Activism we can't drink money

Published on October 7th, 2011 | by Lynn Fang

14

The Power of Community Organizing: Pittsburgh’s Ban on Fracking

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Marcellus Protest

Most people don’t realize that it is they, the individual, that has the power to make real change. No one person can make a huge difference, but when a small group of caring individuals bands together to organize in favor of the change they wish to see, real, lasting transformation can happen. In fact, this is the only reason social movements have succeeded in the past.

Few of these success stories are told in mainstream media. The powers at be don’t like you to know that you have the power to create real change. But I’m going to tell you a story today, about how a small group of concerned citizens were able to simultaneously ban natural gas extraction in their town, and grant rights to the local community and its natural resources, rights that trump corporate personhood.

On November 16, 2010, the Pittsburgh City Council voted unanimously, 9-0 to pass a local ordinance banning natural gas drilling in the city.

“Pittsburgh’s Community Protection from Natural Gas Extraction Ordinance” is the first of its kind to exercise the authority of a local community over the wishes of a corporation.

It was drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, an organization which helps local communities protect themselves from operations that are hazardous to public and environmental health.

The Marcellus Shale formation is a natural gas deposit that runs through four states in the Northeastern United States, including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Natural gas extraction, also known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is a chemically intensive process that destroys the landscape and often contaminates the water supply with so much chemical waste that it can actually catch on fire:

Wells are drilled and millions of gallons of water, sand, and a mixture of 596 proprietary chemicals are injected under high pressure, in order to extract the natural gas. The pressure fractures the shale and props up open fissures that allow the natural gas to flow out of the well.

Pittsburgh’s ordinance establishes, beyond banning natural gas extraction, “a Bill of Rights for Pittsburgh residents and removes legal powers from gas extraction corporations within the City”, including:

  • Right to Water that is clean and natural
  • Rights of Natural Communities and Ecosystems, including, but not limited to wetlands, streams, rivers, aquifers, and other water systems. These possess the inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish within the City of Pittsburgh.
  • Right to Self-Government. All residents of Pittsburgh possess the fundamental and inalienable right to a form of governance where they live which recognizes that all power is inherent in the people.
  • People as Sovereign. The people at all times enjoy and retain an inalienable and indefeasible right to self-governance in the community where they reside.

The ordinance also strips away corporate “personhood” and “protections of commerce or contracts” afforded by the US and Pennsylvania Constitutions. No license from a State or Federal agency can violate the stipulations of this Ordinance to deprive the city residents and its natural community of their inalienable rights.

As you might imagine, there was a considerable amount of hesitation in drafting such an ordinance and shifting powers from corporate minority to the public majority.

So how exactly did all 9 council members vote for the ordinance? None of them believed they had the right to self-government. No one had considered the community could have rights greater than corporations.

Community Willpower

The Marcellus Protest formed in June 2010, by a group of concerned residents who had come together over the anti-fracking film, Gasland. It was tiny at first, but they decided to reach out to their fellow neighbors to warn them of the on-coming fracking operation. As word spread about the hazards of natural gas drilling, Marcellus Protest began to grow.

Members lobbied all 9 council members relentlessly. In the end, hundreds of people called, emailed, and showed up to council meetings to voice their opinions.

Marcellus Protest Rally against DUGMarcellus Protest staged a protest on November 3 to coincide with a convention held by the energy companies interested in fracking. This was one week before the council voted on the ordinance. Over 800 people came to the protest, sparking media coverage that spread like fire.

And so, the Community Bill of Rights was born.

Soon after, as word spread throughout New England, townships in Pennsylvania and nearby states all adopted their own Community Bill of Rights ordinances, most often targeted to ban natural gas extraction.

Hearing about this story, one has to wonder…

Why should those who are directly affected by governing decisions not be allowed to have a say in those decisions?

Why should local people and their natural resources not be protected from exploitation? Why shouldn’t nature have rights too?

The story of Pittsburgh really exemplifies that if the people exercise their will, real transformation is possible. There is power in numbers, in the solidarity of public desire.

Support the ongoing efforts to ban fracking in the US, as well as the rights of people and natural resources. Support Marcellus Protest and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund by learning more about them and spreading the message. See their website to attend future events and demonstrations.

Hear this story as an example of what can be done anywhere they are concerned individuals. What’s got you upset in your town? Is it BPA, fracking, mountain-top removal coal mining, or the lack of affordable organic food? Get together with people who care and start talking about how you might be able to reach out to your neighbors, educate your community, and start making some real changes.

It all starts with you!

How will you support organizing in your community?

 [CC Images by (MarcellusProtest) via Flickr]



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About the Author

Lynn Fang is an eco-conscious writer, thinker, and Conscious Business Coach. She writes about sustainable living, social change, and personal growth at her blog, Upcycled Love. Follow her on Twitter or Google+.



  • http://marcellusprotest.org david meieran

    thanks for the story!

    please check out our website for events they can attend and actions they can take.

    • http://upcycledlove.com Lynn Fang

      Thank you for your work!

  • http://Web Briget

    If everyone who is protesting Wall Street would join us in stopping the natural gas industry from destroying our country we could stop them tomorrow!!!

    • http://upcycledlove.com Lynn Fang

      I agree! How can we join forces?

  • http://www.marcellusprotest.org Gloria Forouzan

    Ms. Fang,

    Thank you for doing this article. I am one of the organizers of the Nov. 3, 2010 protest in Pittsburgh.

    This isn’t accurate: “And so, Pittsburgh City Council had little choice but to go with the will of the people.”

    Council member, Doug Shields, was way out in front on this issue, he was right there with us from the beginning. There were others also in support. Certainly there were several who weren’t with us @ first, but our lobbying & our protest & its attendant media attention took care of that.

    • http://upcycledlove.com Lynn Fang

      Hi Gloria, thank you for pointing this out. I have updated the article to change that perspective. I am new to citizen journalism, so I appreciate your feedback. Thank you for your dedicated work!

  • http://Web Bill

    Title is quite misleading, at least for those of us who watch Battlestar Galactica.

    • http://upcycledlove.com Lynn Fang

      Misleading in a good way, because now you know the other meaning of “fracking”. Learning is fun :)

  • https://www.facebook.com/GlobalFrackingBan Luke Ashley

    I`m in the UK and need to be alert. It`s still pretty quiet here but I must spend my time on other things.
    Anyway, GREAT read !!!
    Oh,.. and GREAT website. :-)

  • http://buildingordinary.blogspot.com Kathryn Grace

    Inspiring story! Thank you for telling it and showing what a committed group of people can do in their local communities. From the ground up …

    • http://importantmedia.org/members/karenl/ Karen Lee

      Hi Kathryn, It is amazing when a group of like-minded people gather, isn’t it?

      • http://buildingordinary.blogspot.com Kathryn Grace

        Yes it is.

  • http://Web Briget

    Today we will join the country In Solidarity in a day of support for Occupy Wall St. with a march and “Occupy Pittsburgh” event. We are bringing our anti Fracking, message into the march. We’re not going to keep allowing the Gas industry to have a free pass in PA, to contaminate our air, water and land. Please join us, march kicks off at 11 am!

    • http://upcycledlove.com Lynn Fang

      Awesome! Good luck to you!

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