KAPAA — Paul Cienfuegos, a community activist from Portland, Oregon, is on Kauai for one reason: he says there’s another way to shut the door on unwanted corporate industry.
At five community meetings scheduled across the island, Cienfuegos called for the Kauai County Council to draft its own bill of rights — an ordinance that declares the county has the right to expel any corporation that threatens the health and safety of the community.
“It’s saying we have the right to things, like the right to clean air and water,” Cienfuegos said Monday in Kapaa. “It’s saying, get out of our way, we want to protect our health and welfare.”
The caveat is that this kind of an ordinance is illegal because it violates three main structures of law — state preemption, which means the state law takes precedent over counties; Dillion’s Rule, which says the county sovereignty is allowed by the state and not inherent; and Corporations Rights, which is a laundry list of rights granted by the federal government to corporations.
“It’s a home run for corporations,” Cienfuegos said. “It’s illegal for a community to pass a law that stops a corporation from doing harm.”
Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser, who was one of the panel members alongside Cienfuegos and Bridget Hammerquist, president of Friends of Mahaulepu, said he’s not optimistic the council would pass its own bill of rights ordinance.
“For something like this to be passed on Kauai, it would likely have to be done via a citizen based ballot initiative,” Hooser said. “It would seem unlikely that the current council would take up such a measure.”
Cienfuegos said he’s helped draft rights-based ordinances in 200 communities in nine different states, so far, alongside the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).
The organization is spearheading a nationwide movement for communities to establish “the rights for people, communities, and nature over the systems that control them,” according to their mission statement.
He maintains that most of America’s revolutionary acts were illegal and that once all legal avenues have been followed with no success, the next step is to walk outside the law.
“The women’s movement — they failed within the structures of law so they went illegal,” Cienfuegos said. “They hit an end with the Supreme Court, so they started a mess and some of them went to jail, but now women have the vote.”
CELDF and Cienfuegos started encouraging illegal action in 1999 in Pennsylvania, when a small community of hog farmers realized they were set to be home to a factory hog farm with 15,000 animals.
The community decided the factory farm was a threat to their way of life and to their environment, so they passed an ordinance banning non-family farms.
“They were less afraid of being sued by the corporations than they were of their families suffering,” Cienfuegos said. “They thought they were going to get sued, but they didn’t.”
In fact, the factory hog farm cleared out and Cienfuegos said 20 different rural communities passed similar ordinances in Pennsylvania within the first year.
Cienfuegos will be holding more meetings on community activism. He’ll be at Koloa Neighborhood Center tonight and at Chiefess Middle School in Lihue on Monday. All of the meetings are open to the public and begin at 6 p.m. They begin with an informational talk and there will be time for questions and answers.