Are we living through the twilight of democracy, or the dawn of a new day?

That is up to us.

The Chambersburg Declaration is a brief but promising political document coming out of Pennsylvania, specifically the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. Explanation follows. [alex]

photo by neeloyunus on flickr



We declare:

– That the political, legal, and economic systems of the United States allow, in each generation, an elite few to impose policy and governing decisions that threaten the very survival of human and natural communities;

– That the goal of those decisions is to concentrate wealth and greater governing power through the exploitation of human and natural communities, while promoting the belief that such exploitation is necessary for the common good;

– That the survival of our communities depends on replacing this system of governance by the privileged with new community-based democratic decision-making systems;

– That environmental and economic sustainability can be achieved only when the people affected by governing decisions are the ones who make them;

– That, for the past two centuries, people have been unable to secure economic and environmental sustainability primarily through the existing minority-rule system, laboring under the myth that we live in a democracy;

– That most reformers and activists have not focused on replacing the current system of elite decision-making with a democratic one, but have concentrated merely on lobbying the factions in power to make better decisions; and

– That reformers and activists have not halted the destruction of our human or natural communities because they have viewed economic and environmental ills as isolated problems, rather than as symptoms produced by the absence of democracy.

Therefore, let it be resolved:

– That a people’s movement must be created with a goal of revoking the authority of the corporate minority to impose political, legal, and economic systems that endanger our human and natural communities;

– That such a movement shall begin in the municipal communities of Pennsylvania;

– That we, the people, must transform our individual community struggles into new frameworks of law that dismantle the existing undemocratic systems while codifying new, sustainable systems;

– That such a movement must grow and accelerate through the work of people in all municipalities to raise the profile of this work at state and national levels;

– That when corporate and governmental decision-makers challenge the people’s right to assert local, community self-governance through passage of municipal law, the people, through their municipal governments, must openly and frontally defy those legal and political doctrines that subordinate the rights of the people to the privileges of a few;

– That those doctrines include preemption, subordination of municipal governments; bestowal of constitutional rights upon corporations, and relegating ecosystems to the status of property;

– That those communities in defiance of rights-denying law must join with other communities in our state and across the nation to envision and build new state and federal constitutional structures that codify new, rights-asserting systems of governance;

– That Pennsylvania communities have worked for more than a decade to advance those new systems and, therefore, have the responsibility to become the first communities to call for a new state constitutional structure; and

– That now, this 20th day of February, 2010, the undersigned pledge to begin that work, which will drive the right to local, community self-government into the Pennsylvania Constitution, thus liberating Pennsylvania communities from the legal and political doctrines that prevent them from building economically and environmentally sustainable communities.

That a Call Issues from this Gathering:

– To create a network of people committed to securing the right to local, community self-government, the reversal of political, legal, and cultural doctrines that interfere with that right, and the creation of a new system and doctrines that support that right;

– To call upon the people and elected officials across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to convene a larger gathering of delegates representing their municipal communities, who will propose constitutional changes to secure the right of local, community self-government; and

– To create the people’s movement that will result in these changes to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Laying the Groundwork for a People’s Constitutional Convention

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
P.O. Box 2016 Chambersburg, Pennsylvania 17201

February 20, 2010

For Immediate Release
Contact: Ben Price
Projects Director

Laying the Groundwork for a People’s Constitutional Convention
Pennsylvania Community Rights Network Launched

To organize a people’s convention of delegates, representing municipal communities, who will propose constitutional changes to secure the inalienable right to local, community self-government free of state and corporate preemption.

Chambersburg, PA (February 20, 2010)

Citizens from more than a dozen counties met in Chambersburg on Saturday, February 20th , to initiate plans to convene a Pennsylvania People’s Constitutional Convention made up of delegates from municipalities across the state.

The Community Rights Network Conference brought together men and women who have struggled for years to assert the rights of citizens to protect the health, welfare and environment of their communities, only to be met with a barrage of legislative preemptions and threats of corporate lawsuits. “Not one of our 12.5 million Pennsylvanians enjoys the fundamental right to self-government in the communities where they live,” commented Ben Price, Projects Director for the Legal Defense Fund. “In January 2008, attorney general Tom Corbett’s office declared in Commonwealth Court that ‘there is no inalienable right to local self-government’ Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly think he’s wrong, and it’s time for our Constitution to reflect the will of the people,” Price said.

The day-long conference was the first opportunity for many of these local organizers to meet and share their experiences. Describing their townships and boroughs as “resource colonies for corporations” and “sacrifice zones” for waste haulers, they concluded their deliberations by pledging to become Community Rights Networkers, and by issuing the Chambersburg Declaration, which presents the case for building a community-driven movement for constitutional change to guarantee local self-governing rights that protect the rights of all Pennsylvanians, not just the privileges of corporations and their limited-liability beneficiaries.

The Networkers pledged to quickly implement the first steps of a campaign to create a people’s movement for community rights. They will be hosting neighborhood discussions, scheduling Democracy School seminars that unveil the legal checks on democracy that prevent people from exercising their rights to protect their quality of life in the places where they live, and by urging their municipalities to appoint delegates to form an organizing committee as the first step toward convening a People’s Constitutional Convention.


Over the past few years, more than a dozen communities across Pennsylvania have adopted local self-governance ordinances that challenge the authority of the state to preempt local decision-making on behalf of corporations. In response, the state and corporations have conspired to adopt anti-democratic legislation that preempts local decision-making, and have used the courts to sue a handful of these municipalities. Some cases have been dismissed, some communities have prevailed and others are ongoing, but state agencies, municipal solicitors, state legislators and corporate lawyers have erected a legal fortress to protect corporate privileges against democratic governance at the community level.

Over the past year, the Legal Defense Fund staff have discussed the need to bring together all of the communities they have worked with across Pennsylvania to decide on next steps in the struggle for community governing rights. The goal is to build a statewide movement to drive the right to local self-government into the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The need for constitutional change has been recognized by a growing number of people and organizations across the state. Of highest importance to the convening of any constitutional convention are the manner of its convening, the scope of its powers and the choosing of delegates.

The Pennsylvania Constitution recognizes 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. For the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper.” (Article I, Section 2)

It also cautions us

“To guard against the transgressions of the high powers which we have delegated, we declare that everything in this article is excepted out of the general powers of government and shall forever remain inviolate.” (Article I, Section 25)

And yet, the legislature and courts, to whom we, the people, have delegated high powers, claim that the “inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper” may be exercised by the people only if and when the legislature places a question on the ballot to call for a convention or to allow the people to adopt an amendment proposed by the very government the people want to alter, reform or abolish.

The Pennsylvania Community Networking Conference marks a significant turning point in the struggle for community rights, and the Chambersburg Declaration is a common-sense assessment of the obstacles to Pennsylvanians realizing their aspirations right there in the communities where they live. Placing a constitutional convention in the hands of real people representing their municipal communities is the innovative solution that is needed.

In 1776, when Pennsylvania revolutionaries drafted the first state constitution, they asserted that:

“all government ought to be instituted and supported for the security and protection of the community as such…government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people, nation or community; and not for the particular emolument or advantage of any single man, family, or set of men, who are only part of that community: And…the community hath an indubitable, unalienable and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish government in such manner as shall be by that community judged most conducive to the public weal.”

It is time to realize those principled aspirations.