Environmentalists use film to inspire community
In the 1980s, Stoney Bird was a lawyer working for Mobil Oil. Today, he is hoping to inspire Bellingham locals to fight for nature using a Tree Media Group documentary titled, “We the People 2.0.”
Bird and environmentalist Rick Dubrow hosted a screening and discussion of the documentary on Friday, Jan. 6 at the Bellingham Public Library.
“The movie is all about rights of nature,” Dubrow said. ”By all measures of environmental health, things are worse than they were in the 70s. I came to understand it was the structure of law in the way.”
“I think the time is perfect, because we are all frightened by what this new government has in store for us.”
The documentary, first featured in the Seattle Film Festival, shows people’s disappointment for how municipal powers are unable to handle issues like fracking, coal exports and corporate interest.
It looks at what was a small, non-profit law firm called the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which now hosts statewide coalitions and international work.
About 30 people showed up for the screening, including Bellingham Council Member April Barker and members of the Occupy Bellingham movement. Occupy Bellingham is a group that aims to oppose the unregulated corporate structures they say are derailing America’s democracy.
Afterward, Bird, Dubrow and other attendees discussed plans to further the messages being shown in the documentary.
Bird’s role as a corporate critic is a stark contrast from years of work as a corporate lawyer.
“Part of me wishes I’d gotten where I am now much more directly,” Bird said. “But having spent almost 20 years acting as a corporate lawyer I have some insight into what they’re up to.”
Bird and Dubrow are no strangers to Bellingham environmentalism. The two were active in Living Democracy, an organization that attempted to pass a Community Bill of Rights in 2012, which focused on banning coal trains in the city.
Bird and Dubrow received 10,000 signatures for the Community Bill of Rights, which was double what they needed, Bird said. But the city, and later the Board of Appeals, did not let the bill make it on the ballot.
Change on a local level isn’t always easy, Bird said. Protecting the environment through local government can be a challenge because of something called “Dillon’s Law.”
The law says local governments can only do what the state allows, Bird said.
“There’s often a feeling that the most responsive part of your government is local,” Bird said. “But they can’t really do anything for you on things that count in a big way.”
Jeanie Birchall and Penny Chambers attended both the documentary screening and the discussion.
“Consciously or unconsciously, we all know pollution is happening and have felt like there is nothing we can do about it,” Birchall said. “Well, [the movie shows] there is something we can do about it. So this was really heartening to me.”
Chambers saw this screening and panel as hope for a new movement.
“I think the time is perfect, because we are all frightened by what this new government has in store for us,” Chambers said.
Bird and Dubrow will have two more showings on Monday, Jan. 16 at Whatcom Community College and March 16 at the Pickford Film Center.