CLDC is supporting Water for Citizens of Weed, CA (WCWC) as they file a complaint in February to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) about the actions of Roseburg Forest Products (RFP) in an attempt to end an ongoing lawsuit and maintain their primary water source, Beaughan Springs.
Weed, California has depended on Beaughan Springs for over 100 years for drinking and municipal water. As a timber town, they have also depended on the mill operations of Roseburg Forest Products and International Paper before them. Before RFP purchased their property in 1983, International Paper had given the rights of a portion of the springs to the City of Weed for $1 a year. When water bottling company Crystal Geyser Roxane came to town seeking more spring water, Roseburg saw an opportunity to make more money and then told the City that they needed to find a new water source. In an effort to protect their historical access to this water, community members came together to form Water for Citizens of Weed, California (WCWC). They began exploring ways to resist Roseburg’s water grab and retain the community’s rights to the springs. In early 2017, nine WCWC members wrote a letter to the local water master requesting them to investigate the situation. Their effort gained unanimous support from the City Council. The following day, RFP filed a lawsuit over the water rights naming WCWC and the nine individuals (the “Weed 9”) involved in signing the letter. The Weed 9 soon realized they were victims of a “SLAPP” – a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.
A SLAPP suit is an attempt to target people who exercise their Constitutional rights to free speech and silence them through legal bullying. Lawsuits like these are dangerous because they masquerade as legitimate civil lawsuits. However, they are an abuse of power and the court system and a threat to democracy and our First Amendment Rights. CLDC is a longtime defender of activists and activist groups that are forced to engage in SLAPP suits and routinely takes cases like these. As SLAPPs become a growing problem, a coalition of organizations called Protect the Protest has formed to fight these suits, expose those who file them, and defend people who face them, like WCWC and the Weed 9. CLDC has joined their task force with 350.org, Greenpeace, and many other organizations to support all movements being attacked with SLAPPs.
WCWC and the Weed 9 were dismissed from the lawsuit in December 2017 by a California Superior Court Judge on the grounds that they should never have been named and were merely exercising their constitutional rights. However, RFP soon appealed, forcing WCWC and the Weed 9 to continue to engage in the lawsuit at the State appellate level. Among those individuals named in the lawsuit are prominent members of the community including two former mayors, retired mill workers, volunteers for community organizations and former school board members. The appeal has dragged on for more than a year forcing the Weed 9 members to continue to bear court costs and the stress of an unknown outcome for the case. The small economically challenged City also faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees as it tries to defend itself from Roseburg’s legal challenge.
WCWC has taken many measures to deal with RFP directly, however the company has responded only by extending the lawsuit even longer. WCWC is now encouraging the FSC to step in and reevaluate the actions of RFP, proud holders of FSC certification for its “green” and “sustainable” lumber. FSC policies affirm that certificate holders must not violate traditional or human rights and must be evaluated on how companies treat the communities in which they operate. By filing a complaint directly with the FSC, WCWC members hope to pressure RFP to not only drop the unconstitutional SLAPP suit but also to recognize the City’s rights to their main water supply.
In solidarity and support, the CLDC has also written a letter to the FSC to encourage a thorough investigation of RFP’s actions and its violations of the constitutional rights and well-being of Weed community members.
The WCWC and the Weed 9 should not be facing lawsuits for speaking out in an attempt to protect their water. We must band together to support them and all movements for environmental justice getting hit with SLAPPs. SLAPPs are extremely dangerous attempts to silence criticism and repress the activist community. Movements to push back against SLAPPs enable us to show people, like WCWC and the Weed 9, that they aren’t alone in this fight. To quote Protect the Protest, “If you come for one of us, you come for all of us!” We must stand strong against corporate bullies and defend our rights to speak up and engage in public participation. We must stand together to hold up dissent.