For background on this issue, read Water Rights: Protecting Lake Erie and our Drinking Water.
I’ve been working on the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) for about two years. I’ve gathered petitions regardless of temperature or weather conditions, in every social situation from massive parades to my local church. Over the course of these two years, I’ve gotten blisters, sunstroke, colds, frostbite, and heat exhaustion as a result of petitioning for extended periods of time. I gathered enough signatures in enough adverse conditions that my clipboard is now permanently warped into a shape that cradles the average person’s forearm as they write. When things got down to the wire and it looked like we might not have enough signatures to pass, I took a week off work to spend my days petitioning instead, because I knew that LEBOR was that important, and if I was willing to value a week’s salary over getting it on the ballot, then it simply meant that I lacked the conviction necessary to see things through. I say all of this, not to aggrandize myself, but to make sure that you, dear reader, understand the full impact when I say that I am probably one of the less dedicated members of the core group that got the signatures to get LEBOR on the ballot.
Ignored by the Board
You can imagine, then, the anger we felt on August 28th, when LEBOR, along with the Jail petition, was kept off the ballot, the Lucas County Board of Elections. I was stunned. Four unelected officials, got to silence not just my voice, but the voice of everyone I’d had a conversation with and gotten to sign the petition. Four well-to-do, unaccountable, soft-handed party insiders, that make more money for sitting in a room for half an hour every month than I do working two jobs, to say that all of the effort that I’ve put into this is for nothing.
Protect and preserve
For those who are unaware, LEBOR would be an amendment to the Toledo City Charter. It would introduce rights of nature legislation that empowers citizens of Toledo through their right to local self-governance. LEBOR enables Toledo voters to prevent harm to the their drinking water supply. The Charter amendment would give the City of Toledo a stick to wield in the fight against both big polluters and the regulatory agencies.
But separate from the larger question of home rule vs. state preemption, separate from the issue of whether we should be allowed to have a say in the management of our municipality if the powers of the County and State don’t seem to have our best interests at heart, is the fundamental question of why grassroots democracy is beyond the pale. According to those with power, the ultimate (and only) representation of political force is voting for people higher up the chain. But there are other means of changing the law, and trying to make the community you live in a safer and more just place to live, though as we’ve learned, these paths are thornier. But they can also be more fruitful.
It important to note, that this isn’t the end of the story— Thankfully, the Lucas County BoE isn’t the final arbiter of this issue, and I, along with the allies and companions I’ve made along the way, are taking this to the Ohio Supreme Court, with a case that we are almost certainly going to win, so look for us in November. Whether you agree with us or not, silencing our voices also silences yours.