Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Glad You're Waking Up To This

Like most of us, I've felt the unmediated brunt of some of history's tragic moments. For one, I was a 17-year-old political science student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem when the 1973 Yom Kippur War broke out between the State of Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. The U.S. Army took the occasion of the emergency to rid itself of dozens of faulty tanks, with the result that many young Israeli soldiers were immolated inside.

On November 2nd at the New Mexico Community Rights Symposium: Elevating Community Rights Over Corporate Rights—Building a Statewide Movement that Drives Local Self-Government into the Constitution, I heard words that marked another kind of corporate/state murder. “We're being fracked,” said the three activists that had driven from the Navajo Reservation in Sandoval County to Santa Fe to share their sickening news. “There was an oil spill. We see flares where I live...we see them from our kitchen table. The Bureau of Land Management leased our land. There are already 50 wells, and 50 more have been surveyed. The semi-trucks are taking over our roads. We live in a nightmare. We are glad you are waking up to this.”

The Bernalillo County activists' report was also grim indeed. “There are three existing Superfund sites already. We had 24 million gallons of jetfuel contaminate our water supply, it's the largest pollution of an underground aquifer. There are 568 waste toxic dump sites on the air force base [Kirtland] and Sandia National Laboratories, radioactive waste. The aquifer has been destroyed. There's no remediation, there's no plan for remediation. Resolution 214 was passed to put in monitoring of wells, but that hasn't helped. There was talk of a treatment plant, but that didn't happen. The remedy is cleanup. So how can a Community Rights Ordinance help with a major contamination site that involves the federal government, an arsenal of 2,000 nuclear weapons and two dangerous nuclear reactors at Sandia?”

The message from Dona Ana County couldn't have been clearer: “We have no water. And there's a big water lawsuit, Texas is suing us for a billion dollars. The suit has risen to the Supreme Court level. But the county is just whistling by the graveyard.”

The Torrance County report too was crushing. “We are in a severely drought-stricken area. We have low water in a closed water supply. We are seriously concerned about sustainability for the future. We have had three geology reports, they all say we are running out of water. We are working to change our irrigation habits, we're going to have to change crops. But the business interests contrast to community interests.”

John Olivas, Chairman, Mora County Commission, explaining the next steps in Mora County

And so on. Reports from San Juan County, which tragically has become the county with the highest child cancer and asthma rates; Catron, where a county CRO ordinance is pending concerning water extraction for profit; San Miguel County, where the eastern part of the county has been sacrificed to the frackers so the western part can remain frack-free; Taos which leads the state in rural electrical coops, but where they are only allowed to produce 5% from solar; and Santa Fe County where a robust effort is being mounted to stop the Santa Fe Gold Company from raping the Ortiz Mountains, all spoke to serious intrusions by corporations swaggering in with their “personhood” into local communities. Might all of the 33 counties in New Mexico, not just the 12 represented at the Symposium, have just causes to enact community ordinances?

The idea is that local communities in New Mexico could enact Community Rights Ordinances, such as the one passed on April 29, 2013 in Mora County, the first county in the US to ban fracking, in which a Bill of Rights is articulated and adopted. Thomas Linzey, founder of CELDF, reported that CELDF (we say cell-def) has helped 160 communities across the US pass CROs. He told us that those 160 communities are now stitching themselves together into a national structure, in the same way we are hoping to do in New Mexico at the state level. The ultimate aim is to change constitutions, our own state's as well as the federal constitution, to assert the right of local communities to self-governance.

I'm seriously attracted to the potency of the defiant language of the ordinances – we declare that all our water is held in the public trust as a common resource...–and the thrill of speaking it in our own voices. Back in one of those lecture halls at Hebrew U, my professor broke it down for us: “Power is a relationship,” she said just days before the outbreak of yet another senseless war about real estate. “They don't have it unless We give it to them.”

I haven't attended a full Democracy School, though I'd like to, but I have read Linzey's book Be The Change, and the CRO approach is an approach that has the potential to re-balance power relations. So I'm attentive to this approach. 

Thomas Linzey told us: "Vehicles are only as good as the values that animate them."

CELDF no longer practices traditional environmental law, which Linzey characterizes as the law of “a little less harm.” Rather the CRO vehicle changes the legal fight from one of challenging the validity of state permit applications, where even a “win” is only a win until the newly corrected permit application gets filed. Instead, it sets up a tar baby, a trap for Power. If Power wants to get ugly and try and overturn the CRO (as they have not yet attempted in Mora)[UPDATE: A suit has been filed against Mora], it has to say many repugnant things out loud. Community by community, people will come to Linzey's own game-changing realization: Sustainability is illegal in America.

And, in Linzey's vision, this new understanding of the very undemocratic way things actually are will drive the army of people who will create the national change. Linzey is hoping that we will help him to build a movement because “movements change structural stuff.”

Thomas Linzey, no longer seeking gaps, omissions and deficiencies, is ready to cross the Rubicon.
  “How,” Linzey asks, “do we build a movement where it does not matter what the courts do?”

I think it's a great question from a brilliant legal mind. And from my current elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level, from the high desert of Santa Fe, I don't see a better bet out there. Does anyone? Do you?

For more information in New Mexico, please contact Kathleen Dudley, Community Organizer, The New Mexico Coalition for Community Rights and CELDF at or Please enjoy watching her here (the lovely lady in the sunhat).



  1. Seconds after I published this word reached me that Mora County HAS BEEN SUED. This is the moment we've been anticipating. CELDF and the many other law firms that have vowed to defend us in the courts will be put to the test, and I very much hope, will prevail.

  2. Let's keep an eye on this. The water wars are beginning.

  3. I thought of you so much as I was writing this, Jim. From reading press accounts, the lawsuit that oil and gas is bringing against Mora claims that contrary to the ordinance, the fracking ban is not about protecting water as the County Commission claims. If it were, they say, they would have gone after agricultural polluters too, not just frackers. Of course, they have to say something no matter how absurd. But the reason I thought particularly of you, Jim...maybe it's time to re-enter the fray with your attorney hat on...? Is there anyone out there that could argue as passionately and as persuausively as you on behalf of healthy ecosystems? I really doubt it.


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