Envision Spokane – a group comprised of neighborhood advocates, labor union locals, and community activists –have been organizing for over two years around a citizen’s initiative placing the nation’s very first Community Bill of Rights on the November 2011 ballot in the City of Spokane known as Proposition 1. If passed, the initiative would recognize certain rights for neighborhoods, the river, and employees, and guarantee that the rights of people and communities are elevated above the rights of corporations within the City of Spokane. 

Recently, Envision Spokane published a series of videos around the different components of the proposition. Check them out here. The following article, Sustainability is a Right, was written by Global Exchange co-founder, Kevin Danaher. It outlines the importance of Proposition 1 in asserting the City of Spokane’s right to sustainability and how the citizens of Spokane can set a bold example for other US communities by passing the proposition into law this November.

Sustainability is a Right by Kevin Danaher

Ecology teaches us that all living things are connected.  So our ideas and laws should reflect that, and change as the natural world changes. Because the natural resources of the planet are getting used up and poisoned, our laws must adjust to this significant fact.

Creating a sustainable city requires laws that support that grand idea, and we need courage to implement the changes needed to make sustainability real. In my most recent visit to Spokane as the keynote speaker for Sustainable September, I had a chance to see just how alive and vibrant that sentiment of “making it real” is in Spokane, and to meet many of the hard-working residents and neighbors, from every walk of life, working together to put the Community Bill of Rights on the ballot for November.

In my talks around the country, including at the multi-city Green Festivals, I’m often asked about the bright spots for positive social and environmental change happening: the Big Ideas.  The expected answer usually looks to national or even international levels.  But most significant movements for change (and establishing rights) begin at the grassroots, starting with people who are directly affected by changes in law and policy.

When we seek to implement true sustainability in the places where we live — whether it is local food preferencing, restricting Big Box stores, or protecting our rivers and drinking water — we often find that what stands in our way are our own laws. Our own laws stop citizens from saying “no” to dangerous and polluting activities by large corporations, or even from saying “yes” to things like workers’ rights in the workplace.  But laws are meant for We the People, not the corporations.

Spokane is known for many things — historic bridges overlooking a powerful river, distinctive neighborhoods, a lively downtown  — and residents want to keep it that way. Envision Spokane, as it is known around the country, is taking a stand to write new laws that reflect community values and citizens’ rights. The pioneers of this local, sustainable economy aren’t pie-in-the sky dreamers, but rather practical people who believe they have a right to be the ones who determine their quality of life in Spokane.

Howard Zinn used to say, “Democracy doesn’t come from the top. It comes from the bottom. Democracy is not what governments do. It’s what people do.”

In putting the Community Bill of Rights on the ballot, the people of Spokane are stepping forward with the courage and the vision to create the kind of democratic, healthy and just community they want to live in.  In passing the Bill of Rights on Election Day, Spokane will be showing the rest of our communities how to do the same.