This Election’s 4 Biggest Populist Victories You Might Have Missed
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Mansfield, Ohio’s 50,000 residents were slated to be on the receiving end of Pennsylvania’s toxic frackwater waste, a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing, one of the dirtiest energy production methods in the US. Elsewhere in Ohio and Pennsylvania, four communities fed up with a wealthy minority scaring people to vote against their own interests, challenged the entire structure of law that puts corporate interest before residents—and won.
Under the law, there wasn’t really anything that concerned residents could do to stop it from coming. The permits were approved, and the dumping of PA’s unwanted fracking chemicals into “injection wells” in Ohio is legal, despite the scientific evidence that storing frack waste is causing large earthquakes….in Ohio (yes Ohio).
After an initial conference call and follow-up conversations with community members, Council, and the Law Director’s office, John Spon, the Law Director, proposed a rights-based charter amendment.
Suddenly, a matter of local concern—namely the right of residents to protect their own health safety and welfare from ultra-hazardous materials—became an election issue for Big Petroleum and their PACs.
Corporate contributors poured over $300,000 into TV attack ads and glossy mailers to frighten residents into voting against their own interests, citing that the Charter Amendment Bill of Rights was a “jobs killer”. Residents didn’t believe the hype, reasoning that jobs related to injection wells are not as plentiful as promised, and dumping toxic waste into Mansfield’s industrial park seemed more likely to chase away new business.
As the Mayor put it “We don’t like out-siders telling us what to do.” Residents voted by 63% to pass the charter amendment that affirms the rights of all residents to decide if injections wells are wanted (they’re not); strips all corporate protections (not just personhood) that enables corporations to ignore community wishes, and recognizes rights for ecosystems to be free from toxic frackwater dumping.
Elsewhere in Ohio, the town of Broadview Heights similarly passed a Community Bill of Rights charter amendment to ban injection wells. The organizing group, Mothers Against Drilling In Our Neighborhoods (MADION) took it another step further, proposing the community vote to ban injection wells, but to futher protect the rights of citizens by prohibiting all new gas and oil drilling, fracking and injection wells.
Unlike their neighbors in Mansfield, the Mayor was not in support of the rights-based effort, and the City Council threatened to pull the initiative from the ballot, thereby stripping residents of their right to even vote on the matter, which did not go down well with residents. MADION’s charter amendment garnered the support of the local newspaper, and with no funding whatsoever the Mad Mothers made their case—door to door. On election day, the rights-based initiative passed with an impressive 66% of the vote.
Going “Home Rule” to access democracy
Whatever you might say about the citizen initiative process—whereby the electorate can collect signatures to put items of concern before residents for a local or statewide vote—in states that don’t allow for it, residents are left with very few options when their elected officials abandon them.
Pennsylvania is a no citizen initiative state. There is only one thing communities can vote on there—and that is whether or not to become a www.celdf.org/home-rule">http://www.celdf.org/home-rule" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; color: rgb(0, 62, 126); text-decoration: initial;">“home rule” municipality (in other states it’s also called a charter city), which allows them to change how decisions are made there by among other things allowing for citizen initiatives that can effectively amend the charter.