It began in the early 1970’s, with a series of very serious disease outbreaks, including cancer, multiple birth defects, and countless miscarriages, stemming from a witch’s brew of known and unknown herbicides in Lane County drinking water.
By 2015, residents crafted a citizen initiative to ban the timber industry’s practice of spraying toxic chemicals on the county’s many clearcut forests. The Freedom from Aerial Herbicide Alliance (FAHA) drew upon a legal legacy embedded in the state constitution in 1902. That was a time, says Michelle Holman of Community Rights Lane County, “when the people were being ignored by government… We aren't the first people to face unresponsive elected officials captured by the bidding of big business.”
The citizen initiative process they relied upon is a tool of direct democracy, known nationally as “the Oregon System.” While the alliance completed their focused anti-spraying bill, another organization, Our Community Our Rights, created a more general initiative, “The Right to Local, Community Self-Government,” which legalizes the right to pass laws that protect health, safety, and welfare, such as the spray ban.
Self-governance establishes rights for individuals, their communities, and Nature itself. It secures those rights by whatever means deemed fit by residents, who are directly impacted by harmful corporate projects, including banning specific activities. It limits the rights claimed by corporations whenever they interfere with these established rights. It goes on to provide that these local laws may not be nullified by state, federal, or international laws promoting corporate “rights” and privileges.
The two groups collected thirty thousand signatures to qualify these initiatives for the ballot, but Big Timber sued to block them, in cases still languishing in the Oregon State Court of Appeals. Rather than just wait for the court outcome, which can take years, FAHA has asked the Lane County Commissioners to refer the measures to the voters. Holman continues, “We are not asking the commissioners to support the initiatives. We are demanding that the democratic principles that protect the peoples’ right to the Oregon System be upheld, but the Lane County commissioners lack the courage to stand with the people who elected them, choosing to hide behind unjust law that serves corporate interests... and the courts have also consistently subverted democracy by ruling in favor of corporate interests.”
What does this have to do with Lincoln County? We have the same issues, including the passage of our own spray ban in 2017, overturned by the state’s pre-emption doctrine. Lincoln County Community Rights has provided sustained advocacy on this crisis, but most people on the Oregon Coast are gravely overdue for paying attention to the threats to their own welfare. How many more must sicken and die before we overturn the toxic dystopia we’ve inherited?