By DIANE ST. GERMAIN
For the Monitor
Published: 8/19/2021 7:00:13 AM
It’s no wonder that out-of-state corporate control of the New Hampshire legislature spawned a state budget that not only undermines public education, human services, adequate wages and progress toward addressing the climate crisis but also includes language that perpetuates systemic racism and removes the right of women to make decisions about their bodies.
Over the years the populace has not remained vigilant about evolving legislation and how it affects the quality of human lives and the living world. This neglect has allowed our path to democracy to falter. We have stepped aside and surrendered our power to the corporate elite. But as writer, comedian and commentator Baratunde Thurston explains in the introduction to his podcast, How to Citizen, “It’s hard to citizen when you can’t pay the bills.”
The policies that have chipped away at our ability to engage in meaningful decision-making have trapped us in a vicious cycle that keeps us too busy making ends meet, and too skeptical about our power to change the status quo, to be aware of the very policies that have, over the decades, created the climate crisis and perpetuated racism, poverty, cynicism, distrust and fear.
Whether already living without housing, healthcare or education, or merely facing those essentials eating up increasing chunks of our paychecks, we live with the fear of drowning in debt or worse. But we are simply too busy, too tired and too skeptical to do the work necessary to grow and sustain democracy and a decent quality of life.
As long as people are too busy to see the men behind the curtain spinning the narrative of fear that minorities are going to take away their power, the false narrative that there is a “zero-sum” of racial competition as described by the author Heather McGhee, we will continue to live in a polarized society which stokes fear and sustains hyper-militarization and obscene wealth inequality.
And that is why, when the powers-that-be saw the massive awakening to systemic racism after the murder of George Floyd, they scrambled to inject divisive concepts bills into legislatures all over the country and why they funneled millions of dollars into local races to seat officials that would carry their torches of white supremacy, fiercely support the censorship of historical truths and revive policies that disenfranchise those who would vote to change this narrative.
The only way to begin to turn this around is by carving out some time to step back, look at the big picture, see that the system is fixed against us, and begin the work with the time and resources that we have. That work won’t get done by the likes of Jeff Bezos who, after enjoying his privileged view of the big picture, remains blinded by greed and disconnectedness from those whose blood, sweat and tears created his wealth.
We need to begin in our communities. A good place to start would be to look at our Departments of Safety and ask ourselves, “what actually makes us safe?” Is it men with guns responding to a mental health crisis or burglary or is it creating communities in which each individual cares about the well-being of others and works toward a better life for all?
We must envision a different world, one not predicated on fear, but on people interacting to create the kinds of communities where we can live in peace, without fear and where needs are met. This work has begun in many communities in New Hampshire and numerous other states which have passed rights-based ordinances protecting their resources and their natural world and upholding human rights.
The Community Rights movement plays a role in addressing the democracy crisis which we now face. We must begin to carve out the time to actively engage as decision-makers in rewriting the narrative and creating a genuine democracy that is truly of, by and for all people.
(Diane St. Germain is a board member for NHCRN. She lives in Bedford.)
By DOUGLAS DARRELL
For the Monitor
Published: 8/7/2021 6:20:14 AM
At some point in time in your community, you will be confronted with a corporate project, such as a landfill, gravel pit, high voltage power lines, fossil fuel pipeline, commercial water extraction, mountaintop removal wind turbines or sludge applications. Ever wonder why it’s so difficult to stop these corporate activities from harming your community? These corporate projects are protected by private corporate laws under the umbrella of regulatory law.
Such corporate projects often succeed without much opposition because communities give into believing that they don’t have any decision-making authority to prohibit dangerous risks or they are not able to see the future detriment to their lives regarding health, safety and welfare. Even if a community mounts significant opposition to a corporate project, the present structure of regulatory law allows these harms to occur via a permit (permit equals permission to do what is otherwise illegal) despite their strong local opposition.
Local self-governance is a direct democratic way the people of a targeted community can protect what they envision for their community, like clean air, water and soil, their health, safety and welfare, and recognizing rights for ecosystems to not be polluted.
Regulatory law does not stop the harmful effects of corporate polluters. At best, these laws only slow the rate of harm. Corporate actors use corporate personhood “rights,” private law and regulatory law, and preemption to override local opposition. When communities do stand up to create legal or financial obstacles to harmful corporate projects, corporations look to our government and judicial system to protect them. And sadly, more times than not, they do.
A long-standing example is the Coakley Landfill. Those responsible for the pollution have externalized the costs to the taxpayers, while the polluters have washed their hands of any accountability via the claim that their actions were “legal” through the permit they received from governmental regulatory agencies. If local self-governance was legally recognized, such irreparable pollution, contamination and cancer clusters would never have happened. Harm could have been proactively stopped instead of going into court after the fact with the EPA and NHDES spending taxpayers' dollars for decades and still not resolving the environmental problems or the serious health effects.
In order to secure these protections for all Granite State communities, we are calling for a state constitutional amendment that recognizes, secures and protects our right to pass laws with greater social and environmental protections than those afforded by the state or federal governments. The NH Community Rights Amendment would protect local laws that expand rights and protections for real people (corporations are not real people) and nature, while not allowing any restrictions to already existing rights and protections. As a remedy to such a power structure that omits those most affected (residents and natural environments) from any real decision-making authority, my town of Barnstead and a dozen other towns have recognized their right to locally self-govern as means to raise protections for our communities.
For example, a community could not use the NH Community Rights Amendment to ban all firearms, as the right to bear arms (whether you agree with it or not) is a protected right. Neither could a community use the amendment to violate or restrict the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
Let the people decide if they wish to preserve the health, safety and welfare of their communities, thereby guaranteeing a sustainable future by protecting their valuable ecosystems and their social values and forcing corporations that seek to profit from industrial activities to be more accountable to the people and ecosystems most affected.
(Douglas Darrell lives in Center Barnstead. Visit nhcommunityrights.org to learn more about the NH Community Rights Amendment.)