By Lynne Williams
Maine is a rural, relatively poor state. As such, we have become the target of multi-national corporations that seek to control our natural resources and direct them out of state. Nestle is continually expanding water mining into our communities. Plum Creek is trying to turn the Moosehead Lake region into a destination filled with high-priced resorts and acreage for luxury home. Industrial wind farm corporations such as FirstWind and TransCanada seek to put turbines on ridgelines throughout the state.
The Governor recently declared, at the ribbon cutting for a new industrial wind farm, that we are poised to become the wind power supplier for the rest of New England. We are becoming a plantation, but we have the power to fight back against this dangerous trend.
Article 1 of the Maine Constitution states the following: “All people are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and of pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.” As it goes on to state, “All power is inherent in the people; all free governments are founded in their authority and instituted for their benefit; they have therefore an unalienable and indefeasible right to institute government, and to alter, reform, or totally change the same, when their safety and happiness require it.”
The Maine State Constitution also guarantees municipal home rule, giving the inhabitants of a municipality “the power to alter and amend their charters on all matters, not prohibited by Constitution or general law, which are local and municipal in character.”
The language here is significant. People are the source of all governmental power, which governments must exercise for the common benefit of people, nations, or communities. To ensure that this is so, the community has the inalienable right to reform, or change their government. It is not the state that holds the right, nor elected officials or governmental bodies, nor corporate interests. Rather, communities of people naturally have a right to self-government, and they are powerless only in their inability to abdicate that right to anyone.
In addition to looking at the Maine State Constitution, we can look to history. The American Revolution rested its legitimacy on the proposition that it is beyond the delegated power of any government to deprive the people of their fundamental right to local self-governance. Community self –government is exempt from, and therefore superior to, the state government.
If the individual retains the inalienable right to enjoy life, liberty, happiness and safety, it must necessarily follow that those rights demand the right to self-government. And that right to self-government belongs to the majority, not to a privileged minority (corporation) that seeks only its private goals. State and local laws that favor private businesses over local self-governance rights are attacks on the inalienable rights enumerated above. These laws usurp the authority of the people to govern corporations, which are essentially creations of the state. Courts that approve of this are ignoring the history of this country and this state, particularly the rights of the people.
Communities have a right to pass ordinances that are an expression of the rights held by the people of a given community, and which are protective of the physical, natural, social, governmental, cultural and community values of the people. And these rights are superior to the rights of corporate creations of the state. Neither the states, nor the courts, have authority to delegate away the rights of the people. If there is an absolute right to self-government, then there is by definition an indefeasible right to community self-government. If community self-government is denied, then the entire right to self-government is denied.
As inhabitants of communities within this state, it is not only our right, but also our responsibility, to ensure the continuance of local self-governance, particularly when the health, safety and continuity of those communities is threatened by extractive practices being imposed on these communities by corporate entities, with the acquiescence of state government. There is strength in numbers and when all communities recognize that what is happening to their neighbors could happen to them, we will join in solidarity and fight the interlopers side by side. This will be a long fight, not without losses, but with ultimate victory if we do not give in. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Lynne Williams is a Bar Harbor attorney and former State Chair of the Maine Green Independent Party.
13 Albert Meadow, Bar Harbor, ME 04609, (207) 266-6327