What is the New Hampshire Community Rights Network (NHCRN)? NHCRN is a network of community members from around the state who realize the current system is not working well for them. Folks who formed the network are engaged in local ordinance work to expand the rights of community residents – human and natural – in order to realize sustainability on a community scale and then expand that protection outward to the state level.
I just want to stop the Northern Pass, why get involved in such a long-term project? Short-term campaigns against one issue at a time have fractured the effectiveness of our efforts. NHCRN is working collectively to call for changes to fundamental law at the state level that will liberate our communities from oppressive legal constraints that facilitate and legalize the kinds of destructions we’ve been forced to oppose one town, one issue, at a time.
What’s wrong with the New Hampshire Constitution? The New Hampshire Constitution has excellent language. The work of NHCRN is to liberate communities and to bring alive the protections provided for in the language of the state constitution, so every community in New Hampshire can achieve a sustainable way of life that is free from state and corporate override.
Wouldn’t it be easier to elect people to the legislature to do this work for us? New Hampshire’s 424-member legislature is routinely subjected to corporate lobbyists, who encourage legislation that is friendly to their interests. The people need to be part of a lobbying movement to drive community rights into state level law, to avoid having community interests overridden by corporate ones.
Aren’t traditional environmentalists doing this work already? Traditional environmentalists work within the current system to argue for the best permit possible, according to environmental regulations set by the current governmental system. The work of NHCRN is to drive new legislation that supports community decision-making on issues that directly impact community members. We can no longer submit to sacrificing pieces of our communities to the many, harmful activities permitted by the State.
What are the methods used in NH to adopt amendments to the state constitution? There are two methods for adopting amendments, in the first, it requires a 3/5 vote of the House and Senate to send an amendment to the people and a 2/3 vote of the electorate to adopt; the second requires a majority vote in both houses to place a call for a constitutional convention on the ballot, a majority vote in the electorate, election of delegates at the next election, a 3/5 vote of those delegates to send an amendment to the people, and a 2/3 vote of the electorate to adopt the new constitution or amendment. A call for a constitutional convention appears automatically every ten (10) years, the next time in 2022.
What if the amendment we propose goes nowhere? We are in this for the long haul and will continue pressing for change wherever we find avenues worth the pursuit. The folks involved with NHCRN have pledged to pursue state recognition of community rights.
What do we do if the General Court (our legislators) refuses to call a convention? The General Court is empowered by the people – they are our substitutes and agents. Article 8. [Accountability of Magistrates and Officers; Public’s Right to Know.] All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them. Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted. New Hampshire State Constitution, Article 10. [Right to Revolution] affirms the right of the people to change government. Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind. A call for a constitutional convention appears automatically every 10 years, the next time in 2022.
How would we select delegates to hold a convention without legislative support? This discussion is already happening in our meetings. We will find the answers to problems like this as we evolve and move forward, democratically. The process will be debated openly and strategies will arise from conversations with New Hampshire communities to move to the county and then state level.
How long is this going to take? That is difficult to predict, but we recognize this is a long-term strategy. We understand the problem – that community members are stripped of the right to govern. Past struggles for the recognition of equal civil and political rights have occurred throughout our history. The Abolitionists and Suffragists maintained pressure on government for many years before changes were realized. This movement will harness the energies of many, single, local, short-term oppositions into a statewide network. New Hampshire people will need to focus on liberating our communities from a system that strips away local authority and then institute new law that protects the civil and political rights of community members.
What is the role of the county chapters? County chapters provide the amplification for the local community work, from coordinating efforts at the state level, to selecting delegates for a constitutional convention.
Has this ever been done before? The revolutionary work of changing government has been done by persons who were considered slaves during the civil rights struggle and by suffragists who sought the right to vote as persons. Work to end child labor and to create an 8-hour day for workers also followed patterns of resistance used by civil rights workers.
Do I have to be an historian or a lawyer to do this work? Government should not be “for a special class of men,” but should include every person and be open and accessible to everyone. This work is not complicated or impossible and it is also nothing new, it is only something forgotten. New Hampshire colonies were filled with citizen involvement in politics and law making. Real people with common sense ideas built this state and it is that same kind of person engaged in conversations about how to remedy the current lack of authority we now experience at the hand of a much, maligned system. If we agree that government of right originates in the people and operates by consent; and that we have the inalienable right to change government; then we are the right ones to begin this work.
What obstacles should we expect? State-chartered corporations who are currently licensed to operate in the state will speak against this work because they benefit from the way the corporate structure is currently operating. Anyone who benefits from the way the structure will likely resist changes that might threaten the state’s power structure. Media will probably not be in favor of the changes we suggest, and may frame the work in a negative light much in the same way political campaigns are run. To remain strong despite the obstacles that arise, we’ll need to stay focused on the larger picture of state-level changes that reflect the expansion of civil and political rights for everyone in New Hampshire.
Nicholas Dundorf is a student at Oyster River High School. He wrote this article for a journalism class, drawing on his interest and involvement with social issues in New Hampshire. Nicholas co-organizes his school's Sustainability club as well as organizing with climate justice organization 350NH. He first learned about community rights issues after organizing staff for a movie showing and panel on a local infrastructure issue. This article explores the experiences of NH organizers in fighting corporate power and crafting Rights Based Ordinances.