An Explanation of Issue 16

John Bergen, College Senior

To the Editors:

Though this is an off-year for state and federal elections, there are still several elections and issues that are on the ballot for Nov. 5. Students who have updated their voter registration have the ability to influence the City Council and School Board, as well as several issues. It is important that students act as responsible guests in the community that hosts them, and only vote on issues that they are educated on. The League of Women Voters has an impartial Voter’s Guide, and it is also important to ask long-time community members about their feelings on issues to give yourself a broader perspective.

I write to explain Issue 16, the Community Bill of Rights and Obligations. Though this ordinance is very complicated in its technical language, its goal is very simple. In 2005, the Ohio State Legislature took away the right to zone natural gas development from local communities. Cities and towns no longer have the right to decide as a local democracy where they want to allow fracking and toxic injection wells to be located. All control was placed in the hands of the Department of Natural Resources, which has led to fracking wells being placed next to trailer parks, elementary schools and water reservoirs.

In response, communities such as Broadview Heights (which has over 90 frack wells), Youngstown, Athens and many others have passed or are working to pass Community Bills of Rights, which assert that local community democracy and our collective rights to clean water, healthy lives and the freedom from toxic chemical trespass supersede the power of corporations to drill wherever they want. Voting Yes on 16 bans fracking and related infrastructure in Oberlin because our rights are more important than those of corporations. Over 150 cities across the country have passed similar bills, and voting Yes on 16 is participating in a statewide movement demanding that the state ban fracking and toxic fracking waste to protect our rights and our health. This local effort is an act of support for communities like Youngstown and Broadview Heights, where fracking is already well established.

It is important to emphasize that this initiative was conceived, written and put on the ballot by community members. Students can play a support role, but this is not our bill to pass. A key component of the Community Bill of Rights and Obligations is that it empowers community members to enforce the law through personal action — we will also not be the ones who make sure Oberlin remains protected. Members of Oberlin College Anti-Frack have helped with canvassing, advertising and other projects, and we encourage every student to help protect Oberlin, even if they won’t be voting. Talk with community members about this issue — there is a diversity of opinions on what should be done, and ultimately fracking will not be stopped unless we have better economic alternatives, which will require all of us working together. We encourage you to support Issue 16, support local community democracy and join this exciting nationwide movement to assert community sovereignty and human rights.