By Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange Community Rights Director (January, 2011)



Whose Supreme Court?

If the Supreme Court had never granted “personhood” rights to corporations, would they still be trammeling the rights of citizens and riding roughshod over communities and nature?  Would we have democracy?

By deciding 5-4 in the Citizens United case, the US Supreme Court expanded corporations’ ability to spend money to influence our elections, and reignited the controversy over corporate personhood. A bevy of campaigns have emerged to challenge it, through litigation or via a Constitutional amendment.

Abolishing corporate personhood is necessary, but our entire system of law is engineered to keep decision making out of the hands of the people.  The unelected Supreme Court, which created corporate monsterhood, would still exist and wealthy interests would continue to shape that judiciary and the debates before it. The Commerce and Contracts clause of the Constitution would continue to place corporate interests over citizens’ rights. The legislature would still be influenced more by Fortune 500 powerbrokers than voters.  State laws that “preempt” communities from making decisions about their local welfare in favor of corporate interests would still be in effect, and regulatory laws would still be written largely by the industries to be regulated.

Perhaps corporations are not even the real problem. The corporation is just the current tool for exploitation: once upon a time Lords and Barons ruled. After jettisoning them in the Revolution, the Constitution guaranteed the slave system.  And in the same breath that law ended human property, the courts made property (corporations) “persons” as a vehicle for the wealthy to continue to maintain power over the many.

Changing the status quo and creating a living democracy will take grassroots organizing.  Even if we start with abolishing corporate personhood, how will we get there?  Past people’s movements for rights suggest we cannot merely ask for change from those who hold the reigns. The Declaration of Independence says that our rights are inalienable, we’re born with them—they do not come from law. We must not relinquish our rights, but exercise them in the face of unjust laws—what some call civil disobedience. Susan B. Anthony cast her ballot and went to jail. The underground railroad ignored the slave laws, and the lunch counter sit-ins of the civil rights struggle remains a powerful symbol of a movement for change. Today’s movement for the inherent rights of people and nature and against corporate power is no different.

At the forefront of this movement stand communities of people confronted by corporate GMOs, water theft, mountaintop removal, and on and on.  They find that it is the law itself that enables corporations to determine their destiny.

GX’s Community Rights program, in partnership with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), works with California citizens in a growing number of communities to challenge unjust law through local lawmaking.  These local ordinances strip corporations of their legal privileges and assert the rights of people to make governing decisions.

Concerned about water in her pristine mountain community, Angelina Cook of Mount Shasta, CA is one of those leading the charge for rights in partnership with Global Exchange. “Our ordinance is designed to reverse the dangerous momentum of business as usual by placing citizen rights ahead of corporate interests.  Our ordinance will prohibit corporate cloud seeding and ground water extraction for resale within city limits.  In addition to preventing further degradation, it will transform our existing submissive private-public dynamic.”  The citizens’ group formed to pass the ordinance has spent the winter knocking on neighbors’ doors in freezing temperatures to talk about rights, and to gather the petition signatures needed to put the ordinance on the ballot this year.

Citizens in Mt. Shasta are organizing to assert their community’s rights!

Meanwhile, the 125+ communities who have passed these ordinances in others states have begun to take this work to the next level—organizing to create new state constitutions based on the legitimate rights of people, while also stripping unjust laws protecting corporate privilege; and from there, national reform. What will those solutions look like? That is for We the People to decide.

Take action:


Interested in Rights based organizing or want to assist the Mt. Shasta campaign? Contact or 415.575.5540

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

Blog Action Day is an annual event held every October 15 that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day with the aim of sparking a global discussion and driving collective action. This year’s topic is water.

It is widely understood that the ecosystems we as humans rely on to survive are diminishing, depleting, and drying up.  Water— most essential to life– is being privatized and mismanaged at the cost of people’s heath and livelihoods, namely by multi-national corporations that are extracting water from communities without their consent.

Fortunately there is a movement towards a more just and sustainable stewardship of our resources.  People worldwide are beginning to challenge this structure.  In September 2010, the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature was established to propel a movement on the rights of nature in order to recognize the right, per se, of an aquifer to replenish itself or a river to flow.  Global Exchange and the Council of Canadians are compiling a book on the Rights of Nature with participation from all corners of the world, where inspiring human rights and environmental leaders are speaking up for the rights of nature.  Below is a piece from the book in which local activists in Mt. Shasta, CA are interviewed about their quest to assert the right of water in their community. Read and be empowered!

Mt. Shasta, CA — Recognizing the Rights of the Sacred

Global Exchange interviews Angelina Cook and Ami Marcus, of the Mt. Shasta Community Rights Project*

The picturesque mountain hamlet of Mt. Shasta is on the verge of making history in California and changing the debate about water in this draught-ridden state by passing the first law recognizing ecosystems and climate rights.   Ancient water flows under the iconic snow-capped volcano, considered a sacred site by the Winnemen Wintu tribe. Yet the region serves as one of the main water sources for the state’s needs and corporate water bottlers.  Now hydropower corporations are seeking to manipulate weather patterns, capture and own water before it hits the ground through the chemical ‘seeding’ of storm clouds. When residents discovered that constitutional protections allow corporate actors to override community concerns for themselves and the ecosystem, the issue became a matter of rights. With assistance from Global Exchange (GX) and CELDF, local residents formed the Community Rights Project to educate neighbors about the power of asserting community rights over corporations, and how recognizing the rights of nature provides a powerful new framework for protecting this beautiful place.

GX: What makes water withdrawal and cloud seeding harmful?

Two major multi-national corporations are already extracting undisclosed amounts of local water. When private interests manage water, the drive for profit overrides community interests. Cloud seeding is severely understudied and poorly understood, yet the state allows it WITHOUT regulation and WITHOUT environmental review. Nature is not a machine and we can’t treat it like an engine. We trust natural cycles for the amount and location of water we receive. Toxins like silver iodide are not manufactured to be dispersed into the air and environment. Cloud seeding can also result in catastrophic weather.

GX: Why not use existing “solutions” like regulatory law?

When it comes to upholding natural integrity, the regulatory system is dangerously inadequate. It exhausts the efforts of citizen stewards and denies us the right to say “no” to unwanted activities and development. At best it is designed to limit harms—and take a look at the results—every living system on the planet is in decline. If we expect different results we’re going to have to adopt a different strategy. When we asked ourselves how can we rise up to our responsibility as stewards of the Earth and prevent environmental destruction, we realized that we would have to unravel the regulatory juggernaut and embrace the rights of something much deeper and more fundamental than ourselves. Our current regulatory paradigm perceives nature as property to be used and exploited in any way that land owners and share holders deem profitable. This model was never designed to put nature first. Adopting new models for environmental governance is critical if we hope to restore and maintain a climate hospitable for humans on planet Earth.

GX: If this ordinance passes, you will be the first community anywhere to recognize rights for the climate.  Can you talk about that?

Recognizing the rights of nature is acknowledging the indisputable reliance of human systems upon ecosystems, interconnected both visibly and invisibly through climate. We want to protect the natural weather cycles that create the purity and abundance of Shasta waters, meaning we must prohibit the contamination and manipulation of our atmospheric waters. In doing this, we are initiating the grassroots regeneration of our climate at the local level.

GX:  Not everyone in Mt. Shasta embraces the rights of nature provisions in the ordinance Could you speak to that?

Local objections to this ordinance have been based in fear and misunderstanding. The Mount Shasta area is in the heart of California’s timber basket and our economy was raised on resource extraction and environmental exploitation. Though decades of economic desperation the region has and continues to signal the unsustainability of resource exploitation for private profit, a significant faction of our local mentality remains stuck in the quagmire of human dominance over natural systems. It is an education process for our community.

GX: In what ways do you see the ordinance being beneficial for the future of Mt. Shasta and California?

Mt. Shasta serves headwaters to the Sacramento River. What happens to water here trickles downstream and sets the tone for water resource management throughout the state. Recognizing nature’s rights to exist and flourish has the physical and political potential to establish a higher precedent for genuine environmental stewardship in California and Salmon Nation. Collectively, we have a waning window of opportunity to honor our natural heritage and restore our natural integrity. Reclaiming community rights as superior to corporate interests through the legislative process is a daunting, yet necessary step in our path towards biologically integrated conscious evolution.

*Interview with Shannon Biggs

September 21, 2010

Ami Marcus, 530-918-9444
Molly Brown, 530-926-0986
Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange, 415-298-9419


On Monday September 20, the Siskiyou Superior Court ruled to keep the controversial water rights initiative, Measure A, off of the Mt. Shasta ballot this November.

Last month, proponents filed an election complaint claiming that County Clerk Coleen Setzer acted beyond her authority to remove Measure A from the ballot.  On September 10, Judge Karen Dixon heard attorney arguments for both the proponents and defendant Setzer.

Dixon agreed that what proponents argued in their complaint was true: City Clerk Sandra Studer was indeed the Elections Official for Measure A, not County Clerk Setzer.  However, the court did not reinstate the measure to the ballot.  Instead, Dixon determined that the City of Mt. Shasta skipped an official step of the elections code by failing to issue a resolution authorizing Setzer to properly verify petition signatures.

“The real concern is that justice was not served by this ruling,” said proponent Molly Brown.  “Through no fault of proponents or residents, the right to decide has been stripped from the voters of Mt. Shasta.” The Measure would prohibit outside corporations from bulk water extraction and cloud seeding. It is the first ordinance of its kind in California to assert the rights of residents over the rights of corporations.

“Because the city made a procedural error, citizens are being denied their right to vote,” said Ami Marcus. “Now we look to our City Council to rectify this mistake and ensure that the fate of Measure A is rightfully decided by a vote of local residents.”

Proponents say that the City Council has the authority to remedy the situation, and are hopeful they will take swift action.  “Regardless of whether they agree with the content, the City Council has consistently supported the ordinance going to a vote of the people, and we trust that they will do what it takes to make that happen,” states Marcus.

“We don’t blame the city council for their oversight, but we do expect them to fix this,” says Brown. “After literally thousands of hours of volunteer time, hundreds of signatures, and public testimonials before the City Council, a citizens’ initiative can be thrown off the ballot because the City made a minor mistake? How is that democratic?”

“Citizens have the right to place matters on the ballot. They also have the right to ensure that the future of their local resources are determined by those who live there,” said Shannon Biggs, Community Rights Director for the advocacy group Global Exchange.

As for how proponents will proceed, Marcus says that they are exploring their options. “We’re committed to standing for people’s right to vote on issues that affect us in the place that we live.  That is, ironically, the central purpose of this rights-based ordinance.”

# # #

At an emergency meeting of the Mt. Shasta City Council this August, Councilman Ned Boss addressed the standing room only crowd, stating that Measure A “is one of the strongest issues the City has ever had…”

The “issue” addressed by citizen-driven Measure A is whether or not residents have the right to protect local water from corporate water bottlers and to stop weather manipulation (chemical cloud seeding) from energy corporation, PG&E.   The “issue” is whether important decisions that directly affect the health, safety and welfare of the community belong to citizens—or corporations.

And now the issue is: why is Measure A—an ordinance fundamentally about democratic local self-governance—being stripped from the ballot?

In partnership with Global Exchange and CELDF, residents spent the last eighteen months and hundreds of hours of organizing, signature-gathering and public education campaigning in order to put an ordinance on the ballot this November that bans corporate cloud seeding and bulk water extraction and places community (and nature’s) rights above corporate interests.

Proponent Jen Matthews (left) at a packed city council meeting

Yet in a surprise move August 12, County Clerk Coleen Setzer, threw Measure A off the ballot, claiming it had been filed in the wrong office and also citing a one sentence difference between the initiative filed with the City and the version petitioners signed.  However, the previous week at the emergency meeting, the City Council had already voted unanimously to leave Measure A on the ballot, because the error, the result of a clerical mistake, did not change the meaning or intent of the initiative in any way.

“After nearly two years of work by dozens of volunteers, and garnering the petition signatures of over 700 voters, and more than 200 public statements of support at City Council meetings all Spring and Summer—Measure A was killed by the stroke of Setzer’s pen.”, states Ami Marcus.

Within days, proponents had rallied. On August 20, the Mt. Shasta Community Rights Project filed an elections complaint to restore Measure A to the 2010 general election ballot. The elections complaint contends that County Clerk Setzer acted improperly and illegally in taking Measure A off the ballot.

“We followed correct procedures as instructed by the City and County Clerks,” said Molly Brown, the official proponent for Measure A. “The City of Mount Shasta accepted our initial filing, petitions were verified and the City Council voted unanimously to place it on the November 2 ballot.”  They fully expect to have Measure A restored on the ballot.

Mt. Shasta Water Rights: Who Decides?

In addition to unilaterally denying residents their fundamental and constitutional right to vote, Setzer accused proponents of playing dirty.   This echoed the voices of others standing in opposition to Measure A, including City Councilman Ned Boss and the City Attorney, who publicly lambasted petitioners for having engaged in deliberate deceit as a result of the word difference.

The smear campaign was particularly stupefying, as the City Attorney had already declared that the mistake had no effect on the ordinance.  It was also particularly offensive because the ultimate purpose of Measure A is to protect natural resources through community decision-making.

Local Tea Partiers have also taken a curious and fervent oppositional stance in Mt. Shasta. Elsewhere across the nation, Tea Partiers have supported and even campaigned in favor of nearly identical rights-based laws, aligning with the notion of protecting individual and community rights from corporate power.

Despite being portrayed as liars and worse by a small minority, the citizens who first stood up to put Measure A on the ballot are not giving up, and they refuse to surrender their rights.  Their struggle is bigger than the tiny town of Mt. Shasta. They are on the frontlines of challenging corporate power, and changing the way the law works for all of us.  We must stand up for their rights, as they stand for ours.

TAKE ACTION!  Please join our list-serve to keep up to date with the campaign.

Make a contribution today for the necessary legal action needed to keep Measure A on the ballot.


August 21, 2010
Ami Marcus, 530-918-9444
Molly Brown: 530-926-0986
Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange, 415-298-9419

On Friday, August 20, the Mt. Shasta Community Rights Project filed an elections complaint to restore Measure A to the 2010 general election ballot. Siskiyou County Clerk Colleen Setzer is denying Mt. Shasta voters the right to vote on “Measure A”, which was stripped from the city’s ballot earlier this week.The Measure, which would prohibit outside corporations from bulk water extraction and corporate cloud seeding, is the first ordinance of its kind in California because it is designed to assert the rights of residents over the rights of corporations.

Through California’s Initiative Process, citizens have the right to place matters on the ballot. Proponents in Mt. Shasta gathered the necessary number of voters’ signatures, and they worked closely with County Clerk Setzer throughout the process of filing to ensure that the initiative (Measure A) was successfully placed on the November ballot.

But in a surprise move, Setzer threw Measure A off the ballot earlier this week, claiming it had been filed in the wrong office and also citing a one sentence difference between the initiative filed with the City and the version petitioners signed.

However, the previous week the City Council had already voted unanimously to leave Measure A on the ballot, because the error did not change the meaning and intent of the initiative.

“Citizens are being denied their fundamental and constitutional right to make laws and vote,” said Shannon Biggs, California Community Rights Director for the advocacy group, Global Exchange. “Even more fundamentally, this Ordinance is about who decides—residents or corporations?”

“Our community deserves to know the facts,” states Jennifer Mathews, of the Community Rights Project. “We filed an elections complaint because our only other option was to allow citizens’ efforts to be undermined. Instead, we are choosing to stand up for residents’ right to vote on issues affecting the place that we live.”

Proponents dispute the charge of incorrectly filing with the City Clerk. They argue that the city is the correct jurisdiction for filing a municipal initiative. “We have followed correct procedure as instructed by the City and County Clerks,” said Molly Brown, the official proponent for Measure A. “The City of Mount Shasta accepted our initial filing, petitions were verified and the City Council voted unanimously to place it on the November 2 ballot.”

The elections complaint contends that Siskiyou County Clerk Setzer acted improperly and illegally in taking Measure A off the ballot. “This issue goes straight to the heart of our right to direct democracy through the initiative process,” states Ami Marcus, also of the Community Rights Project. “Setzer lacks the authority to make this decision. We want Measure A back on the November ballot.”


Yesterday, Global Exchange’s Community Rights Campaign reported that a technical glitch threatened to derail Mt. Shasta’s Water Rights ordinance from appearing on November’s ballot.

Last night, the Shasta City Council convened to decide the fate of the ballot and we are happy to report that the Council decided to keep the measure on the ballot.

Shannon Biggs, Director of the Community Rights Campaign had this to say after hearing the good news:

We’re still on the ballot!  But our opposition has come forward. Lots of them, many tea partiers and others. We’ve got a long road ahead to make history and put the strongest environmental law in place in Shasta – and the state. Thanks for your good thoughts today.

Yes. The fight to put the strongest environmental law in place in the state of California continues. Mt. Shasta is poised to pass the first law in California recognizing nature (and climate) rights. When passed on election day, this law would establish the highest level of environmental protection by denying corporations the right to change natural weather patterns in order to “own” the rain before it hits the ground or to take massive amounts of local groundwater for water bottling. Support California’s first ever law that recognizes the rights of nature (and the rights of the climate) and allows citizens to ban corporate assaults on their ground and atmospheric water.

For more information about the campaign, visit the Community Rights website and stay updated by signing up for electronic news updates.

To volunteer to assist the Mt. Shasta community or make a donation to support the campaign and ensure nature and communities win this November, contact  Shannon Biggs at 415.575.5540 or


Contact: Ami Marcus, Mt. Shasta Community Rights Project: 949-554-4353
Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange: 415-298-9419


Mt. Shasta, California: This spring, Mt. Shasta voters petitioned in favor of Measure A, an ordinance that, if passed, would assert the community’s right to ban bulk water extraction and chemical cloud seeding within city limits. The City Council voted to send the measure to the ballot in November. But an unforeseen technical error may cause the measure to be dropped from the ballot; the City Council will decide tonight.

Jennifer Matthews of the Mt. Shasta Community Rights Project said, “Tonight the city has a choice to throw out the people’s initiative based on a technicality, or to remedy the situation and stand for the democratic process by keeping the ordinance on the ballot. Whether they agree with the ordinance or not, keeping it alive and sending it to a vote in November is the right thing to do.”

Two sentences in the draft ordinance submitted to the City Attorney for title and summary differed slightly from the version petitioned for by Mt. Shasta residents.

“Mt. Shasta voters are concerned that the technicality will be used as a pretext to pull the ordinance,” said Ami Marcus, a proponent of the ordinance. “This is about democracy, and about rights, and should be left to the voters to decide.”

Measure A would make it illegal for outside corporations to take Mt. Shasta’s water or to manipulate the weather. It would limit the power of outside corporations engaged in commercial water withdrawal or cloud seeding, by elevating the rights of the community above the rights of those corporations.

The rights-based ordinance is the first of its kind in California, but is modeled on similar laws in other states. If passed, it would provide the highest level of environmental protection within Mt. Shasta.

“There’s no way the Council could claim that there’s been harm to the voting process,” said Shannon Biggs, Director of the Community Rights Project at Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based advocacy group. “It was an accident discovered by the county clerk, and it could be easily remedied by the City Council. If a few members of the City Council choose to kill the ordinance based on an easily fixable clerical error, their decision is clearly a political one.”

The Mt. Shasta City Council will make their decision tonight at 5:00 P.M. at the main Upper Lodge at Mt. Shasta City Park, Many concerned city residents on both sides of the issue are expected to be in attendance.