I first became aware of the group MADION (Mothers Against Drilling In Our Neighborhood) this spring. They had been collecting signatures to get a citizen initiative banning any new fracking wells in Broadview Hts on the November ballot.
Their passion to change their neighborhood was deeply inspiring. Over 106 wells are in (or will be by year's end) Broadview Hts. That's a lot of wells, in a relatively small amount of land. So, of course, many of these wells are in neighborhoods, schools, and a little bit of anywhere else. Little can be done about these wells popping up. Homeowners are being deceived by the oil and gas companies in magnitudes that if any other company or industry did, would have them wrapped up in tons of lawsuits. As one man (who was making quite a lot of money off of the wells on his property) said, "If a gas company man is talking, he's lying." Plus, the state has taken away the ability of the local governments to decide if they want wells, and where they might or might not want them.
Despite these odds, the MADION group spoke with the city council and were given all the guidelines for getting an initiative on the ballot. They followed each one to the letter of the law, and they collected more than enough signatures.
Which means they got their initiative on the ballot, right?
Apparently, the city council can still vote to decide whether to allow initiatives on the ballot. Even after they had been vetted by the state.
The city council was weary of the initiative, with the law director strongly suggesting that they vote against it.
At the last council meeting, I spoke with several of the council members, including the aforementioned law director. Many of them were personally very much in favor of the initiative. They were not happy that so many wells were plaguing their city. Their concerns stem from if the issue passed, this initiative would be in violation of state law, leaving them vulnerable to lawsuits. They felt that rather than fight this fight on a local level, spend the energy on the state level.
Their arguments have credibility and weight. Yes, they would be supporting an unenforceable law. Yes, they would be vulnerable. Lawsuits are expensive to fight and could leave the city in trouble should they have to fight a prolonged battle, or if they should lose. Yes, ultimately it's the laws and people in Columbus that must change.
Admittedly I left this meeting downtrodden and disheartened. Is attempting local change and local bans possible? Is it the right way? Is there any way of realistically stopping the oil and gas industry?
I do not envy the position of elected officials. They swear an oath to protect their citizens. In good conscience, they cannot accept fracking and its major health ramifications. Yet to place the city coffers up for depleting is very risky as well.
However, this is clear to me.
What is at stake here is our very democracy. We should have a say in what is happening in our neighborhoods and towns. Our voice is heard when someone's yard isn't mowed, or when we have a concern over paving a side street. Yet, our voice has been ripped from our throats in the issue of fracking. Our towns cannot decide how to plan or lay out their city and their city's future, as they are beholden to the oil and gas industry's whims. We decided long ago that industry and homes do not mix well. People got sick. People died. Yet, we once again find ourselves locked in a choice-less situation. When you once used to have to live near the loud and polluting factory because that's where you worked, or that's what you could afford, now quiet and peaceful neighborhoods are turning into factories over night when wells are drilled.
Democracy is at stake when the people have collected the signatures that our city constitution calls for, when people have followed the steps of democracy and the law to assemble an initiative on the ballot, so that the citizens can have their fair say, and yet a city council can deny that this issue actually makes the ballot. Not only is democracy at stake, the hopes and dreams of this country are held hostage. For if your voice is stripped after you followed due process, what hope do you have in the rest of the system? The democracy of our forefathers, the democracy so many have sacrificed, bled, and died for is undermined and the hopes of "we the people" are squashed yet again when the government refuses to listen to it's people.
Tonight, we can stand proud, at least for a moment, that the Broadview Hts city council allowed democracy to survive to fight another day. They passed the initiative, and it will be heading to the ballot. The citizens of Broadview Hts will have their say.
This fight is far from over. The people of Broadview Hts have to educate themselves on what wells are doing to their communities, and the people need to vote in November. The people need to still petition Columbus to change their unjust laws, and if Columbus refuses to listen, we all need to vote in people who will. You see, democracy is not some sort of right, it is our active duty. It only works if we work it.
So let's get to work!