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Sun., Oct. 11, 2009

Proposition 4: Give control of city back to the people

At first glance, Spokane seems far removed from the constitutional conventions of the 1700s. However, the campaign over Proposition 4 – a citizen initiative to place a Community Bill of Rights into the Spokane City Charter – reveals how close they are.

On Nov. 15, 1792, delegates to the Virginia Constitutional Convention narrowly ratified the U.S. Constitution, only after proposing a bill of rights to protect Virginians from the far-reaching powers of a federal government. Patrick Henry, among others, feared that without a bill of rights, new wealth would combine with the power of the federal government to threaten what was hard-won by the American Revolution – the right of people and communities to govern themselves.

That battle – which has raged for over 200 years between local self-government and a combination of governmental and corporate power – is all but over, and our communities have lost.

Whether it’s waste corporations using the Environmental Protection Agency to declare toxic waste sites “safe,” or a handful of agribusiness corporations using the Department of Agriculture to expand their control over what we eat, major decisions about health care, housing, land development and the economy are made by corporate and governmental decision-makers, rather than by people in the communities affected.

For the past 100 years, Spokane has been run by a small number of big developers and powerbroker elites. Powered by the belief that what’s good for their pockets is good for Spokane, their governance has produced a city where one in three families lacks adequate health care, where low-income housing has all but disappeared, where the Spokane River is one of the most polluted in the country, where neighborhoods have been stripped of any legal authority to determine their own futures, and where workers lose their constitutional rights when they go to work.

It is also a city where locally owned businesses are always looking over their shoulders, wondering when the next big-box store is going to bulldoze them, where the land development process is so tilted and rigged that it virtually guarantees that developers can do whatever they want.

In 2007, representatives of 24 community groups, neighborhood councils and labor union locals joined to change that. This unprecedented coalition worked for over two years to envision a healthy, democratic and sustainable Spokane. Following the lead of their colonial forebears like Patrick Henry, they drafted a Community Bill of Rights which wrests control from the powerbrokers and puts it into the hands of Spokane residents.

Proposition 4 does that by recognizing that residents have a right to decide the future of their own neighborhoods, a right to a strong, locally based economic system that supports local job creation, a right to access fee-for-service preventive health care, a right to access a range of affordable housing options, better protections for the Spokane River and aquifer, and the right to constitutional protections in the workplace.

None of this is new. The city’s Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2001, contains similar, often identical, language. Provisions in the Comprehensive Plan dealing with economic, environmental and social issues, however, are not legally enforceable. In many ways, the bill of rights makes those provisions binding.

The powerbroker opposition is working overtime to frighten residents about Proposition 4. Hoping to ride the wave of heckling health care tea-partiers, they’re working hard to convince voters that the proposition would require the city to buy health care for all residents, which couldn’t be further from the truth. By intentionally misrepresenting it, they’re avoiding the measure’s clear language, which merely requires the city to convene a meeting of health care providers to determine how their existing fee-for-service preventive programs can accommodate all Spokane residents who need such care.

It’s the same opposition strategy as always: raise tons of money, misrepresent the initiative, and assure everyone the same system that got us into this mess will get us out of it.

The Declaration of Independence and the Washington state Constitution declare that people are the source of all governing authority – not the small number of powerbrokers who call the shots in Spokane. Let’s return that governing authority to the people and build a Spokane that leads the country toward a healthy, sustainable and democratic future.

Vote “yes” on Proposition 4.

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