Encana drilling site in the open spaces of Boulder County, 2012.
We have a growing democracy problem taking place in the state of Colorado.
This problem, which has simmered under the surface for many years, has recently exploded into a statewide debate that wages the fundamental rights of Colorado individuals and communities directly against the will and interests of the largest multinational corporations in the world.
The contention, which on the surface seems to speak about the industrial practice of “fracking”, has been joined by communities throughout the state, as well as all levels of political officialdom and corporate leaders.
And as we head into the summer of 2014, the simmering tension between corporate interests and our democracy itself will play out into every town and city across our state, and the building conflict will have implications far wider than the current bans and moratoria on oil and gas activity.
Given the position of corporations and various political officials, one would think that local communities enacting laws defining and protecting what they consider their fundamental rights could be comparable to the regulation of some toxic industrial chemical.
How much democracy is safe? Under what circumstances should people and communities be allowed democratic decision making? Should all power really come from the people, and what happens if the democracy that we were taught about in our elementary school textbooks is actually created?
These questions have become so unsettling to corporations and their representatives that all manner of diversion and negation are now being employed to mute their power and common sense appeal. This includes major public relations campaigns, corporate litigation against communities, proposed legislation, and statements from politicians on every side of the isle. Boulder Democrat and House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, as far back as January stated, “When you do things at the ballot box, I think you frequently make a lot of mistakes that create difficulties in the future”. More recently Greeley Mayor Tom Norton remarked, “That’s not local control, its local tyranny”. Democracy is tyranny—it doesn’t get any sharper than that.
What is not being talked about so much is that this is just the most recent example of communities being opposed by industry and government in their attempts to protect their health, safety and welfare from what they considered inherently dangerous projects.
Just in 2009, for example, Summit County had its ban on the industrial use of cyanide in gold mining overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court, the court ruling that mining interests were the property of the State, and that Summit County did not have the authority to enact such a ban. That decision had implications for similar bans on the use of cyanide across four other Colorado counties including Gilpin, Gunnison, Conejo and Costillo. While we can ague how we would like about the safety of oil and gas development, the safety of cyanide isn’t so much of a controversy.
And so we stand at a threshold, where corporate power and community rights now find themselves in immediate collision, and with tangible consequences for people across Colorado.
It is not a new feature to American history. Other eras have found times when the legally guaranteed interests of the few created potential harms for the many. Where this took place movements were built to secure fundamental change to advance and protect people’s inherent and inalienable rights.
And what we are experiencing here in Colorado is the very beginning of this type of movement.
Ballot Initiative # 75, the Colorado Community Rights Amendment, stands at its last hurdle before breaking into the light of the petitioning and signature gathering phase. This is because it was the first ballot initiative launched to address the enormous discrepancies between corporate power and individual and community rights, and that opens its empowerment to all communities rather than just those facing oil and gas development.
Our intent is to bring its language, inspiration, and ideas to a full vote of Colorado’s people, so that like women’s suffrage and the civil right movements of the past, we can begin to build real community democracy, and start to create a system that places our fundamental rights as the highest authority, and that solves the problem that Colorado now faces: “Who should rule the people if not ourselves?”
Above: Governor Hickenlooper attempts to calm crowd in Longmont, Colorado. He and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association would eventually sue the city after they voted to ban fracking.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Marcee Murray King / Editor: Renée Picard
Photos: Provided by the Author