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We Withdraw Our Consent

By Carolyn Raffensperger I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with an extraordinary group of women planning the second Women’s Congress for Future Generations slated for November 7-9, 2014 in Minneapolis Minnesota. The planning team has been holding house parties and meeting with other organizations. They have been remarkably successful in getting commitments from women to contribute extraordinary amounts of time and other key resources to the effort. I asked them how they did it. What did they say?

They begin these conversations with these words: “the World is in peril and we withdraw our consent.” We withdraw our consent.

Consent is the basis of governance. Without the consent of the governed there can only be dictatorship or chaos. The women working on the second Women’s Congress for Future generations are clear, the future is in our hands. They are crafting the policies to which they can give their consent as well as stating clearly that we do not consent to an overheated, damaged, polluted, sick Earth.

Much of my recent work has been developing mechanisms for giving community consent for corporate or government activities that threaten the future. These mechanism are modeled on processes designed to protect human subjects in science and medical experiments. Just as we have to protect people in experiments run by scientists so too we have to protect communities in proposals to mine, drill, frack, and dam their lands. Communities have the right, just as individuals do to autonomy, self-determination and dignity.

I understand this to mean that we have an essential right to give or withhold free, prior and informed consent. The women planning the Second Women’s Congress are expressing, exactly that. We withdraw our consent.

I had been so focused on creating methods for giving (or not) consent that I was caught up short by the notion that there are also mechanisms to withdraw our consent.

Note, the first word is not "I" as in "I withdraw my consent." There are ways we can individually withdraw our consent but that doesn’t bring about much systems change. The point is that when we join together and make clear that we, the governed, withdraw our consent, those who govern have an obligation to respond.

There several ways we can work together to make clear that we have withdrawn our consent.  Here's a short list.  I look forward to your additions.

We can engage in: 1) Jury nullification (“Jury nullification occurs when a jury substitutes its own interpretation of the law and/or disregards the law entirely in reaching a verdict.”) 2) Nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience 3) Ballot petitions 4) Alternative systems like permaculture, the sharing economy 5) Strategic and coordinated boycotts.*

6) Divesting from all funds or stocks in environmentally damaging corporations.**

In future posts I will describe step by step processes for obtaining community free, prior and informed consent.  Stay tuned.

* Special thanks to David Eggleton for adding this to the list.

** Special thanks to Gil Friend for adding this to the list