This guest Slog post is by Jeff Reifman, who is running the campaign for Seattle Initiative 103, which concerns ending corporate personhood, granting zoning authority to neighborhood groups, and extending rights to whales.

Last week, The Stranger called Initiative 103 “an unconstitutional waste of time,” but constitutionality isn’t the right benchmark to measure social change efforts.

In 1873, after suffragist Susan B. Anthony was arrested for voting, the New York Times wrote, "Miss Anthony is not in the remotest degree likely to gain her case, nor if it were ever so desirable that women should vote, would hers be a good case.” The paper’s view proved true—it took 47 years to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. The constitutionality of gender-based sex discrimination lasted until 1971.

I-103 says, Resident orcas and native salmon possess inalienable rights to exist and flourish.
  • Via NOAA
  • I-103 says, "Resident orcas and native salmon possess inalienable rights to exist and flourish."
Constitutionality isn't an appropriate assessment of social change efforts because shifts in constitutional law trail culture and change slowly in time, often in response to such movements. Slavery was constitutional until 1865 and the legacy of discrimination and segregation remained so until 1954's Brown v. Board of Education. The cultural view of abolitionists also changed greatly during this time.

When The Stranger advocates for the legalization of gay marriage, it’s essentially doing a similar thing as I-103. We're challenging the constitutionality of treating corporations as persons and it's challenging the constitutionality of excluding marriage rights from the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause.

What is constitutional today is corporate rights trumping community rights. That’s what we need to change by dismantling corporate personhood and corporate constitutional rights.

What might sound crazy today, may seem normal in the future. That's often how social change works.

The Stranger mocked I-103 for its “rights for urban whales” but didn’t really consider the facts: Puget Sound’s orca, already endangered, are “highly likely” to go extinct by the end of the century. These animals act as canaries in the coal mine for the general health of Puget Sound—and for our environment; orca have high concentrations of toxic PCB’s in their body. Similarly, the average American has 700 industrial chemicals in their body. Our health and theirs isn't entirely disconnected.

To argue against “their right to exist” is to continue a policy of their expendability.

There are emerging models for this. In 2008, Ecuador adopted a Constitution with Rights for Nature. The reason the coal train can't be stopped is because Seattle residents have no legal rights to protect our environment from unmitigatable harms; I-103's rights for nature provides for this.

We’ve created a system of law that renders economic and environmental sustainability illegal and impossible. For example, The Stranger acknowledges that Seattle has no means of stopping the coming escalation of coal train exports but doesn’t ask the question, why? This is the question I-103 addresses by asking Seattle voters to initiate changes to the legal structures that subvert our community’s health and happiness—and our democracy.

Last week, The Stranger also called us “oblivious” and said I-103 “mocks a serious problem in our country… and the serious discussion surrounding it—while wasting the time and enthusiasm of activists.” But in fairness, we presented the paper with a serious and thoughtful array of materials, which it either did not grasp or chose not to engage with.

Should The Stranger, which is highly active on gay rights and city issues such as stopping the tunnel, really be so dismissive of the work of other activists? We need more activism not less. We need to make it hip and cool—not diminish those who make the effort.

The corporatist-lens at the Seattle Times leaves a vacuum for independent journalism… we’re all better off when The Stranger steps up, consistently, to fill this gap in an even-handed, thorough and thoughtful way.

Read more from Reifman here and sign I-103 here.