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Kai Huschke
CELDF Northwest + Hawaii Organizer

[email protected]





The term Community Bill of Rights defines the heart of the building community rights movement today. It’s the idea that a community, as a collective, can move forward a collection of rights formulated to protect the rights of people and nature. The nation’s first community bill of rights law came out of Spokane, Washington in 2008.


The nation’s first Clean and Fair Election Bill of Rights law to ban corporate lobbying and corporate electioneering was put forward in Spokane in 2012. The nation’s first community bill of rights to ban coal trains came to life in Bellingham in 2012. The nation’s first Worker Bill of Rights to secure a right to a living wage and to only be let go for just cause was born in Spokane in 2015. And most recently, the nation’s first Right to a Healthy Climate that bans fossil fuel trains was unveiled in Spokane in 2016.


Spokane and other communities in Washington state have been helping to pioneer the broader community rights movement. All of this emerged and continues to emerge despite the efforts of the corporate-state to deter and to attempt to stop the community level resistance built off the foundation of recognizing the right of local community self-government.


The seeds were planted for community rights to take root in Washington back in 2006. Individuals had gotten wind of what had been in happening in rural communities in Pennsylvania. That led to a number of the early CELDF Democracy Schools to be held in Seattle.


Democracy Schools eventually migrated to Spokane just at the same time neighborhood dissatisfaction over corporate development was boiling over. A spark had lit a fire.


Spokane became the nation’s first community to organize itself, with help from CELDF, on a platform of the fundamental right of local community self-government that brought together what had traditionally been separately advocated for issues. So for the first time in the community’s history housing rights advocates, environmentalists, labor organizers, neighborhood activists, health care proponents, and local economy champions sat around a table together.


Eventually the discussion of that diverse group built a twenty-four group organization called Envision Spokane. The result of that alliance was a broad based, systemically focused self-governing rights effort that put forward a Community Bill of Rights charter amendment that qualified for the ballot three times – 2009, 2011, and 2013. The first Spokane community bill of rights advocated for rights for a healthy local economy, access to preventative healthcare, neighborhood decision-making power over corporate development, worker rights, and rights for the Spokane River.


Spokane had cracked open new possibilities both on the landscape of issues that can be addressed with community rights as well as that the issue of corporate control and the lack of local decision making power was not just a rural issue but an urban one as well.


Spokane’s efforts, even though thwarted at the ballot and the corporate influenced courts, sparked people in Bellingham and Seattle to move away from conventional, in-the-box activism, to one focused on the people rightfully seizing control of their right to be self-determining and to use that power to challenge corporate projects aimed at overriding community will.


The collective efforts of Spokane, Seattle, and Bellingham spurned interest and efforts in other parts of the state such as Skagit County, Port Townsend, and Olympia. In the summer of 2012 the Spokane Declaration was adopted by community rights activists from five different Washington communities. That call to action also helped to launch the Washington Community Rights Network.


Washington’s collective energy, even without a local community rights law being adopted in Washington state, also helped to provide a new path for communities in Oregon that were under assault from GMOs, the timber industry, and fossil fuels. Washington’s local efforts are the corner stone of community rights in Oregon today.


Again, despite the courts interfering with the people’s rightful legislative powers by denying ballot access to duly qualified community rights laws and the efforts and money spent by the corporate class, community rights work is alive in different parts of the state including the cities of Spokane and Tacoma.



Kai Huschke

CELDF Northwest + Hawaii Organizer



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