Guatemala Resists: a webcast on the current crisis in Guatemala

On October 18th Guatemala will celebrate its (non-violent) Democratic Revolution of 1944 with a new, democratic revolution, one that has arisen to defend their newly elected president, Bernardo Arévalo.

President-elect Arévalo does not take office until January 14th – nearly five months after his election on August 20th – and corrupt forces within the existing Guatemalan government have sought to use this long transition period to derail his administration before it even begins.  But Guatemalans have risen up to oppose them, mounting a powerful, nationwide campaign of resistance demanding the resignation of the corrupt officials behind what Arévalo calls a “slow-motion coup.”

The resistance campaign, buoyed by the critical leadership of “Ancestral Authorities” of Indigenous communities has been costly but resilient – even in the face of repression like the deadly armed attacks in Malacatan last Monday.

  • Édgar Gutiérrez who is a former Foreign Minister turned journalist. For years, his opinion columns and analysis published in many media outlets have helped the public better understand how corruption structures operate, as well as the links between corrupt officials, corrupting elites, and organized crime. This has earned him constant legal and media attacks, which is why he now lives in exile in Mexico.
  • Gregorio “Goyo” Saavedra is a young journalist and lawyer who has specialized in analyzing and denouncing “Lawfare” the corrupt manipulation of the legal system to attack political opponents. He will explain the “absurd” legal tactics being deployed by the losers of last August’s election as they attempt to undo its clear mandate for deep, institutional reform.

Global Exchange will be investigating, observing, and reporting on Guatemala’s historic (run-off) presidential elections. 
Tune in here for updates and news.

The August 20th election is in the international spotlight because emergent democratic forces represented by the Semilla Movement and their candidate, Bernardo Arévalo, won a run-off spot in the general elections that took place last June and then successfully defended it against trumped-up legal attacks that sought to disqualify their party and close the door on democracy.

Hundreds of observers are expected to be in the country during the election.

Tension between Guatemala’s authoritarian ruling structures and the democratic impulses of its people are nothing new.

In 1944 (during the final days of WWII) Guatemala had a popular uprising that brought Bernardo Arevalo’s father, Juan Jose Arevalo Bermejo out of exile and into the Presidency, where he built a broad consensus, modernized education, established the first ever labor code and created the social security system that still exists today.

When Arévalo’s successor, President Jacobo Arbenz, sought to expand those gains with a land redistribution program he came up against an implacable oligarchy that welcomed the notorious CIA led coup of 1954 that snuffed democracy and led to generations of terror, repression, civil war, and the genocide of Indigenous communities –much of it with the direct or implicit support of the United States.

Things began to improve in Guatemala following the signing of the 1996 Peace Accords, but recent decades have seen an upsurge in criminal violence, environmental destruction, and rampant corruption, while the structures of extreme wealth and enforced poverty continue much the same as in1944

History may or may not be repeating itself as the candidacy of Bernardo Arevalo takes center stage, but there is no doubt the Movimiento Semilla has created high expectations and infectious positive energy throughout Guatemala and Latin America.

Our delegation is being convened by CESJUL, the Bogota, Colombia based legal training and human rights organization. They have assembled a stellar group of journalists, human rights specialists, scholars, and elected officials from Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and the United States.

Our observers will be just that, observers. And they will report on what they see.  That’s where you come in. Working closely with [Prensa Comunitaria] the journalists on our team will deliver contextual analysis and up to the minute coverage of this hotly contested event.

For the latest on upcoming pre, during and post election webcasts and live updates please visit our webpage.

¡Viva la democracia!


Global Exchange has been observing elections and monitoring the human rights in Colombia since the end of the 1990s. Twenty-five years ago, the country was immersed in one of its bloodiest periods of violent armed conflict, causing millions of people to flee their homes in rural areas.  Fast forward to today and a peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla group has been signed, bringing the world’s longest running internal armed conflict to a close. And in June 2022, the country elected Gustavo Petro, former Mayor of Bogotá and ex-M19 guerrilla member, as its first ever left-wing president.   

Despite the more optimistic human rights and political situation, Global Exchange continues to send regular international delegations to Colombia in order to monitor elections and take the temperature in regions dominated by dissident guerrilla and powerful narco-trafficking groups. Global Exchange collaborators are also on the ground supporting a new generation of citizens who are working to build a more peaceful, egalitarian and democratic country.

Historic Elections in 2022

Last year, Global Exchange organized a delegation of Latin America journalists to cover the presidential elections and report on ordinary people’s hopes and aspirations in Colombia’s most troublesome regions.  Gustavo Petro, leader of the Historical Pact movement, won a narrow victory to become the country’s first ever progressive president. Thanks to Manuel Ortiz and colleagues’ on-the-ground reporting and analysis, Global Exchange supporters got an accurate, front seat perspective on these historic events.

What’s Next for Colombia:

A year on and negotiations are underway with the ELN, Latin America’s last active guerrilla movement. Petro’s audacious Total Peace initiative seeks to put an end to all armed conflict in Colombia by simultaneously negotiating the voluntary dismantling of Colombia’s narco-trafficking groups. At the end of April this year, Global Exchange and civil society allies delivered a methodological proposal to the High Commissioner for Peace on how ordinary citizens could play a more active role in this process.

President Petro’s self-denominated “government for change” took important steps to fulfill its electoral promises during its first 100 days in office. In addition to organizing more than 50 Binding Regional Dialogues for citizens to contribute to the four-year National Development Plan, the president negotiated the formation of a governing majority with Colombia’s traditional political parties. This so-called “bull-dozer coalition” proved fundamental for passing key legislation during his first semester, including an ambitious tax reform to close the budget deficit, pay for increased social spending, and invest in progressive reforms.

This major achievement contrasted sharply with the previous government’s proposal to tax poor people and the struggling middle class more. That fiscal plan was finally aborted, but not before provoking Colombia’s biggest ever social protests. National strikes and violent clashes between citizens and police caused scores of deaths and cost billions of dollars to Colombia’s economy and infrastructure. (Watch Global Exchange’s webcast about the protests and government crackdown.)

Citizen Dialogues for the National Development Plan

Last November, Global Exchange supported the national network of community and alternative media – Sípaz – to report from the citizen dialogues organized by the government to inspire its four-year plan.  In addition to reporting live from the events, Sípaz carried out real-time interviews and polled participants about their expectations for Colombia’s first ever mass experience in bottom-up policy making. Their report, “Binding Regional Dialogues: Lessons Learned from Citizen Participation in the National Development Plan”, contains important insights into this national experiment in popular deliberative democracy. Check out this executive summary of the report in English. A full version of the report is also available in Spanish if you are interested in taking a deeper dive.

Colombian civil society think tank, Ideas for Peace Foundation, evaluated an even larger sample of the dialogues (20 out of the 51 events). We have translated the executive summary of their report into English for those who are interested. The full version is available in Spanish on their website.

Petro Faces Political Challenges

Shortly after approving the National Development Plan, the national-unity coalition collapsed as parties argued over the details of Petro’s social reforms. The resulting gridlock has effectively disenfranchised the 70% of Colombians that rejected the status quo by voting for change in the presidential elections (see Global Exchange’s election report here).

Having failed to prevail in congress, Petro called for mass pro-government demonstrations.  On the 7th of June, however, only his most ardent supporters turned out to support the reforms. Hundreds of thousands of citizens who took to the streets two years ago or voted for alternative candidates stayed at home. Two weeks later, the conservative opposition persuaded four and a half times more people to oppose the reforms than Petro had mobilized to support them, creating a major legitimacy crisis for the government.[1]

The approval rating of the presidency fell sharply from 50% in October last year to only 35% eight months later. Other state institutions have fared equally badly or worse:  congress (33.8%); judicial system (27.2%); political parties (19.1%). In the latest opinion poll in June, presidential approval fell another two percentage points (now 33%), while the favorable opinion of congress collapsed, from 33.8% to only 19%.[2]  The message is clear: Colombians are deeply distrustful of their political institutions, with those expecting change particularly disillusioned.



Deliberative Democracy & Citizen Assemblies

Global Exchange and allies are working in Colombia to strengthen democracy by promoting innovative strategies to involve everyday citizens directly in public decision-making.  This means exploring international experiences in deliberative democracy such as citizens’ assemblies that give every day citizens a greater opportunity to influence public decision-making peacefully between elections. To do this, we are gathering lessons from successful pilot experiences from around the world, including Europe and the United States, so that they can be adapted to Colombia. These experiments have been highly effective in empowering every day citizens to fix polarizing problems that politicians have failed – or are simply unwilling – to address.

The citizens’ assembly methodology is simple yet highly effective. Chosen at random from the general population via a process called sortition, participants receive objective information from experts and presentations from interest groups before deliberating in small groups and plenaries to produce recommendations for decision-makers. Citizens’ assemblies are part of a silent but growing global revolution that seeks to revive democracy by complementing, strengthening or even replacing existing political institutions altogether.  From Ireland to Chile, hundreds of gatherings have shown that ordinary people are much more effective at resolving intractable problems than politicians – all they need is a constructive attitude, access to accurate information, and a methodology that empowers their conversations.

Ireland is the country that has advanced the most in formally incorporating the citizens’ assembly methodology into its political decision-making. Last year, Global Exchange lobbied the Irish embassy to provide technical support to Colombian civil society organizations so that they could design and implement their own pilot experiences.

In November, Art O´Leary, the Secretary General of Ireland’s Electoral Commission, and one of the world’s leading citizens’ assembly experts, visited Colombia to share his own experience with government officials and civil society activists.  Following this trip, the embassy organized a delegation of Colombian NGOs to observe Ireland’s most recent citizens’ assembly on the future of drug policy. Thanks to these exchanges, Global Exchange allies are now benefitting from more than a decade of Irish experience in successfully resolving deeply polarizing issues, such as the right to abortion, same sex marriage and divorce.

Will Gustavo Petro regain control of the political agenda and get his progressive reforms through congress? Or will ordinary Colombians lead the way through the organization of citizens’ assemblies? Either way, Global Exchange will continue to keep you posted as our efforts to strengthen participation and empower ordinary citizens in Colombia take shape.



Originally published in Newsweek:

November 23, 2021

Every day more than 200 Honduran families cross the southern border of the United States seeking asylum—more than any other nationality. Fleeing oppression, violence and climate-related disasters, even young, university-educated Hondurans do not see a future for themselves in their home country.

We live under the guise of democracy, but there is no separation of powers. Widespread corruption permeates the governing elite, as evidenced most recently by the sentencing of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s brother earlier this year. President Hernández himself has been identified in U.S. courts as a co-conspirator in a drug conspiracy case. Democratic institutions intended to investigate public officials linked to organized crime have been largely disabled.

Scores of human rights violations have occurred, including assassinations of political candidates, journalists, lawyers and judges. Honduras has been called “the deadliest place to be an environmentalist,” exemplified by the high-profile murder of Goldman Environmental Prize winner, Berta Cáceres in 2015 for organizing Indigenous communities to fight against displacement.

The impacts of the pandemic and two back-to-back hurricanes in 2020 have devastated an already dire economic situation. According to the World Bank, almost half of Honduras’ population lives on less than $5.50 per day, making Honduras the second poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean.

All of this can change soon, however, in the country’s upcoming election. With a new president and many other officials on the ballot, Nov. 28 is our greatest hope to escape the current authoritarian regime and restore democracy.

Yet, there is concern about recent fear tactics intended to intimidate voters. More than 30 people were murdered this year alone for political reasons, including four political leaders.

Thousands of Hondurans and dozens of international observers are gearing up to monitor this election. But we can’t do it alone. We need the U.S. Department of State to join us in making sure that human rights are not violated, and in speaking out forcefully against any acts of censorship or repression.

Recently, 29 members of Congress sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging “robust State Department monitoring and public criticism of authoritarian practices to maximize the chance of an inclusive and transparent electoral process” in Honduras. Clearly, the outcome of this election is in the interest of the United States.

After the 2017 election in Honduras, the U.S. State Department looked away when Hernández was declared the winner, despite fraud and a call for a re-do by the Organization of American States. For months, the Honduran military and police shot at protesters, killing dozens of people and detaining more than 1,300 to stop dissent. We urge the U.S. government not to make this mistake again.

Our country has been in crisis ever since the 2009 coup, which overthrew the democratically-elected government of Manuel Zelaya Rosales. The co-mingling of oligarchs and drug traffickers with state actors has deepened. Human security has deteriorated, and critical problems like drought, gang violence and extreme poverty have gone unaddressed. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that journalists face targeted killings, arbitrary detentions, the destruction of equipment and other obstacles that have impeded their ability to operate independently.

Despite the difficult situation in Honduras, I am optimistic. For the first time there is broad opposition to the current regime. We even have the support of some in the private sector who are fed up and want to create more opportunities for economic growth. This unprecedented level of organizing and unity in Honduras echoes the momentum that eventually led to the downfall of the brutal Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.

Honduras is a country that is largely marginalized and forgotten. This upcoming election is a chance to change that, and start a new chapter. It could solve many of the essential problems we face. A free, fair and peaceful electoral process represents an important opportunity for Honduran citizens to reestablish the rule of law.

It is important that the United States serve as a neutral, credible and impartial observer, while supporting an outcome in Honduras that is genuinely democratic. We need the international community to support a transparent, authentic, clear and peaceful election and an end to 12 years of crisis.

Hondurans want to stay in the country that they love. Right now, migration is not a choice for many, but a means of survival. This election could improve our quality of life, allow everyone to feel safer, have our voices be heard and stop the mass exodus.

We are ready to usher in a new era.

Gustavo Irías is executive director of the Center for Democracy Studies (CESPAD) in Honduras.


Thousands took to the streets in Honduras, marking the start of a weeklong Nationalstrike opposing the January 27th“swearing-in” of  fraudulently “re-elected” President, Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) and the deadly repression that has followed.

More than 30 people have already been killed during protests against the disputed election. Hundreds of others have been arrested, injured, or tortured. Nevertheless, the Honduran people are resolute in rejecting both these government sanctioned attacks and the fraudulent results of the November 26 elections.

As thousands of Hondurans courageously take to the streets in protest of election fraud and government repression they are asking us to stand in solidarity with their fight for justice and democracy.

Ask your member of Congress to speak out against this crime against democracy and end U.S. aid to the illegitimate regime.

Explain to them the importance of speaking out in the face of this crystal clear example of election fraud — perpetrated against poor people in a country dominated by U.S. business and political interests and that has “hosted” U.S. military bases since the 1980s.

The US could easily influence Honduras to follow democratic norms, but it chooses instead to continue high levels of  military and police aid that strengthen the hand of the Honduran oligarchy.

It is hard to speak the truth about Honduras. There is a shameful bipartisan tradition of supporting repression in Honduras. Just as the Trump State Department is working to undermine international critics of the election (like the Organization of American States) just as the Obama State Department under Hillary Clinton did after the 2009 military coup.

We need to speak out, not just for the Hondurans, but for the sake of our own democracy.

Here is what we have planned:

  1. Join us on Wednesday to contact your Congress member to demand an end to U.S. financing of the illegitimate regime in Honduras. 
  2. Join us on Thursday for a Twitter Storm!
  3. Join us on Friday to take a Selfie in Solidarity!
  4. Join us on Saturday at one of these events around the country!

We are in close contact with our allies on the ground in Honduras. Follow us on Facebook for the latest updates.

And if you have other ideas or suggestions, please feel free to contact us.

  By Shannon Biggs and Tish O’Dell

imagesAround the country, communities fighting fracking took their cause to the ballot box in the 2014 cycle — or tried to. But even before voters got a chance to voice their values some were preempted by nefariously oily means.  In Butte County, CA the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) —California’s biggest lobby — found a “formatting error” on residents’ petition (meaning: a few words that should have been in bold face type on the petition). Although Frack-Free Butte County won in court, their ordinance was delayed beyond the election season.

For some places, the corporate dollars were too big to beat.  In Santa Barbara California, Chevron, ExxonMobil and other corporate oil interests donated $7 million to drown local efforts, confuse voters and sink endorsements of the defeated Measure P. They were not alone.

As Common Cause has reported, Big Oil spent $267 million in the last 15 years on California 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.  Others made it on to the ballot, only to find millions of dollars being poured into their local elections by Big Oil and Gas lobbies.

In Colorado, statehouse officials denied democracy by refusing to let communities vote on fracking. In August, Colorado’s Democratic Governor, John Hickenlooper convinced U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) to pull his support for the citizen initiative process that would have enabled two anti-fracking initiatives on the ballot and ammended the state constitution to give more control over drilling and fracking to local communities.


Victory denied? Less than 24 hours after their win, the state was already threatening to ignore Denton’s ban.

And in the most talked about local victory of the elections, residents of Denton, Texas, “the birthplace of fracking” overwhelmingly saw past the big lobby money to ban fracking on election day, only to have state officials and the Texas oil lobby sue to overturn the ordinance, telling residents that its “not their job” to approve or deny fracking permits in their town.

Even in San Benito California, CA, where residents passed a fracking  ban despite the big lobby dollars, they may face a new post-election hurdle.  “It’s a regulatory taking because it’s the regulation which is depriving property owners of the ability to extract value from their minerals or property,” Armen Nahabedian of Citadel Exploration, a company that’s developing an oil project in San Benito told KQED. “So it’s the duty of the county at this point to either allow people to continue to extract value from their property and not enforce the initiative or to compensate them accordingly with the fair market value of what they’ve been deprived of,” he says.

All of these point to a problem that is (unbelievably) even bigger than frackingthe state of democracy.

photo[3] Two Communities Doing it Differently: In their Own Words

Two very different communities — Athens, Ohio and Mendocino County, CA also banned fracking this November, but did so by asserting their local right to make governing decisions, AND taking a stand against corporate violations of community rights “permitted” by state and federal governments.

On November 4, 2014, Mendocino County, known for wineries, farming redwood forests and the Pacific, became the first California community to adopt a Community Bill of Rights, placing the rights of people and their ecosystem above the interests of fracking companies. “Measure S”, put forward by the CRNMC (Community Rights Network of Mendocino County) declares the right of County residents to exercise their unalienable right to local community self-governance, the right of natural communities and ecosystems to exist and flourish, the right to clean water, air, and soil, and the right to be free from chemical trespass. Measure S prohibits fracking in Mendocino County because fracking is a clear violation of those rights. It passed with a 67% majority.

Mendocino small farmer and volunteer Jamie Lee said: “This is only the beginning of local self-governance for us up here in Mendocino, the first step of many toward changing the rules about ‘who decides’ what happens here. WE do.”

 Peter Norris  who helped spur the ordinance effort early on said, ” We reject the notion that corporations are people, (and that they have the constitutional right to plunder our resources for their profit), and also reject the unjust practice of state and federal preeminence over local governments.”

Charles Cresson Wood, local organizer for Mendocino Coast Transition Towns had this analysis: “Measure S was not the work of some hippie fringe group in the woods of Northern California. It was instead just another in a long string of communities across America who are standing up for their rights, and acknowledging in law the fact that we are all connected. It is not possible to simultaneously poison our precious drinking water with fracking chemicals and also have a vibrant agricultural sector in Mendocino County. So this new measure is only aligning the law with the laws of nature, is only recognizing that we are all in this together, and only acknowledging that we cannot allow short-term profit-driven activities of the fracking companies to harm the long-term health and wealth of our County.”

Baile Oakes, father, sculptor and land steward told us, “This is an important step along the way to true local self governance and to preserve the unalienable rights to a healthy ecosystem for all. Its local survival and laws to follow that rely on our community’s full support.”


“Thanks to fracking, we call it Ohiofornia because of the earthquakes we have now” says Tish O’dell

In Athens, Ohio, election night 2014 was one of great celebration. Over a year and a half after beginning their attempt to pass a Community Bill of Rights in their community and being kept off the ballot last November, the residents of Athens won and they won big—78% big!

According to Dick McGinn, spokesperson for the community group, “With this overwhelming demonstration of support, Athens residents are sending a clear message to the oil and gas industry and to the state of Ohio: We have a right to clean air and water. We have a right to local self-governance. And there will be no fracking or frack waste disposal within our city.”

Athens now joins Yellow Springs, Oberlin, Mansfield, and Broadview Heights, OH, which also adopted Community Bills of Rights banning fracking, beginning in 2012. Upon hearing the news of Athens, OH, Mendocino County, CA and Denton, TX, many residents of Ohio had an opinion on community rights and the people asserting their right to local self governance:

Susie Beiersdorfer, Ohio Community Rights Network (OHCRN) Board Member said,The state has permitted injection wells in our city and one, shut down but not plugged, has triggered over 550 earthquakes, the largest a 4.0 in December of 2011. In April 2014, a radioactive frack waste processing facility was state approved and located along the Mahoning River just north of downtown without the knowledge of any city or county official. Like the residents of Denton, we first went through the normal channels of trying to engage our local and state politicians and received mixed results; silence, willful ignorance or active opposition.  Those of us working to pass rights-based bans, stand in solidarity with the citizens of Denton, as they enforce their citizens’ ban and hold the government, state agencies and industry accountable.”

Gwen B. Fischer, OHCRN Board Member Portage County and member of Concerned Citizens Ohio, told us, “When I read that despite the vote to ban in Denton,  the Chair of the TX Railroad Commission, presumably a governmental agency that works for the people declare she will continue to issue permits for drilling in Denton, ‘because that’s her job’ that tells me that the inalienable rights  of the citizens of Denton are being violated.  [We] do not live in a democracy.   Because that can (and has) happened everywhere local people have conflicts with corporate profit-making, we must recognize that none of us lives in a democracy.”

Sherry Fleming, OHCRN Board member Williams County, Ohio said,The valiant efforts of Denton, TX, to prohibit fracking through the existing structure of law has collided with the misconception that citizens may act at the local level to protect their health and welfare from corporate threats. … We are one of many communities across the country, facing a corporate harm, which is exploring a new path; one that takes a civil rights approach, using rights based ordinances to protect the community and the surrounding environment, in order to expose the imbalance of power between corporations and communities, and to test existing law to create change where communities may act in their best interest.”

 Residents are Looking to the future

1969125_768268426538543_5066547460394226227_nLisa Kochheiser, OHCRN Board Member Wood County and Community Rights Activist, Bowling Green, OH  “Community Bill of Rights are spreading not only across the state of Ohio but across the country in PA, NH, NM, CO, OR, and WA, as well. Community Rights is at work in many communities today, stopping corporate harm in the places where people live. Be the change – join the Community Rights Movement.”

Charles Cresson Woods added, “There is one message that we can teach now, and that THERE IS HOPE, that the average person like you and me can make a significant difference, and that grass-roots activism can actually bring about significant change. The corporations would have us think that we can do nothing, and that we must accept the established order. They are doing their best to redefine freedom and other core American values in ways that suit their commercial purposes.”



ShanVID02930non Biggs is the Community Rights Director for Global Exchange, and the co-author of two books, Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grass Roots and The Rights of Nature. Her current work focuses on assisting communities confronted by corporate harms to enact binding laws that place the rights of communities and nature above the claimed legal “rights” of corporations.


 O'Dell Head ShotTish O’Dell is the CELDF Ohio Community Organizer. Tish co-founded the grass-roots organization MADION (Mothers Against Drilling in Our Neighborhoods) in Broadview Heights, OH, that successfully campaigned to adopt a Home Rule Charter amendment creating a Community Bill of Rights banning oil/gas drilling and fracking.

Mendocino County Becomes First in California to pass a Community Bill of Rights

photo[2]At 8:00 pm on Election Night 2014, residents of picturesque Mendocino County concerned about the availability and quality of local water waited anxiously for the first results on Measure “S”, the Community Bill of Rights Ordinance that bans fracking, dumping of frack waste and protects their water from being used for fracking anywhere in the state. Global Exchange and our partners and allies were proud to support the Community Rights Network of Mendocino County (CRNMC), the group behind this initiative.

Just after midnight it was clear they had made California history, passing Measure S by a whopping 67% of the county vote. It was not the only measure in the state to ban fracking—San Benito, CA voters passed Measure J despite the heavy influx of Big Oil funding to defeat it, while Santa Barbara’s anti-fracking measure succumbed to corporate money influence.

But residents of Mendocino county did far more than ban fracking this election.

With the passage of Measure S, residents in Mendocino County made history as the first California community to adopt a Community Bill of Rights, placing their rights above corporate interests. Residents see enactment of this ordinance as the first step in asserting their right to local self-government, and a rejection of the idea that their community will be a sacrifice zone for corporate profits. This is a huge milestone for the community rights movement in California—joining with over 180 communities across the country who have also changed the structure of law by passingphoto[3] rights-based legislation.

The Mendocino County Community Bill of Rights Fracking and Water Use Initiative, (Measure S) establishes the rights of the people of Mendocino County to a healthy environment, including clean air and water, and the rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish. The measure also secures the rights of residents to local self-governance. Fracking is banned as a violation of those rights, and directly challenges constitutional so-called “rights” of corporations to frack in their County. The extraction or sale of local water for use in fracking anywhere in the state is also banned, along with the dumping of toxic frack waste. Further, the measure bans the transfer of offshore fracking oil or waste through the County.

Jamie Lee, a community-based farmer in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino attended the very first Democracy School, a weekend rights-based training, in California in 2006, hosted by Global Exchange and CELDF. “Who knew back then that we would be celebrating this victory today.”  Over the years Jamie Lee brought Global Exchange’s Shannon Biggs to Mendocino many times to meet with groups and residents, hold public lectures, along with other practicioners and educators of the Community Rights framework, including long time advocate Paul Cienfuegos.

So by the time Peter Norris of Willits reached out to Global Exchange in 2013, there was already a strong sense of community self-governance throughout the far-flung county. A county wide Democracy School was held with 50 people, followed by steady flow of rights-based organizing support from Global Exchange, and the encouragement of the anti-fracking movement of California.   David Braun, part of the coalition Californians Against Fracking was a regular visitor to Mendocino throughout the election cycle, “Starting today, in Mendocino, community rights trump those of big money and corporations, but they also ensure that fracking doesn’t destroy precious and irreplaceable water air soil and biodiversity.  Big congratulations are in order to the people of Mendocino for their hard won battle against big oil.   Now we need to double down and make sure all the people of California and around the country are protected from fracking.  There is a lot to build on for all of us – and we will.”


Resident members of CRNMC turning in signatures for the ballot in June, 2014


But it was the community that came together to put this into law. A core group of 30 and countless volunteers worked tirelessly throughout 2014 to collect the signatures for the ballot, host public events, write letters to the editor, paint lawn signs and go door-to-door with the message that decisions about water protection in Mendocino belong to residents and residents alone. As key CRNMC member Kelly Larson said, “Measure S was organized around a network model, rather than the old hierarchical top-down leadership, thereby modeling the ‘community’ in community rights.”

CELDF’s Ben Price offered congratulations to the people of Mendocino County, and to the organizers of the effort, stating, “With this vote, the people of Mendocino are challenging a legal structure that protects a corporate “right” to frack above the rights of communities to not be fracked.”

As resident Carrie Durkee proclaimed, “The passage of Measure S looks like a milestone to me. I’m filled with appreciation, admiration, and gratitude to all for the creation of the Community Bill of Rights.”

Kelly Larson added, Measure S is an important challenge to corporate constitutional rights, and the oil and gas industry.    We’re grateful that the voters of Mendocino County so strongly support community rights…Local people deciding for local control and decision making.  Democracy won here today!” Jamie Lee echoed this, saying, “this is only the beginning of local self-governance for us up here in Mendocino, the first step of many toward changing the rules about ‘who decides’ what happens here. WE do.”




October 1, 2014

Contact: Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange 415.298.9419

Nature Puts Chevron Refinery and Legal System on Trial

People’s Tribunal in Oakland Seeks to Give Nature a Voice in Law this Sunday

Oakland CA — On Sunday October 5, a People’s Tribunal will examine the violations of community and nature’s rights caused by the fossil fuel industry, using Chevron’s refinery in Richmond as a case study.  Recognizing legal standing for ecosystems is a concept that has been gaining strength over the past decade, in dozens of US communities and in the constitution of Ecuador.

Two years after the refinery explosion that rocked the Richmond, CA community, residents still live in fear, while air quality and land remain contaminated. Despite having been found guilty of 62 violations of the law in 2012, Chevron Corp. will be expanding operations, and 4 new projects will bring Tar Sands and fracked crude from North Dakota to the Bay Area.  The question for a growing many isn’t the violations of the law, but the daily chemical exposure permitted under the law.

 “Chevron has been destroying nature and poisoning people for over 100 years. Humanity is part of the web of life known as Nature. If Nature doesn’t have rights, then a viable future for the next seven generations is doubtful,says Richmond resident and Native American activist Pennie Opal Plant, who will also be one of several expert witnesses at the Tribunal.

Global Exchange’s Community & Nature’s Rights director, Shannon Biggs, one of the organizers of the event added, “the fact is, current law treats nature as property, so it’s easy for corporations to get a permit to blow the tops off of mountains for coal, or frack communities for profit.  Recognizing nature’s rights provides new and critical protections for our communities and the ecosystems we all depend on.”

  The tribunal, a project of the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance (BARONA)barona_logo_Mowder takes place Sunday 10 am – 2 pm at Laney College’s Forum, highlighting the impacts on people and nature from the Chevron refinery, and place on trial current legal and economic systems that advance the destruction of nature by the oil industry. Tribunal judges include:

  • Carl Anthony (Breakthrough Communities; Urban Habitat)
  • Brian Swimme (California Institute of Integral Studies; Journey of the Universe)
  • Anuradha Mittal (Oakland Institute)
  • Courtney Cummings (Arikara and Cheyenne; Native Wellness Center, Richmond)
  • Bill Twist (Pachamama Alliance)

The day will also include a “Web of Life Labyrinth,” created by local artists (opens 9:30 am), local music and food for purchase. Members of BARONA, a network of leading Bay Area rights of nature, ecological justice, human rights, local economy, Indigenous, women’s, and other groups will be on hand to answer questions. The event will be part of the global “Earth Rights Days of Action” sponsored by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and the related efforts of the International Rights of Nature Tribunals in Quito, Ecuador (January 2014) and Lima, Peru (December 2014).

Please join us for a rich discussion of just what rights of nature could mean for residents in Richmond, CA—and across the country. Learn what over 100 other communities across the US are doing differently to put the rights of residents and nature before corporate profits.

Save your space for this important event register now.


It’s time we all got on board with a people-powered climate plan.

The People’s Climate Train is pulling out on September 15 from the San Francisco Bay Area and will arrive in New York City on September 18, 2014 to join the People’s Climate March September 20 & 21. Over 200 people have already registered  to take the cross country journey, with new riders joining at stops all along the way.

The final destination on this journey is to join the largest-ever climate march in New York City on September 21 & 22, coinciding with the United Nations Climate Summit taking place there, which will serve as a public platform for world leaders, big business and some participation from civil society. The stated goal of the summit is “to catalyze ambitious action on the ground to reduce emissions and strengthen climate resilience and mobilize political will for an ambitious global agreement by 2015 that limits the world to a less than 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperature.”

Kylie Nealis of the Sierra Club and Suzanne York of the Institute for Population Studies will be in New York.

Kylie Nealis of the Sierra Club and Suzanne York of the Institute for Population Studies will be in New York.

For many, faith in the UN as a global forum for solving the climate crisis has all but been shattered.  Critiques range from calling out the UN as a flaccid institution to the more cynical view that it has been co-opted, branded and sponsored by corporations.  Yet there are other reasons to show up in New York while leaders gather.

As David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International says, “World leaders have come together too many times with nothing more than strong rhetoric and empty promises in tow. Science is simply screaming at us that we must not delay action any longer, so the time is now to show our strength as a movement. I can’t wait to join the hundreds of thousands of real leaders marching on the streets of New York demanding action and to show our elected representatives that their empty promises will no longer be accepted.”

Others are going to highlight particular issues. An entire contingent of affected residents, activists and concerned Americans are going to connect the dots between fracking, other fossil fuel exploitation, and climate disruption.’s Fracking Campaigner Linda Capato says, “I’m going to PCM because we need to make it clear to decision makers that if we are serious about climate it needs to be a future without fracking.”
PCMlargestmarchGlobal Exchange will be in New York not to beg officials to act, but to stand for communities  are already on the leading edge of climate solutions, from banning fracking in their communities, to boldly placing the rights of residents and ecosystems above the array of harmful corporate projects that collectively emit the bulk of carbon stored in the atmosphere.  The march is going to be big—really big, and there is value in connecting with people from all across the country in this way, sharing stories, networking and finding ways to come together to reinvent our future without dependence on fossil fuels.

Those of us working on the rights-of-nature framework are seeking to reconnect humanity with the rest of species. We seek to change human law that can only “see” nature as a thing — separate and apart from us, property to be owned and destroyed at will. We seek to change the law because our own salvation can only come from a cultural mindset enforced by an earth jurisprudence that we are a part of nature. In New York we will join allies including Osprey Orielle Lake,  Executive Director of WECAN in presenting these ideas at a special panel: Rights of Nature and Systemic Change in Climate Solutions, on September 23.   This event is free and open to the public however, due to its proximity to the global leaders, collected security in this part of the city is tight so registration is required. Once you register (which takes less than 30 seconds), you will receive an invitation that you will need to have in hand along with ID to attend the event. As Osprey says, “Nature will not wait while politicians debate. It is time for ambitious action that addresses the roots of the climate crisis and fosters justice for the Earth and future generations.”

all_aboardFor the variety of reasons people are coming to join the march, the reasons people are getting there via the climate trains (and buses) are the same — to connect with each other and build the nationwide movement for change in the only way that matters —by building people-to-people ties. I will be riding with people like Pennie Opal Plant from Idle No More Bay Area who says, ” I’m excited to meet activists working to ensure life as we know it continues on the belly of Mother Earth.”  Sierra Club’s Kylie Nealis will be leading another train from DC to New York and says, “I’m joining the climate train because I believe its important to not just voice what we’re against but to also collectively advocate for solutions to climate change like clean energy and nature’s rights. The train will be a space for people to come together and connect around those solutions!”

I will be joining the train in the Bay Area, and meeting 170 fellow riders, sharing stories and strategies for change. I will be leading workshops on community rights, rights of nature and fracking, and learning from others as we come together from across the country to share knowledge and collaborate while enjoying a beautiful ride through breathtaking wilderness areas.

The first train is sold out—but don’t worry, they have already started another one to meet the demand—so there is still time to climb aboard. Visit People’s Climate Train to SIGN UP NOW! For anyone who still needs lodging in the Big Apple secure them now if you haven’t already and there is a free option!  The PCM Faith Team has generously offered to match you up with available space in churches or homes. Contact  Jennifer Kim at the Center for Biological Diversity.

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.