Pennie don't frack CA

Idle No More Bay Area’s Pennie Opal Plant speaking to crowds of over 5,000 at California’s largest ever environmental rally in 2014.


With the arrival of fracking on the political scene, California’s democracy is unquestionably drowning in Big Oil. As Common Cause has reported, over the last 15 years, $267 million has been spent on lobbying and political contributions in Sacramento, the lion’s share of which coincides with fracking’s ugly rise as the short-term future of the fossil fuel industry. Fracking is perhaps the worst energy idea to hit California’s communities and the climate in history, yet the echoes of “drill baby drill” seem to be resounding throughout the Capitol, overwhelming the voices of the people, common sense, the process of democracy, and the realities of the worst drought in history. As Americans Against Fracking’s David Braun says, “Only in a world where corporate influence rules public policy would slash and burn technologies like fracking—which utilizes enormous quantities of fresh water and toxic chemicals to smash bedrock and release dirty energy—be considered a good idea.”


Source: Damien Luzzo

Studies following the recently defeated fracking moratorium showthat State Senators who voted “NO” received 14 times more in industry contributions, coupled with massive industry lobbying expenditures, revealing money’s influence on politics. With huge campaign contributions to the Governor and state politicians; the intense pressure of lobbying; industry’s role in writing regulatory laws; the revolving door of government-to-industry-and-back jobs; and the inappropriate appointments of industry to myriad ‘watchdog’ posts—the crisis we face may be bigger than fracking. Increasingly, California communities are taking democracy into their own hands and banning fracking locally.

Following the fracking money: In the flash of a gas flare, Governor Brown has shaken the “moonbeam” moniker that dogged his early career as an idealist and an environmentalist who stood firmly outside of the establishment. Now, wading deep in the pool of political money, the third-term “climate leader” took Big Oil & Gas contributions totaling $2.5 million before signing the now-infamous bill-gone-bad SB4 into law, which instead of regulating fracking (the bill’s initial intent), actually exempts fracking from regulatory oversight, and even forces the state to issue fracking permits for at least the next two years.

Occidental Petroleum, Governor Brown’s biggest energy funder has the largest stake in Calfiornia’s fracking game. As Claire Sandberg reported in Truthout, in an October 2013 investor call, Occidental executives cited “more favorable permitting” as the impetus behind its plan to increase capital expenditures by $500 million next year in California. “Most of this increase will be directed towards unconventional drilling opportunities where we have more than 1 million prospective acres for unconventional resources,” said Occidental president and CEO, Steve Chazen. fracking_contributions_to_senate

Following the SB4 fail, concerned Californians rallied, continuing to plead and demand that state representatives protect California from fracking by passing a statewide moratorium, a bill known as SB 1132.  In a powerful display of big money over justice, the bill was defeated, a well funded victory for the fracking industry. Following the money, nonprofit watchdog Maplight provided the following analysis: “Senators voting ‘NO’ on the moratorium bill have received 14 times as much money from the oil and gas industry, on average ($24,981), as Senators voting ‘YES’ ($1,772). Twenty-one votes were required for the bill to pass. The final vote was 16-16, with eight Senators abstaining. Three of the abstainers have been suspended from the Senate due to corruption allegations. If the five active Senators who abstained from voting—all Democrats—voted in favor, the moratorium would have passed.

  • The Democrats who abstained from voting on the moratorium have received, on average, 4.5 times as much money from the oil and gas industry as the Democrats who voted ‘YES’.
  • Senator Jeanne Fuller (R) has received $52,300 from the oil and gas industry, more than any other senator voting on the bill. She voted ‘NO’.”

Reported by the Daily Kos: Over their lifetime, the 16 Senators who voted against SB 1132 have taken $590,185 from the oil industry, while the 16 who voted no have taken $159,250. And, according to Truthout, the Western States Petroleum Agency—the biggest corporate lobby in California—spent $4.7 million in 2013, and $1.5 million in the first quarter of 2014, contributing to the estimated $15 million the anti-fracking coalition Californians Against Fracking says the industry spent lobbying against SB 1132.

Regulating fracking isn’t the answer either. With the creation of the Halliburton Loophole, fracking was exempted from the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. But even if it wasn’t—fracking cannot be done safely, and it is largely the industry to be regulated that writes the policies, anyway. As Colorado biologist Shane Davis details, The Colorado oil and gas conservation commissions (COGCC) regulations are nothing but a public pacifier. There is an internal ‘waiver’ system that allows the fracking industry a free pass to not have to abide by any regulation if they can show the regulation will cause undo financial burden to the operator.” As a scientist who is also living with high levels of Benzene and other toxins in his blood from exposure to fracking sites near his home, he has become a national spokesperson for the cause. Says Davis,It is very clear the state of Colorado cannot abide by its mission to prevent adverse impacts to the environment and protect public health, safety and welfare.


Fracking protests in New York warn Governor Cuomo. Could California be far behind?

So what happens next? For a growing number, the crush of money at the state level is beginning to draw the curtain on the idea that maybe the system isn’t broken but working perfectly—just not for residents or healthy ecosystems. So where do we turn to save ourselves from bad ideas like fracking? Well for now, the growing consensus seems to be that we must rely on our neighbors. A growing number of communities, including Santa Cruz and Beverly Hills, have passed local bans on fracking, with several more working to make it on their local 2014 elections ballot.  Peter Norris, resident of Willits, CA, believes watching the statewide fracking debate play out “only points to the larger issue of democracy and gets to the question ‘who decides about fracking—residents or corporations?” It’s one of the reasons he’s part of  a countywide group, the Community Rights Network of Mendocino County (CRNMC), which is working to pass an ordinance this November to assert their local right to ban fracking: “Residents here feel strongly that decisions about water here should be made locally and should be focused on the rights of community and our ecosystems, and enforced by laws.”

toolkitcoverThe CRNMC is gathering some 6,000 signatures throughout the county in order to put the idea of community rights on the ballot this November. If passed, Mendocino County will join the ranks of over 160 communities—from big cities to conservative rural townships across the US that have protected the health safety and welfare of residents and local ecosystems by asserting their right to decide what happens where they live. They are working with Global Exchange and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to pass an ordinance that bans fracking by elevating the rights of communities and the local ecosystem above the claimed “rights” of corporations. “I like to think of it in terms of the adage ‘we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for,” says Idle No More Bay Area’s spokesperson Pennie Opal Plant, “We can’t expect our elected officials to act in our best interests. We have to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our communities. Enacting local democracy is an important tool.”

Shane Davis agrees, “It is time that communities enact local control through the ballot box. Community rights should be supreme over corporate pollution.”  To learn more about  Community Rights, download Global Exchange’s new toolkit.

Rainy, wet and fabulous.

1/23/2012 Update: Watch the new video “Embody the Movement” of J20 & the One People Flashmob just added towards the end of this post.

On January 20, Occupy Wall Street West made ‘business as usual’ uncomfortable in the financial core of  San Francisco. Despite copious rain, protests began at 6am, continued at Wells Fargo and Bank of America branches, moved to the courts, back to Bechtel and the banks, labor and immigrant rights marches targeting I.C.E offices and culminating with a huge and spirited march up Market St as night fell. Occupy SF later held a General Assembly on the top of the vacant Cathedral Hill Hotel and dropped the ‘People’s Food Bank of America banner off the side of the building.  Read a report back from the morning’s actions here.

Disrupting business at three banks or more was no small feat.  Kudos to those that peacefully blocked the doors by locking arms inside PVC pipes and sat there for over 8 hours, preventing the banks from opening. Rainforest Action Network was hard at work looking for the corporation/person Mr. Bank O. America, highlighting the result of the FEC vs Citizens United Supreme Court ruling which prohibits governments from placing limits on corporations or unions on independent political spending. Throughout the day people carried signs and chanted, “Corporations are not  people”, “Money is not speech” and “People before profit”.

Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Global Exchange, Fellowship of Reconciliation, New Priorities Campaign and others were present outside the Bechtel headquarters all day, protesting Bechtel’s practice of greed and destruction. A record of the day, as well as links to Bechtel facts is at the @bechtelaction twitter feed. Bechtel spends millions on campaign contributions and lobbyists who secure war contracts, undermining democratic process, while directing billions of public dollars to build nuclear weapons and make its CEO a billionaire. Bechtel received more than $2 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds to fund infrastructure rebuilding projects in Iraq. Its Pentagon contracts increased $700 million in 2009 after heavy lobbying on the military spending bill, and rose to $2.49 billion in 2011. Kirsten Moller describes the morning’s events here.

At 3pm about 75 people gathered to hear testimony about Bechtel, the impacts of war and occupation in the US and abroad. Global Exchange’s Dalit Baum spoke about corporate profiteering from war and ‘conflict management. Watch it here. At the end, IVAW members staged Operation First Casualty – recreating the situation and conditions present in Iraq which allow US military to arbitrarily detain civilians, by abducting members of the teach in. IVAW members had staged this action at different locations throughout the day and created a loud, aggressive and frankly, scary environment that brought home the sense of terror that people in Iraq and other occupied countries experience every day. The action is captured here. It contains strong language.

The action drew attention to a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that obliterates constitutionally protected due process rights, permitting the the arrest and indefinite detention of US citizens anywhere in the world, including the US. More information about the NDAA can be read here.

The People’s Food Bank of America served up food to everyone at Justin Herman/Bradley Manning Plaza and Dancing Without Borders and CodePINK staged the ‘One People’ Flashmob before we marched up Market street behind the ‘Seize the Banks’ banner. Many folks sought shelter before arriving to the Cathedral Hill Hotel to post photos (a great stream of photos from the day are here), videos and blogs, warm wet feet and reflect on the Day of Action – believing that whatever happens next – we are unstoppable.

Added 1/23/12: Check out this new video “Embody the Movement of J20 & the One People Flashmob:

In ‘Republic, Lost’ academic and lawyer Lawrence Lessig writes:

…The problem with Congress is not just in appearance. It is real. It is the product of an economy of influence that we have allowed to evolve within our government … That economy systematically draws members away from the focus, or dependance, they were intended to have. That dependance … is corruption. It is the corruption that is our government.

The Occupiers have, and continue to, expose corporate greed and demand an end to the overwhelming influence that money has in our systems – economic, political and even social. On January 17, hundreds gathered on Capitol Hill to welcome members back to Congress after the winter break and decry corporate influence in the government.

On January 20, a mass day of direct action will shut down so-called Wall Street West – the financial core of San Francisco. Over 50 organizations have plans for actions throughout the day to “crack the corporate piggy bank” and target corporate power.

Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Global Exchange, Fellowship of Reconciliation, New Priorities Campaign and others will be present outside the Bechtel headquarters all day, protesting Bechtel’s practice of greed and destruction. Bechtel spends millions on campaign contributions and lobbyists who secure war contracts, undermining democratic process, while directing billions of public dollars to build nuclear weapons and make its CEO a billionaire. Follow the action on twitter at @BechtelAction.

On January 21, the Nationwide Day of Action to “overturn the devastating FEC vs. Citizens United ruling and end corporate rule” – Occupy the Corporations – will call on elected officials to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the two year-old ruling – the impacts of which we have yet to experience in this 2012 election cycle. On this day, across the US, people will stand up and say enough is enough to corporate influence in elections.

But this will not be enough, we’re calling for deep structural changes to our governing systems, including passing laws that place the rights of communities and nature above the claimed “rights” of corporations. Over 150 US communities have already written new rules, refusing to be divided by partisan politics and to staying focused on dismantling corporate rule by taking control of our own structures of government. Rule by the people.

If we can remain united (truly citizens united) in this global revolution it is we — the 99% — that are too big to fail.

A little inspiration? Lessig further states, “…anyone who would resist this system would be a pariah on the Hill. You can just head the dialogue from any number of Hollywood films: ‘We’ve got a good thing going here, Jimmy. Why would you want to go and mess things up?'”

I’ve always thought a little mess made things better.

Shannon Biggs directs the Community Rights program at Global Exchange.

By 5:00 am on October 25, as I was boarding a NYC-bound plane, reports of police forces raiding Occupy Oakland were beginning to filter through the local news, Twitter and Facebook. By the time I arrived at the Liberty Plaza/Zucotti Park headquarters of OWS, events in Oakland were already a main topic of conversation.

As one-day visitors to Occupy Wall Street, my fellow organizer Ben Price from CELDF and I were asked to speak and share stories from the frontlines of the grassroots movement enacting local laws that place the rights of communities and nature above corporate interests. But within me was also a keen desire to be a part of the conversation happening on Wall Street that has inspired Occupy Everywhere: Will history remember Zuccotti Park as a landmark location and this as the defining moment we took an evolutionary step forward for democracy and system change?

Indian activist Premilla Dixit, on whose invitation we had come, greeted us Wednesday morning, and walked us through the encampment, answering our countless questions and introducing us to the Zucotti Park community. Throughout the long day of activities we learned of her journey to occupy both Wall Street and Hudson Valley, NY over the last several weeks, and how she connects to the rights-based framework. Click here to meet Premilla Dixit.

Shannon Biggs and Premilla Dixit

By 10:00 am, a drizzling rain ensured many tents remained up, and the number of people walking around remained down.  Still, this is a busy place: information booths in different languages, a considerable library, sidewalk cleaning teams, press tents, and no shortage of drop-in conversations and committees already at work. Click here to see a video clip of the Occupy Wall Street site the morning we arrived. As a tourist, this would be your experience – the earnestness engagement and diversity of those gathered.  But Premilla also pointed us to the deeper human experience of life inside this crowded instant-village.

There is the occasional sign of social strain. We heard that the kitchen workers were on a bit of a mid-morning strike, feeling the pressure of a 24-hour a day operation. And we walked the corner claimed by newly released Riker’s Island inmates, whose presence has raised some security concerns among occupiers (reportedly they are directed there by prison officials).  But equally invisible to passers by, is the direct-democracy experiment at work, coursing through the community like blood to vital organs, to address concerns, meet new and ongoing needs, and organize countless working and moving parts.

By 11:30 we had met with dozens of activists, occupiers and visitors from every walk of life.  Standing at the top of the Plaza steps on the Wall Street sidewalk, surrounded by a crowd of tourists, Wall Street workers, city dwellers and occupiers I took my first words at the People’s Mic in the the staccato cadence it has become famous for. The 360 degree crowd repeats and amplifies your words to the surrounding neighborhood, drawing the curious in for a closer look. Please click here for a blog transcript and video of our presentation.

The rest of the day moved at a blurring pace faster than a New York minute — and our group was growing.  Reinette Senum, former mayor of Nevada City CA and a longtime supporter of rights-based organizing  and Democracy School, was being filmed as a visiting occupier.  She and her videographer joined us for much of the day, as well as new friends met during the presentation.  Click here to see a video clip of Reinette talking about Democracy School. We met an Egyptian student, Shimaa Helmy, who was involved in the democratic uprising in her own country, and was in the US to tell her story in hopes of strengthening efforts in Egypt and in the US. Click here to meet Shimaa. Conversations had to be kept on the move, as we walked to the next activity, and the next. Premilla took us to WBAI radio station to set up interviews, instructed us to grab a pizza slice from a truck and keep walking.

OWS organizing meeting

We were asked to give our speeches again on camera for the OWS web and suddenly it was 6 pm, time to observe and participate in the daily General Assembly meeting, in a formerly empty office directly across the street from OWS, piled with boxes, and a makeshift supermarket of dry goods and a wall rack full of winter gear.  After being on the street all day, the roomy space was quiet by comparison. The meeting itself is informal, run by consensus and a rotating facilitator  and a well organized committee structure to address each item and provide report back.  We linked up with those on the organizing team, about potential next steps.

The day ended with a solidarity march for Oakland, and I vowed to bring the spirit and stories of OWS home with me to the Bay Area.  Whatever you may think about the Occupy Movement, its full of people moving the first conversation about structural change to the spotlight in decades.  This is the most necessary conversation we could be having in our hometowns, and for the sake of system change, we need to have it peacefully, free from excessive force or violence.

Global Exchange is organizing our participation in Oakland tomorrow as part of Occupiers’ call for a citywide general strike/day of action, and if you live in the Bay Area, consider participating for a day, or part of a day or taking action in your community.  Here are some resources:

In the face of corporate power today, the struggle for real, lasting change and the efforts to assert real people’s rights over  corporation’s ‘personhood’ rights is being championed by some very special communities throughout the US.

These communities describe to a different approach to the traditional regulatory system, one that says plainly and clearly: NO, we do not want corporations to have the right to make the decisions where we live! Rather, that right is reserved exclusively for us, the people.

We get frequent calls from citizens across California asking us for help in asserting their communities’ rights. They want to know how to take the right to decision making in their community away from profit-driven corporations and put it back into the hands of the people.

We figure, what better way to help those wondering than to share what a handful of communities are doing to assert their rights? So below are two excellent pieces published this week that highlight some of the cutting-edge work being done to change the rules for corporations and empower people to get what they want in the places they call home.

For a look at how citizens are standing up to corporate power in real and meaningful ways, check out these articles from YES! Magazine and AlterNet:


OK…technically, Rosa Parks took a seat for rights, but when it comes to corporations citing unwanted and dangerous projects, communities are taking a stand for rights.  A stand for their right to determine what happens in the place where we live. A stand for the right not to be a sacrifice zone for corporate profits.

After all, who else but the people directly affected should decide what happens to them where they live and raise their families?  Currently, state and federal law says that corporations don’t need community permission to drop pesticides overhead, or to site a toxic dump next to the school grounds. We are told we cannot say “no,” to the unwanted project because that would be a violation of the corporation’s Constitutional rights.

That’s where Rosa Parks comes in. And not just Rosa, but Susan B. Anthony and the suffragettes, the abolitionists, and every other movement for rights in this country that challenged the law when those laws denied the rights of people.  Hard as it is to believe now, slavery was once legal and constitutional…but illegitimate and unjust… because it was depriving the rights of affected human beings.

According to the Declaration of Independence, the purpose of law and government is to uphold rights of citizens; and if laws fail to do just that, they must be changed.  The growing movement for local control is merely the new frontier for the assertion of rights.

Global Exchange and our partner the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund assist communities in passing cutting-edge laws that put residents’ interests above corporate profits.

In Mt Shasta residents concerned about water bottling and toxic chemical corporate cloud seeding formed the Mt. Shasta Community Rights project specifically to put decision making about water  under local – not corporate – control.  We helped them craft the ordinance and write the report “Mt Shasta Water Rights: Who Decides?

If passed in November by the people, their RIGHTS-based ordinance will be the first of its kind in California.  I think Rosa Parks would be proud to take a stand.

Keep updated: Follow Communityrights on Twitter:  and join the listserve.

For more info on the ordinance, cloud seeding and the Mt. Shasta campaign, see Jeff Conant’s recent in depth article on alternet:

Outrage as PG&E Plans to Spray Clouds With Toxic Chemical to Increase Rainfall