One voice, one vote, changing the world

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”  Jane Goodall

 Raising our voice is what creates change and makes a difference. Raised alone or in community, in conversation and song, through respectful disagreement and prayer, we build bridges, invite curiosity and find solutions. One of the most powerful ways to raise our voice is by voting every time we have the opportunity. Every time. Even if there is no perfect person or solution being offered.

I often raise my voice about a not-so secret wish that everyone will fall passionately in love with the earth and start making choices that help all LIFE to thrive. So I was curious about ways in which people have raised their voices in support of our beloved planet. What I found blew me away.

Did you know that in September 2012 the country of New Zealand granted the Whanganui River rights of personhood? That means they are choosing to view a river as a living being.

“Today’s agreement … recognizes the status of the river as Te Awa Tupua (an integrated, living whole)…” says New Zealand’s Minister for Treaty for Waitangi Negotiations Christopher Finlayson. From now on the thriving of the river, river inhabitants and the people who live on and around the river are all to be considered in decisions about the river. This happened because people raised their voices, spoke about what they knew was right and voted.

And then there’s Ecuador. In September 2008 they became the first country in the world to declare constitutional rights to nature. The rights of nature are written into the constitution of their country!

Ecuadorians got tired of watching their country, one of the most biodiverse in the world, be systematically destroyed for its natural resources. So they voted the people who would draft a constitution like that into office; and then they voted that new constitution into being.

According to an article on – “Reflecting the beliefs and traditions of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, the constitution declares that nature ‘has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution’.”

It was what I found out next that really floored me though. The first time a developed, western society legally granted nature personhood was in a small town in Pennsylvania. And it was a woman who started the whole thing.

One woman casting a vote because she cared about her community may have quietly transformed the way developed nations think about nature – at least legally.

Her name is Cathy Morelli. She was a school nurse who ran for, and won, a seat on the city council. Her political career started because she wanted more transparency in a city government which had been peopled with an old boys’ network for too long. She just wanted her community to be a good place to live. She wasn’t looking to change the world, but she did.

At the time she took office an outside company was proposing to dump sewage sludge and coal fly ash into abandoned mining pits on the edge of town. Here’s what happened next in the words of Jason Mark of Earth Island Journal ( “Halfway through her one-term stint on the council, Morelli spearheaded the passage of an anti-sewage sludge ordinance that included a provision recognizing the rights of ‘natural communities’ to flourish – the first law of its kind in the world.”

The Ordinance passed in community-inspired towns in Vermont, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania to create similar rights of nature laws. Their courageous actions became part of inspiring the people of Ecuador to write their astonishing and groundbreaking constitution.

Jason Mark goes on to say, “The idea that nature, just like people, possesses inalienable rights has percolated up to the United Nations, which has considered a proposal to adopt a “Charter on the Rights of Mother Nature.”

One woman, one vote, one voice inspiring a community, that inspired other communities, that inspired a country, and another….

We can’t possibly know the power of our voice or the influence of our vote until we use them. So what do you think? Will you vote the next time you have the chance?

Tracie Nichols writes poetry and facilitates group writing experiences from under the wide reach of two old Sycamore trees in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is the co-founder of the Embodied Writers writing group and a Transformative Language Artist helping women write themselves home. You can find Tracie on her website.

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