Communities fighting back: BOR vs BOE: Ohio Communities Champion Local Democracy

Corporations have more rights than the community: “Without this, we just have to wait until the harm happens and then we get vocal and ask for cleanup,” says Markie Miller of Toledoans for Safe Water. “We want to be able to be more proactive and take some more preventative measures.”

CELDF: Ohio Communities Champion Local Democracy

“Let us vote! Let us vote!” members of the Columbus Community Bill of Rights organization chant outside county offices and their state courthouse. “Let us vote!”

“It’s crystal clear that not only do we have a water problem. We also have a democracy problem,” says Lynn Anderson with the Youngstown Bill of Rights Committee.

“Democracy is being denied!” insists Kathie Jones with Sustainable Medina County.

These champions, and others like them across Ohio who are working in partnership with CELDF, have encountered the same roadblock to asserting Community Rights. Call it the “BOR vs BOE Dilemma.”

Local community members partner with CELDF to draft laws and charters that establish local Bills of Rights (BOR). Using their state constitutional right to initiative, residents gather the signatures, get their initiatives certified, prepare get-out-the-vote campaigns, and then have their BORs blocked from the ballot by the appointed – not elected – members of their county Boards of Elections (BOE).

The BORs would give community members the authority to protect their drinking water, their air, their soil from pollution, and enforce local ecosystems’ rights to exist, thrive and flourish.

In Toledo, toxic algae blooms from industrial farms and agriculture fertilizer runoff have made Lake Erie water unsafe, summer after summer. In parts of Youngstown, water runs brown from the faucets, while the water department has warned of high toxin levels that could cause serious health effects, including cancer. In Columbus, as well as Athens, Meigs, and Portage counties, the concerns center on fracking wastewater injection wells leaking into the underground drinking water sources. In Medina County the threats to air from the Nexus pipeline and compressor station are a constant concern.

In Youngstown, they’ve been through the BOR exercise nine times since 2013. 1900 signatures are required for each attempt. In Franklin County (Columbus) there were over 12,000 valid signers of the BOR petition in 2018. And in Medina County, where champions in three attempts collected over 18,000 signatures to take the initiative to a vote.

“We the people put in hundreds of volunteer hours collecting nearly 11,000 signatures because we’re alarmed about Lake Erie’s deterioration. We’re apprehensive about the safety of our drinking water,” explains Markie Miller with Toledoans for Safe Water. “We’re worried about our survival, too.”

Yet no matter how many signatures they gather over and above the required minimum, the BORs keep getting blocked by the BOEs.

“We don’t lose until we quit, and we’re just going to keep coming right back every time they try to stop us,” Miller says.

Austin Babrow, of Athens County, sums up the courage and conviction of all of these Ohio Community Rights champions.

“We’re here, we’re united, and we’re not going to stop demanding our rights until we truly have them.”

Your support makes our work with these Ohio champions possible. Be a Community Rights and Rights of Nature champion – donate today. Here is what your support provides:

Here’s what your help can do in 2019:

  • $25 covers postage for 100 Common Sense newspapers.
  • $50 ensures a community member can attend a Community Rights workshop, teaching the tools needed to confront corporate control and state interference on a powerful single front: people’s and nature’s inalienable rights.
  • $100 covers travel expenses for our community organizer to speak at an event educating residents on Community Rights.
  • $250 allows us to print and distribute informational handouts on Community Rights and Rights of Nature as tools to protect local communities.
  • $500 helps pay litigation costs as CELDF fights for democratic and environmental rights on behalf of Ohio residents.


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