We were first introduced to the ideas of the Rights of Nature and Community Rights in the Fall of 2017. We had been fighting the proposed fracked gas interstate Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) for three years at that point, and thirsted for the clear, outside-the-box wisdom that the global movement for the rights of communities and nature presented us.
The community organizers of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, (CELDF) encouraged us to create a Community Bill of Rights with standing in Buckingham County, in spite of the formidable odds. Buckingham was targeted for one of three mega-compressor stations along the 600 mile proposed ACP. We worked with Ben Price, CELDF National Organizing Director, to create the James River Natural Community Bill of Rights. To promote this work, we originally formed Buckingham: We the People.
We were so taken by this experience, that we reached out to other activists by hosting a Democracy School and a Rights of Nature and Nurture weekend for educating and rejuvenating tired frontline activists. Rights of Nature Conservation Easements are being developed by theTerra Conservancy here in Virginia. Two properties are currently being transferred.
Buckingham: We the People has transitioned into the Virginia Community Rights Network (VACRN). In Spring 2020, we were invited to team up with the growing number of states who comprise the National Community Rights Network (NCRN), all in close partnership with CELDF. We are excited about sharing this information and perspective with other communities, creating a new movement of self-government and protection throughout Virginia.
Communities throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia have been stripped of their rights to safeguard their own health and safety. This became clear to us in our own struggle to protect Buckingham County from the proposed 57,000 hp compressor station. When recognizing the inherent danger in this commercial industrial activity, we found that these activities are protected by state law, while the authority to protect ourselves has been eliminated by the state legislature. After writing the James River Natural Community Bill of Rights we were faced with the closed doors of our Board of Supervisors who had approved the Compressor Station, changing zoning rules to accommodate it. They were enticed by the revenue and jobs they were told it would supply, placing profit and gain over the health and safety of their constituents.
We have learned that not only is there no remedy under our current structure of law; but that a corporate minority, in partnership with the state, has control over our community on almost any issue that really matters to us.
We recognize that we cannot rely on state legislatures and courts to provide the vision that we have for the future. It was an epiphany for us to come to understand that we don’t just have a pipeline problem, we have a democracy problem. It became clear to us that we needed to find open doors and communities with elected officials who might be willing to work at changing the system.
VACRN and our Declaration call upon communities across the Commonwealth of Virginia to unite in a movement to elevate the rights of people, their communities, and Nature above the claimed ‘rights’ of corporations and the elite few.
While our work has focused largely on rural environmental issues, this approach has also been applied to urban and social justice issues. Other state Community Rights Networks have extended their work to provide organizing assistance to groups working on issues such as sanctuary cities for immigrants, campaign finance reform, living wages, worker/labor protections, homelessness, and police accountability.
We are assisted by the foundational work of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), working in rural Pennsylvania since 1995. The National Community Rights Network (NCRN), in close alliance with CELDF, was formed in October 2014. We are partnered with NCRN to support communities in reclaiming their rights to the healthy, thriving, sustainable world they envision.