Letter: Right of Housatonic vote would set precedent

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To the editor:

The South Berkshire County town of Sheffield has long been a trailblazer. Its Declaration of 1773 was an early manifesto for human rights, whose words were echoed in the Declaration of Independence three years later. It was in Sheffield that Elizabeth Freeman, sometimes known as Mom Bet, sued for and won her freedom in 1781, in one of the cases that led to the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts in 1783, eight decades before the Emancipation Proclamation.

Once again Sheffield is on the forefront of radical change. At Monday's annual town meeting local residents will vote on an initiative to recognize the right of the Housatonic River to "exist, flourish, regenerate, evolve, and be restored." Essentially this would put the river on the same legal footing that corporations enjoy (but without their deep pockets). It would give citizens the right to sue on behalf of the river.

The proposed Sheffield law would be the first of its kind in Massachusetts, although it follows on the heels of dozens of similar laws in this country, and is part of an emerging global approach to environmental protection, one enshrined in the constitutions of Ecuador and Brazil, and increasingly taken up by indigenous nations.

If you live in Sheffield and want to be on the forefront of creating a more sustainable world, vote Yes on this initiative at the town meeting on Monday, June 29. If you live elsewhere, you can learn more about this rights-based approach to creating a more sustainable world at the Center for Environmental Rights, www.centerforenvironmentalrights.org/

As the COVID-19 crisis upends so many aspects of our lives, it's a good time to consider transformational change that could redeem this tragedy and leave us in a better place than we were before, a place where the ecosystems that sustain us have rights, too.

Janet Jensen,

Sheffield

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