Feb. 24, 2015 – “Witnessing the growth of a regional Community Rights movement in the Driftless”

Paul Cienfuegos’ February 24th, 2015 Commentary on KBOO Evening News
(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at PaulCienfuegos.com, CommunityRightsPDX.org, or subscribe via ITunes.)
Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos.
I have spent the past month traveling around a region of the Midwest that the locals refer to as the Driftless. It’s an area of unusual hills and ice cold streams full of wild trout where Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota converge. Unfortunately, the hills are made of a very unusual sand that has twice found itself at the bottom of ancient oceans.
The fossil fuel industry refers to this incredibly beautiful and unusual spherical sand as frac sand, because it’s the perfect proppant to hold open the drill holes at fracking sites, to allow the gas to escape from deep underground. So once again, we find one of nature’s true miracles turned into just another commodity by the voracious fossil fuel industry, which is using explosive mountaintop removal techniques to get at the sand, while simultaneously destroying a rural way of life for farm families who have lived in these valleys sometimes for a century or more. Not to mention the groundwater contamination when the sand is powerwashed with toxic chemicals, before being loaded onto enormously long trains and sent to North Dakota and the northeast states.
This is my seventh teaching tour of the Driftless region in the past 21 months, but this time I’m on a different mission. So many people have already attended my evening and full weekend workshops, and public talks, that there is now a buzz about Community Rights in about fifteen counties in three states. So much so, that just a few weeks ago, on February 8th, fifty of us met for an entire day in the small town of Whitehall, Wisconsin, for our second regional gathering of communities that are tuning into community rights as a likely next strategy to try to stop any more frac sand mines from being built, if and when their regulatory and zoning ordinances fail to stop the bulldozers and rail cars from sucking away their sacred green hills that, at least until recently, were still covered in beautiful hardwood forests and medicinal herbs.
Our only previous regional community rights gathering took place on the Fourth of July weekend last summer, and I was amazed at how far these communities had come in just the past seven months in developing a deeper understanding of their inherent right to say NO to the frac sand mines, and NO to the state government telling them they didn’t have any say in what was going to happen to their hills and to their water and to their way of life, and also YES to their growing understanding that they were the leaders they’d been waiting for and that if anyone was going to protect their hills it was going to be the people who lived there and loved that place more than anyone.
Five counties have thus far formed community rights ordinance groups – Winneshiek County in Iowa, Vernon County and Eau Claire County and Trempealeau County in Wisconsin, and Winona
County in Minnesota. The Community Rights Alliance of Winneshiek County, based in Decorah, Iowa, has already achieved a lot – reaching out to people across the rural farming landscape talking about the right of the people to govern themselves – although they’ve still got a long way to go before their county commission can be convinced to pass their ordinance. None of the other counties has yet finalized their ordinance.
At the gathering, a number of us had a sort of coming-out party, as I’ve been working hard for many months now to form a new national Community Rights support organization that can offer training and consultation to any community in the country that wants to run a strong community rights campaign to protect their health and welfare from corporate harm. Eight of us had met the previous weekend in Minneapolis to plan the launch of our new organization, and five of us came to Whitehall to introduce ourselves to the local communities and find out how we can best be of service to them. In future commentaries, I’ll share a lot more about our new organization’s work, once we formally launch in the near future.
This is the very first of my seven visits here where my schedule has not been packed with talks and workshops. Instead, I’ve been holed up in cottages and farmhouses taking some much needed time to rest and read and nap and simply stare out at the mostly snowy and sub-freezing landscape that is a normal winter here in the Midwest. It has also given me a golden opportunity to meet less formally with one fledgling community rights group after another. All in all it has been a wonderful month.
The night before you hear this broadcast, I will have given a major new speech on climate change and community rights in Minneapolis. My talk is being sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of 350.org, Idle No More, Honor the Earth, the Minnesota Green Party, and many other groups. I’ll share excerpts from that speech in next week’s commentary. And David Barsamian’s weekly show, Alternative Radio, will be broadcasting my speech across the nation later this year.
I can’t wait to come home to damp warm air and conifer forests, and rivers whose surfaces are not solidly frozen, as is the great Mississippi River yesterday, as I crossed over it one last time on this trip. The weather here has continued to demonstrate, day after day, what catastrophic climate destabilization actually looks like. One day it’s 2 degrees, the next day its 25 degrees, and the very next day it’s 3 degrees below zero. Zigging and zagging as our wounded mother earth tries to maintain herself throughout our culture’s ongoing assaults on her body. Simply to be alive in this world today is to experience her wounds, and our own.
You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and now also in Viroqua, Wisconsin on WDRT, every Tuesday at 7pm. I welcome your feedback.
You can subscribe to my weekly podcast via I-Tunes or at CommunityRightsPDX.org. You can follow me on twitter at CienfuegosPaul. You can sign up for my newsletter at PaulCienfuegos.com. THANKS FOR LISTENING! And remember: WE are the people we’ve been WAITING for!

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