Governor DeWine

Dear Governor DeWine and Ohio government officials,

COVID-19 has catapulted us into a crisis. You, rightly, have expressed concern about protecting the peoples’ health, safety and rights. In cancelling the Ohio primary election you were attempting to act to protect us. This is what we elect you to do. Governor DeWine, when you announced you were cancelling the election, you stood at the podium, and stated, “the people should not have to decide between their health and their constitutional rights.”

Amen to that.

But let’s be honest. It was a fantastic sound bite. But it was also hypocritical. I have great difficulty reconciling some of your words with your actions.

Ongoing Crises

You see, I work with Ohio residents every day who are worried about their health and their rights in the communities they call home. Across Ohio – and the United States – people are faced with the harms wreaked by fossil fuels, toxic industrial farming, global warming, and so on. These are symptoms of a slow viral pandemic caused by greed that is steadily destroying us. Unfortunately, you have played a central role in undermining resident efforts to use their constitutional rights to protect the public health.

Starting in my community of Broadview Heights ten  years ago, my neighbors and I watched the oil/gas industry invade and exploit our residential town. Out of fear for our health, our children’s health and the health of our environment, we came to our state electeds. However,  instead of protecting us we found they were protecting industry.

Hell No

No way in hell were we accepting that. So we took action on the local level to protect the public health of our community.  We banned harmful industry practices, and asserted  our constitutional rights to petition the government  to alter and reform government by passing a law ourselves – a law to protect our health when our own government would not.

Despite the will and vote of Broadview Heights residents, your office, then as Attorney General, filed a lawsuit against our law. You argued we had no right to protect the public health from this dangerous industry.

Advancing Constitutional Rights

I have worked with people in Youngstown, Athens, Columbus, and the counties of Medina, Portage, Meigs, Athens and Williams on initiatives by the people. Each and every one of these asserted the people’s constitutional right to protect their health and safety. Why? Because this government and its officials would not. Governor DeWine, you have been directly involved in suppressing a number of these efforts to use constitutional rights to protect public health.

Stripping Rights

You, Governor DeWine, have made a career  of stripping people of their constitutional right to petition their government and to self-govern for the public health. You have continuously worked to protect corporate interests and to keep communities’ direct democracy proposals off the ballot. You are directly responsible for denying people the the right to vote on local measures to protect the public health, here are just few examples:

  • Columbus residents’ attempt to protect their water from radioactive drill cuttings;
  • Williams County residents’ efforts to protect their Aquifer from being drained by corporate profiteers;
  • Medina residents hoping to protect their health from the dangerous and toxic emissions from a pipeline compressor station; 
  • Bowling Green students’ work to pass a local law recognizing their right to livable climate; and
  • Youngstown residents repeated attempts to protect their community from earthquakes and exposure to toxins from injection wells. 

All of these initiatives gathered the required number of signatures, but were denied a vote.

We see time and again that the state has not only been negligent in protecting the people’s public health, but officials use their power to stop the people from trying to protect themselves when the government fails. As we organize and work to protect the public health in Ohio, we repeatedly face opposition from big money, and from the very people we elect. Every effort we make to govern ourselves to protect our health, safety and welfare, you challenge and fight.

Thousands of people are realizing, in response to this Covid-19 pandemic, that our government is failing them. Thousands more realize our government is working on behalf of corporate interests. Thus, mutual aid networks are popping up across Ohio, and the world, because governments are failing to provide the real solutions and services that people need. It has come down to the people.

Toxic Waste

Recent examples are Toledo’s Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR), Williams County, and the new revelations in Rolling Stone about state-sanctioned spraying of radioactive waste on our roadways. In the latter, the state agency, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, actually tested the product. The State’s official testing found it to be highly radioactive. Instead of doing something about it, the agency sat on those results, disregarded their own tests and accepted tests conducted by the corporate producer of this waste product.

The state, with no regard for protecting our health, is condoning the use of this radioactive product, legalizing its entry into our water, air and our children’s lungs.

Lake Erie Bill of Rights

In Toledo, having suffered a water crisis in 2014 and with no meaningful protections from the state of Ohio, the people passed the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR), using their constitutional right to petition and propose new law. They were deeply worried about public health. Blue green algae has serious health effects on people, wildlife and the Lake itself. Toledoans knew that simply throwing more of the people’s hard-earned tax dollars at more regulations and practices that do not stop the harm is no protection at all. They were looking for real leadership from their electeds. It never came. So the people decided to do it themselves.

State officials fought to keep their protective law off the ballot, but after much perseverance by the people, they adopted it into law. “The State” then joined in a lawsuit to overturn it! The state sided with the polluters (corporate industrial agriculture) and helped undermine the people’s protection law.

Williams County

Following Toledo, the Williams County residents advanced a rights of the Michindoh Aquifer county charter to protect that massive underground freshwater system from privatization and exploitation. The aquifer is the sole source for drinking water to over 385,000 people and is under threat by private water  corporations. The residents’ effort was repressed by government officials. Even though Williams petitioners gathered the required signatures, as in over a dozen other Ohio communities I have worked with, corporate attorneys and state officials interfered with the local democratic process to deny the people a vote.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

Governor DeWine, I hope you can see why it was a bit much for thousands of us across the state to stomach your statement that, “the people should not have to decide between their health and their constitutional rights.” Your record shows you could care less, and you are no friend of either. Your political career speaks for itself.

You are an impediment to our health and to our constitutional rights. and as seen through the mutual aid networks, people are seeing their power – and through yours.

Mobilizing Today, and Tomorrow

The scientists have been warning us of the climate crises for a long time. A crisis that will bring loss of life, economic instability, displacement of people, and yes, disease. The people took these reports seriously and pleaded with their electeds, their leaders, to act accordingly. When you didn’t, many attempted to use their constitutional right to self-govern to protect their health and their communities. Instead of supporting them, you fought them. Yes, Covid-19 has catapulted us into a crisis. People are mobilizing to overcome it. And when Covid-19 is past, the crisis of our planet’s survival will be front and center. We will not be waiting for you, Governor DeWine.

Tish O’Dell is the Ohio Organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.