Updated: Jun 9, 2019
by: Barbara Peterson March 5, 2019
“It is not enough to say we have the right to self-determination or that nature has legal standing if we do not have the recognized authority to enforce such rights,” says Michelle Sanborn, president of the New Hampshire Community Rights Network (NHCRN). When corporations and property rights predominate over local community rights, the people do not have the power to make choices about what would benefit the members of their community. NHCRN, a state chapter of the national Community Rights Network, is fighting to empower people within their local municipalities by advancing the NH Community Rights Amendment so that individual people have the legal authority to determine what goes on in their communities.
NHCRN’s mission is to inform and empower communities and elected officials about individual and collective rights of local self-governance, recognized in the US Constitution and the NH Constitution, in order to secure and protect the inherent and unalienable rights of all inhabitants of New Hampshire to economic, social, and environmental well-being and to protect the rights of nature. In 2018, a full 1/3 of the NH House who voted, supported their community rights amendment. They are a grassroots, statewide organization with participants and supporters in towns throughout nearly every region in the state.
The NHCRN was founded in 2013 and recognized as a 501c3 in 2015. In the past six years, they have enjoyed and continue to enjoy some impressive achievements. They host and co-sponsor Community Rights educational events across the state, including Community Rights Awareness Workshops, CELDF’s Democracy Schools, Kitchen Table Talks, film screenings of community-issue topics, and legislative informational forums. For more information, visit their gallery on their website (given at the end of this article) or on their FB events page.
The system we have now is set up to limit the voice and participation of the people, Sanborn states. This is not a democracy. NHCRN wants to enrich and invigorate democracy in our state and in our communities by passing an amendment to the NH’s Bill of Rights. To do this, Sanborn and several supporters of the proposed amendment showed up in Concord to speak before a legislative committee. “In NH, by law, every piece of submitted legislation must have a public hearing, which gives the façade that the public’s voice is able to influence government. What we learned in this process is that, it’s just that, a façade,” said Sanborn. Yes, all citizens have a legal right to voice their concerns and interests, but does our voice “affect the governing decision that is made? Not necessarily and not likely.”
Sanborn is concerned that merely giving people a right to speak at a legislative hearing does not sufficiently empower them to have their views taken seriously. Members and supporters of NHCRN worry that, too often, the voices and interests of corporations are given far more weight than the people, and thus have an unjustly dominating influence on legislation. Sanborn stated that the people do not have the power to make choices about what goes on in their communities when “representatives are often bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists.” Corporate lobbyists, for example, can often gain an audience with elected officials, sometimes for an hour or more, whereas the people are lucky to ever even get 15 minutes of their undivided attention.
When residents of a town or city try to oppose practices, for example, that impair the health and wellbeing of their environment, they encounter law makers who support corporate interests over the welfare of local citizens. For example, according to NHCRN, a chemical known to cause cancer that used to be used in Teflon, which is produced by a local plastics corporation, is polluting the Merrimack River. This poison is showing up both in the municipal water supply as well as residents’ well water. “These kinds of things are permitted by our governments at the state and sometimes federal levels,” Sanborn states. Corporate “personhood” has become far more powerful than the collective power of the individual members of a community. This is not fair, just, or legitimate, Sanborn argues.
New Hampshire is a Dillon’s rule state meaning the state has what are called preemptive rights. Briefly, this means that the state has the right to say that certain policies and practices are in the best interests of the state, and that these interests preempt the rights or benefits of the community members who will be most impacted by the policies or practices. Sanborn explains that in New Hampshire, towns and cities must gain explicit permission from the state before they can pass any laws. This is opposed to states that have home-rule, which allows municipalities to pass any law so long as the state doesn’t outright prohibit it.
In short, NHCRN argues that the people are free only within the limits imposed on them by corporations and state and federal government regulations. Bottom line, our laws and government regulations protect the interests of the wealthy minority at the expense of the interests of everyone else.
Sanborn is careful to point out that they do not take a position of flat-out opposition to corporate interests or industrial development. Rather, they are against corporations being able to have their interests matter more than the health, safety, and wellbeing of the environment and the individuals who live in the communities affected most by the laws.
To help build a movement and provide individuals with the knowledge and tools they need to become empowered within their own communities, NHCRN offers workshops. The Community Rights Awareness Workshops help people become cognizant of who controls the narrative and thus shapes the thinking of many law makers and citizens. For example, we often assume the corporations are the experts on whether it would be good to move into our communities. Their narrative is strictly jobs and revenue. This is fine if it doesn’t supplant the narrative of environmental sustainability, small family businesses, and community health and well-being. NHCRN workshops have been very successful in helping people become mindful of patterns of thinking that are harmful to their own self-interests.
The threat on local self-government is what initiated the American Revolution, and yet, here we are, fighting for exactly that, Sanborn states. She sees the movement for community rights as today’s revolution, one that we the people can win. “There’s power in majority. People have lost sight of that,” Sanborn reminds us.
The NHCRN is interested in training up speakers for a Community Rights Speaker Bureau and launching a municipal resolution campaign in support of the right to self-govern. NHCRN knows from prior people’s movements that fundamental change takes persistent, unrelenting pressure. As corporate threats grow in the Granite State, more communities are joining the Community Rights movement. They contend that communities and NHCRN supporters will reintroduce the NH Community Rights Amendment because our quality of life — indeed our very lives and those of our children and future generations — depends on it. We don’t lose until we quit!
People can help NHCRN’s efforts by donating financially, by volunteering time and energy, or with professional services. In addition, anyone can support their amendment by signing and sharing the digital petition via email, hard copy, or social media, then email it back to NHCRN at the address given at the end of this article.
The NHCRN welcomes volunteers to serve on event committees, write LTEs that connect local issues to the need for state constitutional recognition of people’s right to self-govern, and reach out to state representatives encouraging them to “let the people decide” if they want to elevate rights of people and ecosystems over corporate personhood and preemption in order to secure economic, social, and environmental justice for all inhabitants of NH.
Members, Affiliations, and Contact Information
Michelle Sanborn (Alexandria, NH) as serving president, Monica Christofili (Newmarket, NH) as Secretary, Peter White (Nottingham, NH) as Treasurer, with Doug Darrell (Barnstead, NH) as NCRN delegate and Sue Ozkan and Diane St. Germain as directors.
The NHCRN is affiliated with a growing number of local Community Rights activist groups including: Citizens of Alexandria Rights Effort (CARE Group), Concerned Citizens of Plymouth, Barrington Waterways Protection Committee, Alliance for Newmarket Citizen & Ecosystem Rights, and Citizen Action for Exeter’s Environment. At the national and state levels, we are affiliated with the National Community Rights Network (NCRN), the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) in educational partnership, and state Community Rights networks in PA, OH, CO, and OR. The NHCRN also works with New England Grassroots Environmental Fund (NEGEF), 350NH, Post Oil Solutions of VT, and various other grasstop organizations.
FB: https://www.facebook.com/NHCRN/, Twitter: @NewHampshireCRN