No matter what your line of work, I bet you wish you had a group of colleagues you could always count on for professional advice, support and brainstorming. In this day and age, it seems we all have ‘friends’ online who we can call on for opinions through Facebook, Twitter, etc. But years ago, in the age before Google and social networks, ELAW was using email to make these connections. And still is.
Email had the power –and still does– to connect continents. This was incredibly useful for fledgling environmental attorneys all over the world in the 90’s. Having this technological marvel at our disposal was one thing, one great thing, but counting on environmental attorneys from around the world for advice was quite another. This was ELAW.
Sometime in the fall of 1999 I was immersed in grassroots work to enact our new environmental legislation in Baja California. This was a daunting task, not only resulting from the number of community groups involved, or the meetings at the Capital with congressional officials, but mainly because we wanted to cement our law in new principles: access to information, access to participation basic right to know mechanisms for all within the law.
No one knew that I had a secret weapon at my disposal: attorneys from around the world going through the same sweeping changes in legislation, just an email away, through ELAW. And yes they came to my rescue, with language, with ideas, and concepts which should be included in the law, including a marvelous manual on Good Practices in Access to Information written by a lovely and giving attorney from Spain named Fe Sanchis Moreno.
Fe’s document became our bible and pointed us in the right direction. It took as much political will as the many hours we spent in meetings all over the state, and the law was passed a year later.
Last Wednesday, the Baja California Legislature finally approved reform to our State Transparency Law, which had also faced much resistance. Although Mexico has gone through deep evolution regarding transparency and accountability which are now fortified in our Constitution, individual states have struggled with the details, the practicality, the tools and the will to implement these rights.
We are delighted to be celebrating this new generation of transparency laws but I cannot help but remember the beginnings. Overarching changes come from many sides; grassroots efforts and political alliances throughout Mexico created our Transparency Law in 2002, yet each state, each municipality, has experienced a different path. Environmental legislation and Right to Know principles have gone hand in hand since the Rio Declaration* so it is no surprise that I am reminded of these times years ago when countries around the world were pushing for transforming legislation.
The certainty that external factors and pressure are essential to change is clear, but the importance of global networks sharing information and critical concepts to provoke this change is just as valuable. So, now as the power of the internet is scrutinized for its ease to damage and hurt people deeply, which I will not deny, we should not forget that this marvelous tool can be a profound instrument of change. If the question of how we can all do better with this great instrument also depends on a social networking revolution, then let us begin! Because there is no time to prepare for it, we are late in meeting this technology with the maturity it demands from us.
Carla García Zendejas
Tijuana, Baja California, México
*UN Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro 1992, also known as The Earth Summit.