This quote by Virginia Rasmussen pretty much sums up where Occupy Law is coming from:
“We’re fed up with behaving like subordinates content to influence the decisions of corporate boards and the corporate class. Having influence is valuable, but influencing is not deciding. We’re weary of waging long, hard battles simply for the “right to know.” Knowing is critical, but knowing is not deciding. We’re tired of exercising our right to dissent as the be all and end all. Dissent is vital, but dissenting is not deciding. Influencing, knowing, dissenting, participating — all are important to a democratic life, but not one of them carries with it the authority to decide, the power to be in charge.”
We are advocating a Community Bill of Rights, and following in the footsteps of the pioneering work of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in the US, where communities have been organising to assert their rights over corporate minorities. In the UK as in the US, we have the illusion of democracy. In reality, communities have very little say in what goes on in their neighbourhoods. Those who choose to resist corporate assaults through the conventional channels (eg. responding to consultations, taking judicial reviews), soon find themselves burnt out and, if they choose the legal route, are put off by the vast costs associated with this and the inadequacy of the remedies the court can offer).
Many communities, including the Save the Leyton Marsh group, have experienced the planning process to be a sham. In the case of Save Leyton Marsh, the authorities colluded and ignored local residents’ views in pushing through a controversial three storey private basketball facility for the Olympics on ecologically sensitive land. The residents are now campaigning to ensure that when the land is returned, it is properly remediated and seek assurances that it will not be developed on in future. Unfortunately harm to delicate ecosystems on the marsh will be permanent. Nature has had no voice in the planning process either.
The Save the Leyton marsh campaign has inspired the local and wider community. But if Save Leyton Marsh and local campaigns like this are to stop unwanted developments in the future, they will need to assert their rights through a new legal structure – through a Community Bill of Rights – which recognises that power is inherent in the people and entrenches the right to local community self governance. This includes the right to determine what happens our neighbourhoods and the power to act to uphold the rights of nature to exist and flourish.
It’s going to be hard work – this is a new civil rights movement. But we owe it to our children to fight for this.