Paul Cienfuegos’ May 28th, 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/podcast, or subscribe via ITunes.)
Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos, normally heard on Tuesdays but this week it’s on Thursday.
Yesterday in Salem, Oregon, there was a statewide rally on the Capitol steps, in opposition to the LNG (or liquefied so-called “natural” gas) export terminals in Coos Bay and Astoria, and hundreds of miles of new pipelines across private lands, all being proposed by a number of large corporations. The rally was organized by the “No LNG Exports Coalition”.
As is so often the case for me, as I listened to the way that the issue was being framed by the rally organizers over the past few days on various radio interviews, I found myself cringing. Why? Because as usual, all of the activist groups involved in this rally and in the anti-LNG coalition, are stuck in a kind of activism that – by its very design – disempowers and further confuses the public about where real political power ultimately resides.
When we rally, when we march, when we picket, when we sign petitions, when we beg and demand and plead – with our elected and appointed government leaders, and with our corporate leaders – what we are in effect telling them – and telling ourselves – is that we see ourselves as powerless. We see ourselves as outside of decision-making authority. We see ourselves as not capable of participating in planning the future we want for our own communities. In other words, those people are the only decision-makers that count. Not us!
When I hear that kind of message from activist groups, I get nauseous. I get sad. I get angry. Why are our own activist groups leading us towards such disempowering forms of citizen participation? Here are some examples of what I’ve been listening to on KBOO Radio these past past few days about the LNG issue. First, here’s Dan Serres, with Columbia RiverKeeper, who was interviewed on Cris Andreae’s show yesterday morning. He said, “Today we’re getting together on the Capitol Steps to send a clear message to Governor Brown. … [She] has a lot of authority and a lot of power and we’re hoping that she wields it to protect our farms, our forests, and our rivers from liquefied natural gas.”
In other words, we’re putting all of our eggs in one basket, and that basket is Governor Kate Brown. But what happens if our new governor chooses not to stop the LNG projects? Then what? Is there a Plan B? More rallies in Salem? Is that really the best we can do?
Here’s another voice – Sarah Westover, LNG organizer in southern Oregon, with Rogue RiverKeeper, also on Cris Andreae’s show. She had an almost identical message: “…[W]e are hoping that our governor … will stand with Oregonians in taking action to stop energy companies from dictating the way we do business in Oregon, and lead us to a clean energy future.”
Why is taking action almost always associated with We the People begging and pleading with our so-called leaders? And is it really the best we can do – simply to hope that our new governor stands with us against the LNG projects? And why do The People of Oregon continue to allow energy companies to dictate the way we do business here? Does Sarah not know that energy corporations only have the decision-making authority they wield because they exercise their corporate constitutional so-called “rights” in a way that trumps our rights?
Here again is Dan Serres, the Conservation Director at Columbia RiverKeeper, being interviewed by Barbara Bernstein on Monday: “We’re going to march to the Department of State Lands, and there, people will share their stories about why that’s an agency that’s really powerful. Landowners will speak to the fact that they wish they had the authority that DSL has – to say no. They can’t say ‘you can’t put that pipeline through my stream on my land, but [DSL] can.’”
Dan clearly doesn’t realize that the Department of Public Lands – a regulatory agency – does not have the legitimate authority to force a private landowner to allow a corporate pipeline to be built across their land. The entire regulatory agency system was originally set up to shield corporate decision-making from an outraged citizenry, and here we have just the latest example of how well this system is working to further corporate interests. We need to be dismantling these agencies, not bowing to their authority.
And finally, here’s a brief excerpt from the press release for yesterday’s rally: “During the rally, the public will call on Oregon decision-makers to use the state’s power to protect Oregon from LNG projects…”
Now hold on just one minute! The public will call on Oregon decision-makers to protect Oregon?! Does this coalition not understand who the leading decision-makers are in Oregon? It’s us! It’s The People of Oregon. We are the sovereign people. Let’s review the very first paragraph of our Oregon state constitution:
Article 1: Bill of Rights. Section 1. Natural rights inherent in people.
We declare … that all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; and they have at all times a right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.
In other words, we already have the authority to protect our human and non-human communities from destructive LNG terminals and pipelines! So let’s stop begging, and start deciding! Thank goodness there is already a model for us to follow – it’s the Community Rights model.
There are now active Community Rights groups in eight Oregon counties that are learning to exercise their right of self-government. In Coos County, the Coos Commons Protection Council has filed a ballot initiative that would prohibit the proposed LNG pipeline and export terminal. It’s called “The Right to a Sustainable Energy Future Ordinance”. It would secure the right of the people of Coos County to be the decision makers about their energy future. The ordinance would protect the rights of people and ecosystems in Coos County from non-sustainable energy projects, including current corporate and government attempts to push through the pipeline and export terminal. It would not only prohibit the siting of such projects but also prohibit the use of eminent domain – the taking of private property – on behalf of foreign and domestic oil and gas corporations.
And the “Columbia County Sustainable Action for Green Energy” group has similar plans. Their “Sustainable Energy Future Ordinance” will, among other things, prohibit coal and oil trains from passing through their county. Isn’t this a more empowering political process for citizens to participate in, rather than merely hoping that our new governor and state agencies will protect us? In both Coos and Columbia County, residents are taking back their authority to govern themselves and to protect their own health and welfare, regardless of what our state and corporate so-called leaders are planning for us. These groups need your support. I encourage you to visit their websites at CoosCommons.org, and at CCSAGE.org.
Wouldn’t it be great if sometime in the not too distant future, conventional activist groups began to follow the lead of Oregon’s growing collection of counties working to pass Community Rights ordinances? Let’s stop pleading with our so-called leaders, and get on with the job of protecting our communities directly, as We the People of Oregon.
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 on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.
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