Friday, February 5, 2010

AfD's Defending Water Campaign: Rights of nature as basis for international law

This article, from the upcoming issue of Justice Rising, focuses on AfD's work as part of a growing global "rights of nature" movement, challenging exploitation of the environment and the usual legal conception of nature as simply property.

This quarter's Justice Rising will feature articles on the judiciary, corporate personhood, and the relationship between legal and corporate elites--especially timely following the Citizens United decision and the start of a movement to address corporate personhood issues through constitutional amendment.

If you would like to be added to the mailing list for the next issue, please email, or join the Alliance--a subscription to Justice Rising is free with your membership.

by Ruth Caplan
Thanks to the leadership of President Evo Morales of Bolivia and Pablo Salon, his ambassador to the United Nations, who previously was active in the Our World Is Not For Sale network, the UN has declared April 22 to be International Mother Earth Day. The day will be celebrated in Cochabamba, Bolivia, by rallying activists from around the world to proclaim the fundamental rights of nature.

In the words of President Morales, there must be a charter to “enshrine the right to life for all living things; right to regeneration of the planet’s biocapacity; right to a clean life -- for Mother Earth to live free of contamination and pollution; and the right to harmony and balance among and between all things.”

The framing in the U.S. Constitution, which treats nature as property, is in direct contradiction to the rights of nature. Further, the series of court decisions granting corporations fundamental Constitutional rights has allowed corporations to use these conferred rights to exploit nature for corporate profit. In its organizing with local communities, the Alliance’s Defending Water for Life campaign has been challenging these fundamentals of U.S. Constitutional and court-conferred law. It is time for us to join the budding international movement.

From the small town of Barnstead NH to three other towns in NH and two in Maine, the Alliance has worked with communities that have passed ordinances to protect their water by denying corporate rights and asserting the rights of nature. These towns have challenged “settled law” based on court rulings interpreting the U.S. Constitution. Best known is the 1886 Santa Clara decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in which the court declared that everyone understands that corporations are to be included as persons under the 14th Amendment so the Court did not need to rule on this.

Last fall, the campaign’s Maine organizer, Emily Posner, brought an international focus to the Defending Water for Life campaign. First she brought “Hurricane Season” to Maine for several college campus performances. The two-woman show addresses pertinent social themes from the devastation of Katrina to global water justice through their dance, poetry and multi-media performance. Emily followed this by organizing a speaking tour with Marcela Olivera from Cochabamba, Bolivia who, with her brother Oscar Olivera, played a central role in the people’s uprising against Bechtel’s privatization of their water. Before organizing with the Alliance, Emily spent a year in Cochabamba working with the Oliveras.

The international focus continued with the campaign’s Water Justice art show, which opened in Portland ME in November and included art related to Cochabamba. Now plans are afoot for Emily to take the Water Justice art show to Cochabamba in April for the 10th anniversary of the Cochabamba uprising and stay on for the Peoples’ World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights. The conference goals include preparing a Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.

Just as we must learn from nature, we also stand to learn from Bolivia and Ecuador, which have made the rights of nature part of their Constitutions.

As the Alliance joins the Right to Amend coalition against corporate personhood, we must also continue our local organizing to build a movement for the rights of nature as a fundamental constitutional right. Settled law created by the courts allowing corporate exploitation of nature must become unsettled by a people’s movement to honor the fundamental rights of Mother Earth.

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