Pacific Greens work for a watershed democracy constitution

On Constitution Day 2022, we ask our congressional delegation, state officials, and county commissioners throughout Oregon to support a seemingly small but important course correction: Align our administrative boundaries with watersheds before the 2030 census.

We hope this small change will set on a path towards a constitutional revision that will support (small-d) democratic self-governance in an era of climate change.

While recognizing the need for revision, we also want to recognize the achievement of the 1787 Constitution in boldly addressing the existential issue of its time.

In the late 1780s, the newly-independent North American colonies had not yet solved their most difficult problem. They had not yet found a way for 13 colony-states to work together as one nation. Awarding political power based only on population would hand the national power to big states. Treating states as equals would hand the national power to small states.

Meeting in Philadelphia through the summer of 1787, the greatest political minds of the day presented a pragmatic solution on Sept. 17. As the highest law of the land, their new constitution would allow slaveowners and non-slaveowners to participate equally in the new government.

In establishing a legal basis for color-caste slavery, the constitution established a three-part structure and elements still visible today:

  • One legislative chamber based on state equality, one based on state population
  • A regular census every 10 years
  • Incentives for slaveowners: The more slaves, the more political power, based on a 3/5 formula
  • An electoral "college" to select the executive.

The convention failed to provide for individual rights and so the constitution immediately needed 10 amendments. The 1800 presidential election failed and prompted another amendment. And the constitution’s most significant failure---its silence on the future of slavery and new state admissions---would lead to civil war just a few generations after ratification, despite the example of the July 1787 Northwest Ordinance, which provided clear direction.

We are now facing the constitution’s final failure. Within living memory, Congress has ceded to the executive its most important constitutional power, the power to declare war. The decision to withhold that power from the executive was a big innovation in its time, and much discussed during the constitutional convention.

Yet Congress has not declared war since WWII, despite the nation's continuing participation in vast military activities, including the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. Instead, authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs) have allowed for executive discretion and mission creep from Vietnam to Ukraine. There is still an open authorization relating to 9/11.

Fast forward to 2022. George Floyd, Roe v Wade, MMIWC, and the ongoing use of automatic weapons to kill human beings at elementary schools, movie theaters, and grocery stores---all share a root cause in a moribund and failing 1787 constitution.

Continued expansion of executive power at the expense of the other branches will, as we saw Jan. 6, eventually lead to an executive branch that decides it no longer needs the other two branches of government; and with a declaration of emergency and an executive order, can dissolve the constitutional framework.

Each branch of government was designed to check the others, as in rock-paper-scissors. Once the rules change, it’s game over.

The 1787 constitution addressed the existential problem our society faced in the late 1700s, which was conjoining colonies for common defense against the powerful monarchies of Europe. With slavery abolished since 1865, we no longer need a government structure designed to provide political equality for slaveowners.

Our framework for self-governance must help us---not prevent us---from rapidly adapting to a dynamic global climate. The problem we face now is to give our great-grandchildren the chance to live above the surface of the planet, in a world that still has birds and fish and trees. To survive our wild binge on fossil fuels, we will need to innovate and learn from others---such as the Haudenosaunee who advised the founders---as we adapt our governance tools to provide for community rights, the rights of nature, and the rights of natural processes.

This Constitution Day, we start (as Washington said in his Farewell Address) "an explicit and authentic act of the whole people" to move towards a Juliana-friendly constitution, with small course corrections to better align our constitution with (as Jefferson noted in the Declaration) "the laws of nature and of nature's God."

Linking our identities with the watersheds in which we live will help us adapt in the years ahead, as we focus on water, air, habitat and extend the census to include fish, wildlife, and other resident species. During the 2022 elections, we can let local candidates for office know that we support this small course correction.

Some Pacific Greens are experimenting with watershed-based chapters. To learn more, see

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published this page in Green Perspectives Entries 2022-09-18 17:54:25 -0700
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