Activists hope to cap corporate privileges
Public invited to workshop on promoting community rights within Vancouver
Monday, January 9, 2012
If you go
• What: Community rights workshop.
• When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
• Where: Marcia McReynolds’ residence, 3512 F St., Vancouver.
• Cost: Donations accepted.
In the past two decades, a growing number of cities and towns have passed or attempted to pass ordinances to diminish the ability of corporations to override community decisions. Now, there may be a nascent effort toward that end in Vancouver.
Vancouver resident Marcia McReynolds said she has organized a workshop Wednesday for Vancouver residents to learn about what they can do to assert local control in a period of increasing corporate influence in national politics.
“I am pulling together this workshop to see what we can do in Vancouver,” McReynolds said. “We would like the city to say corporations are not people in this town.”
McReynolds said she would like the Vancouver City Council to pass an ordinance that would eliminate corporate “personhood” rights in the city limits. She also would like to see the city end tax credits for businesses that decide to locate in the city.
“They get all kinds of incentives with no responsibilities,” McReynolds said.
That fits in with the basic goal of the “community rights” movement to erode corporate free speech rights and strengthen the rights of local communities, said national activist Paul Cienfuegos, who will give Wednesday’s presentation. How a city or town accomplishes that goal differs by place, said Cienfuegos, who moved to Portland in April.
For example, the Pittsburgh City Council passed an ordinance in November 2010 banning natural gas drilling in the city limits. The city stands on part of the Marcellus Shale, a large rock formation in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York. The ordinance included a provision to eliminate corporate “personhood” rights within the city.
“We’ve been begging higher-level government to protect us from corporate harm,” Cienfuegos said. “The community rights movement is saying ‘You have not been protecting us, so we are going to do it ourselves.’”
The ordinances can create a “crisis of jurisdiction,” in which the federal government fights the local government in the courts over who has jurisdiction.
Natural gas drilling, for example, is regulated by state and federal law. So far, there have been limited challenges to local community rights ordinances, Cienfuegos said.
In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals and struck down most of the limits that had prevented corporations from spending money to directly influence political campaigns. The Occupy movement has helped to buoy the community rights movement, which has been active for the last two decades, Cienfuegos said.
McReynolds has publicized the workshop on the Occupy Vancouver Facebook page, and hopes Clark County members of the Tea Party and others frustrated with corporate influence in the nation will also join the workshop.
“Interestingly, this movement is not left-wing,” Cienfuegos said. “Many people in Republican-dominated farming communities have passed community rights ordinances. It’s really about local control vs. corporate control.”
The conservative-dominated Wells Township in Fulton County, Pa., passed an ordinance about a decade ago to ban corporate farming, Cienfuegos said.
The movement is still in its infancy in the Pacific Northwest.
In 2011, a Community Bill of Rights to give Spokane voters the power to reject proposed commercial developments failed by a margin of less than 1 percent, according to the Spokane County Elections Office. Voters also rejected the proposition in a 2009 election. The proposition would have given neighborhood residents who are registered voters the ability to veto rezoning of land in their neighborhood for commercial or residential developments larger than 10,000 square feet. It also stipulated that corporations “not be deemed as ‘persons.’”
Opponents argued that the bill of rights would invite lawsuits and drive away business and jobs.