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:

Pittsburgh is the first major U.S. city to adopt a rights-based ordinance that includes the legal rights for nature.

Global Exchange’s Community Rights Program has been working to expand rights-based organizing in California by working with communities to embrace ordinances like the one that was recently passed in Pittsburgh.  One such is Mt. Shasta, CA where GX continues to support an ordinance that would put the interests of the community above those of corporate cloud seeders and water bottlers.  Our long time partner, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) drafted this first ever ordinance that will stop harmful gas drilling within the city limits of Pittsburgh. Passed unanimously by the city council this week, the ordinance was sponsored by Councilman Doug Shields who sees beyond the single-issue of drilling.  He says, “It’s about our authority as a community to decide, not corporations deciding for us.”

The largest source of domestic natural gas in the United States, the Marcellus Shale geological formation sits a mile below the city… an energy company’s gold mine. The ordinance bans the new practice of “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing, which essentially injects toxic chemical laced water underground to create explosions that release the gas. Fracking contaminates groundwater, local rivers and streams, along with many other negative impacts to the community. Because “regulating” or lessening the harm will never solve the problem, Pittsburgh has gone to the root cause; they do not want drilling at all. While Pittsburgh’s issue differs from Mt. Shasta there is the same underlying problem: who decides–communities or corporations?  Read here for more on what the ordinance does in an article from YES! Magazine

The ordinance is also the first in the nation to recognize the legally binding rights of nature. Nature and the resources it offers has for too long been seen as property. And damage done is only gauged by human impact.  Drilling, for example, could only be challenged by its harm to humans; not the water, land, and animals that it violates. By seeing nature as more than a means to an end, but rather for its innate right to exist the city is protecting the ecosystems and natural communities by which it relies on and residents are empowered by this ordinance to enforce those rights.

Communities like Pittsburgh are discovering their lack of decision-making power in their own communities and are taking a stand through a rights-based approach.  Pittsburgh’s ability to take on corporate injustice says a lot about the future of communities to truly stop unwanted harm rather than just postpone it.  Buffalo, NY is considering adopting a similar ordinance.

For more information on rights-based work in California please contact Shannon Biggs, Director of Community Rights Program at GX or to find out more about Pittsburgh contact Ben Price at

Written by Juli Stelmaszyk


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