Read the Dirt: Fighting for the Right to a Sustainable Food System: Benton County, Oregon

by Dana AllenRead the Dirt
January 17th, 2013

Editor’s Note: The Benton County Community Rights Coalition is working to qualify an ordinance for the ballot that elevates the community’s rights over corporate “rights” and state preemption in their county. The ordinance asserts the community’s right to a sustainable food system, seed heritage, and the inalienable rights of nature to exist, persist and flourish. If passed by a vote of the county citizens, it would ban GMO’s as a violation of these rights. Dana Allen, one of three founding members and chief petitioner, shares with us a sneak peak at what Benton County has been running up against as they go through the process of getting their initiative through the system. We will feature a more comprehensive piece about Benton County, Oregon in the future.

We, the Benton County Community Rights Coalition (BCCRC), are going through trials and tribulations right now because there is a very good chance that our Community Food Bill of Rights Ordinance may be denied a ballot title. If our county court rules that the ordinance violates the “single subject rule” we will be unable to collect petition signatures. We argue that everything in the ordinance relates to the single subject of a sustainable food system, but the county attorney believes that elevating community rights above the “rights” of corporations does not relate to our right to a sustainable food system.  The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has told us from the very beginning about the challenges that we will face, and we were totally prepared for this.  Before we submitted our Ordinance, it was reviewed multiple times by CELDF to ensure that legally it DID meet the single subject requirement – legally it is tighter than a drum. Read it here.

If the court rules against us on this single subject rule (we will probably hear in late February/early March), CELDF is already helping us write a new Food Bill of Rights that we will submit to Elections within a week or so of the court ruling.  CELDF also told us how to strategically use this process to our advantage no matter how things go.  And we listened.  Nobody is going to be disheartened.  Our supporters are already mad as hell at the county attorney for taking us to court because he doesn’t like that our ordinance puts community rights over corporate “rights” and state pre-emption.  If the court shoots us down, there are going to be a whole lot of pissed off citizens around here.  And they are going to seriously engage on the next go round with our next initiative.  So we win either way.

Other community supporters don’t need to know the nuts and bolts of this rights-based work.  All they need to know is that all power to govern rests with the people in their state constitution.  All they have to know is that the initiative process is their right to govern what goes on in their community.  That they have the right to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all of their residents by a vote of the people.  All they have to know is that if their initiative gets blocked, their “misrepresentatives” have denied them their democratic rights.  All they have to know is that the emperor has no cloths – that the system that we call a democracy represents corporate interests and the system itself, not the people. Period. All of this has to be framed in such a way that people don’t react to this stuff by getting disheartened or giving up.  It should be framed in such a way that the citizens can see that the “system” is working perfectly – for the powers that be, not them.  And the system’s demonstration of that fact by denying them ballot access should not have to be processed in their brain.  It should go straight to their gut as if they have been physically assaulted – which they have.  And that should make them mad as hell and determined to make it known that they aren’t going to take it anymore.

Our communities need rabble-rousers that can frame everything through a rights-based lens.  That core group of organizers also needs to know how to frame the issues for the citizens in a way that gets to their core beliefs; that we supposedly live in a democracy; that all power rests with the people; that the representatives we elect work for the people; that the people have the right to change how the system works.  Community leaders need to be able to show the citizens that they have been betrayed by the system, and by the people that are running this supposed “democracy”.  The citizens have to know in their gut that their fundamental rights to the health, safety, and welfare of their families, neighbors, and community have been seized and stomped on.  They have to feel the pain of actually experiencing the fact that our democracy does not work as they believed it did.  They have to get mad enough to engage with their neighbors, together, and push back with the inalienable rights that their constitution says they have.

You can also read the article here: