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Organic Consumers Association

Control the Corporation Conference - Alexis Baden-Mayer on BioDemocracy

This talk on BioDemocracy was presented by Alexis Baden-Mayer at the Center for Study of Responsive Law's Control the Corporation Conference on April 2, 2012.

My name is Alexis Baden-Mayer. I'm the Political Director of the Organic Consumers Association and I run our Millions Against Monsanto campaign.

We are, essentially, a single-issue organization. We have one goal: for agriculture to be local, organic, and fair trade.

But, the Organic Consumers Association recognizes that we won't be successful unless the larger movement for justice, peace, and democracy is successful. We're never going to have the political will to transition to local, organic and fair trade agriculture until we have a functional democracy. We won't have the resources we need until we create a peace-time economy. We won't be able to equitably distribute these resources until we have justice in our political and economic systems.

And the Organic Consumers Association recognizes that we have to measure any movements we make towards our goal by how close we're getting to overall health and sustainability. If local, organic and fair trade food and agriculture are only accessible to a few, we're not making people or the planet much healthier. And, if local, organic and fair trade agriculture is being sculpted in the mold of industrial agriculture, it's not sustainable, it won't take us off our trajectory towards ecological crisis.

Putting this in the positive, to make a transition to local, organic and fair trade agriculture is to achieve a democratic system of local control over our shared resources, to bring justice to our economic and democratic systems so resources are equitably distributed, so everyone has access to food that is safe and healthy and so food production is truly sustainable. Sustainable enough to turn the ecological crisis around. Currently our global industrial food production system is responsible for up to 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If all of the world's farmland were transitioned to organic, the organic matter building up in the soil would sequester 40% of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Going from industrial to organic changes agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions from being 51% of the problem to 40% of the solution.

OCA is launching a new project this year that we're calling BioDemocracy. The BioDemocracy work plan, or "Plan D," is to Democratize, Decorporatize, Demilitarize, Decriminalize, Detoxify, and Decarbonize.

We want to be part of a ballot box insurgency that begins at the local, municipal and county level, using, wherever possible, the electoral tools of direct democracy: Initiatives, Referendums, and Recalls.

We're currently building a Web-based tool that maps the several thousand towns, cities, and counties where Initiatives, Referendums, and Recalls are allowed. We want to create the online platform national campaigners need to easily run hundreds of local campaigns simultaneously.

Once this platform is up and running, managing a national campaign for change at the local level will be as easy as a running a campaign targeting state or federal decision makers.

And it should be a lot more fruitful, because, at the local level, the 99% still have a distinct advantage. There are more of us than there are of them and, locally, there isn't as much of a need to filter our messages through the corporate-controlled media or the two corporate-controlled political parties. We can take our cause straight to the voters.

So what's our cause? OCA has its own to-do list. We want GMO-free zones and pesticide-free zones, mandatory composting laws, organic transition incentives, laws encouraging food sharing, living wage laws, organic school food laws, food hubs, local, organic, sweat-free and fair trade government procurement policies. We've got a long list, but what can the movement to control the corporation do together? How can we best lay the foundation for functional local democracy?

We're very inspired by the work being done by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). They've come up with model local laws designed to control the corporation, create meaningful local democracy, and assert local control over community resources.

Today, Monday, April 2nd, Las Vegas, New Mexico, is voting on whether or not to pass a Community Bill of Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance that recognizes the right of the community to protect their water, air, and the rights of nature by banning shale gas drilling and fracking and removing corporate privileges.

This is just one of the more than 150 communities CELDF has worked with on local legislation. They've come up with several model ordinances that we think  deserve your attention:

The Community Bill of Rights Elections Ordinance

The Rights of Nature Ordinance

The Bodily Trespass Ordinance

and the more comprehensive, constitution-like Model Home Rule Charter

CELDF's Model Community Bill of Rights Elections Ordinance secures the right of people to clean government and fair elections, and the right to be free from corporate activities which interfere with those rights.

The model ordinance eliminates corporate constitutional "rights" and bans corporations from making contributions or expenditures to influence any election within municipalities which adopt the ordinance.

CELDF's Model Rights of Nature Ordinance changes the status of the environment from being regarded as property under the law to being recognized as a rights-bearing entity. 

A Rights of Nature initiative, that very narrowly failed in Spokane last year (the vote was 50.88% no to 49.12% yes) would have protected the Spokane River and Aquifer. It would have recognized the Spokane River to "possess inalienable rights to exist and flourish, which shall include the right to sustainable recharge, flows sufficient to protect native fish habitat, and clean water. The City of Spokane and any resident of the City or group of residents have standing to enforce and protect these rights."
 
CELDF's Model Ordinances Banning Bodily Trespass give the members of the community a right to be free from involuntary invasions of their bodies by corporate chemicals.

A Bodily Trespass ordinance was passed in 2008 in Halifax, Virginia. The ordinance banned corporate chemical and radioactive bodily trespass to confront concerns about the proposed uranium mine in adjacent Pittsylvania County.

And finally, the CELDF's work with communities to create Home Rule Charters is a way for localities to assert in law their communities' holistic vision for the future by enumerating the rights of the people, including their right to a certain quality of life, and codifying legal protections of those rights at the local level. The writing of a local Home Rule charter allows citizens and municipalities a much broader foundation to work from than the framework of a single ordinance.

There's an upcoming election to watch on this in Rush Township, Pennsylvania. On April 24, they're having a popular vote on whether to consider Home Rule.

Please check for updates on the Rush Township and Los Vegas votes at CELDF.org.

Thank you.

To learn more about CELDF, please watch Mari Margil's presentation at Bioneers 2010:

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