an accommodation to the Constitutionalists?

It is a sad measure of how far progressives and the left have come that local control is seen in light of environmental crises and not framed in light of the historic fight for Black self-determination, say, or, fully appropriate to the film, a fight for self-determination in Appalachia and the historic Black Belt and those portions of the southwest and west which rightfully belong to Hispanic majorities and First Nations peoples. I intervened in order to make this point and got a kind of non-response from the CELDF speaker and a very helpful response from Dr. Ed Dover.

We should be suspicious of handing vast amounts of power over to a white majority in Oregon. Appalachia has a different history---it functions as a kind of internal colony and has produced great wealth that has been exported---and the Black Belt and the Hispanic- and Native American-majority regions have or had the characteristics of nations within a nation. Self-determination and local control in these areas is less problematic than removing federal protections from whiteopias. Even then, however, we must be aware of the roles played by the corrupt local and regional leaders who have exploited Appalachian poverty and alienation---Lou Barletta, Arch Moore and Joe Manchin come quickly to mind.

A nagging series of questions arises as we think this through. If we get past the questions of consciousness, mobilization, court battles, political battles, disarming the corporations, Constitutionalism, separating our ourselves and our intent from the kind of folks who occupied Malheur and somehow winning a struggle for local control on the basis of environmentalism----who pays for the clean-ups, has the resources to repair the damage which can be repaired and pay reparations? Who has the resources to provide jobs locally and build a working microeconomy?

Passing mention was made in the film of the rights of citizenship. No one took this up as a question. Do progressives mean to say that only people with papers have rights? Do they accept the Trump argument that borders make a nation?

I learned a great deal last night. The majority of those watching the film seemed familiar with the issues and, I would guess, favored local control and were not concerned about my issues. Ed Dover made a compelling case for a people's movement to reform and defend government and expressed an interesting skepticism of the Constitutionalist arguments. Ann Kneeland gave a helpful rundown of where things stand in Lane County and in some other areas in Oregon and made it clear that this is not an issue which is going away.


  1. Your instincts about CELDF and the push for local control are right on target. Of course you "came away somewhat confused by where the local control legal cases stand now" -- that's because CELDF lies to their credulous and well-intended supporters and everyone else about their track record, what CR is, and how it's supposed to work. The weak-minded local lawyers they retain are no doubt true believers, or they wouldn't be on retainer.

    "Community Rights", so called, is an organizing strategy rooted in a libertarian world view. Oregonians with any sense have and will abandon it and tell their friends to avoid it, for reasons explained here

    "Ann Kneeland gave a helpful rundown of where things stand...and made it clear that this is not an issue which is going away." Maybe, but it's also not likely to grow into anything, as we explain in the blog linked above. It's a pathetic (in the clinical sense), cynical joke.

  2. Last session the Oregon legislature wiped out “local control” by amending city charters; our city “constitutions.” SB-1573 repealed the right to vote on annexations that was won repeatedly over a couple of decades by referenda in 34 communities.

    Believing charters are solely under local citizen control almost all of these citizen initiatives put the right to vote in their charters.

    “Local control” known has “home rule” in Oregon was added to our constitution in 1906:
“The Legislative Assembly shall not enact, amend or repeal any charter or act of incorporation for any municipality, city or town.” (Oregon Constitution, Article XI, Sec 2.)

    The Legislature’s contempt of our constitution wipes out the long-standing annexation voting rights of about 700,000 Oregonians. Even worse, it creates an Oregon Constitutional crisis because it devises new powers for the legislature to rewrite or override city charters at any time for any reason.

    SB-1573 is so destructive of Oregon democracy that the League of Oregon Cities and the cities of Corvallis and Philomath have asked Benton County District Court to judge whether it is constitutional.

    In the meantime, SB-1573 is disrupting orderly community development throughout the state by causing delay and confusion on city councils, among planning officials, and the citizens they represent.

    Hoping to reverse this unconstitutional violation of “community rights” as expressed in our city charters Senator Riley is sponsoring SB -114 and Senator Gelser sponsored SB-258.

    Both bills await hearing in the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Committee.

    If SB-1573 is allowed to stand there is no limit to legislative dominance of our city charters.
    Richard Reid