Limits of Home Rule Discussed Tonight at Potluck

Kristopher Fraser

 Oberlin has recently begun to feel the effects of home rule, which grants local government a certain level of autonomy. It enables cities and counties to pass laws and municipal ordinances that the community and city council deem appropriate. In light of the override of the ban on guns in Oberlin parks and efforts to increase fracking in Lorain County, the community has decided to take action. This evening at Peace Community Church, located on 44 East Lorain Street, attendees will seek to address these issues.

The event, titled “Home Rule: Community Democracy, Corporate Power, and Options for Oberlin,” seeks to promote discussion and disseminate information regarding Oberlin’s ability to maintain local ordinances — despite the language of state laws — and determine how residents can become more involved in these political issues. Home rule is, in essence, the right to self-governance, including the power to regulate for the protection of public safety, health, morals and welfare, and to license, tax and incur debt. Put simply, municipal governments have a right to make their own laws for the good of the locality. If gun rights groups and pro-fracking corporations continue to oppose the city of Oberlin’s home rule, many of the town’s progressive initiatives will be overruled.

College junior John Bergen, the Peace Church’s Peace and Justice Intern is responsible for hosting these events once a month. He, along with members of the Church, decided to use this potluck as opportunity for a community forum.

“We wanted this to tie into the Community Bill of Rights campaign and discuss issues of home rule and right of communities to control the process of fracking, and see how the state interferes with that power,” Bergen said. “We decided to have an event that would tie in gun rule issues, home rule issues, and issues of community sovereignty, and focus on what came out of the last city council meeting two weeks ago.”

The featured speakers of the event are members from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence and Move to Amend, an organization whose focus is on the cessation of corporate personhood.

Oberlin Anti-Frack was involved with the potluck and assisted Peace Community Church with travel costs and honorariums for the event’s speakers. While this event is more of a community endeavor, Bergen strongly encourages students to attend.

“[Students] are members of the community; even though most students are here four or five years, they are still important members of the community and their voices do matter. It’s also important for students to see community members who are impacted by these issues,” Bergen said.

Peace Community Church is not the only church involved in this effort.  David Hill, a pastor at First Church in Oberlin, United Church of Christ will attend the potluck, and intends to continue these forums about home rule efforts in Oberlin.

In recent weeks, Hill has met with other local pastors to pray about this issue and devise creative and peaceful ways to draw attention to these debates, specifically to the override on the gun ban in parks. Hill has been a consistent opponent of gun violence and while he supports the home rule efforts, he is nervous that they can go too far.

“I have concerns about the home rule issue, and it’s not because I want fracking. I don’t want fracking, but my concern is if you take home rule to the extreme … what if Pittsfield says you have to have a .45 strapped to your belt when you step into your town? We can only go so far; we live in a state that’s part of a nation.”

Despite his cautious approach to home rule, Hill remarked that local control is the first step to a peace initiative. Hill noted the potential harm to community members,  many of whom are directly affected by the gun law.

“Several people [will be affected],” he said. “It’s making those of us who don’t have guns feel less safe, it’s harming the general populace, it’s harming people with guns because it is lending greater credence to them without questioning that, and as we are seeing here, in turn, it is creating bullies. We are having a lawsuit because our laws are not in compliance with state law, it’s coming from a vigilante group. That’s not how laws work in this country.”

Pastor Mary Hammond of Peace Community Church, who helped spearhead this event along with her husband fellow pastor Steve Hammond and their intern John Bergen, elaborated on the importance of this potluck.

“We need to always have a heart for listening to the cries and stories of the most vulnerable, stories that often go unheard in our society.” Mary Hammond said, “Peace Potlucks have a group of goals: connecting people — particularly across college and town lines with common commitments; educating people through the speakers, programs and discussion; and providing opportunities for networking and collaborating on common projects and initiatives.

“There are so many venues at Oberlin College and in the community to hear lectures, attend panel discussions, etc., but to eat together and then learn together is special,” said Mary Hammond.