(this will be a long, nerdy but hopefully inspiring post)
Interesting word, compromise. Especially to a word nerd. Here is the etymology: 

“a joint promise to abide by an arbiter’s decision,” from Middle French compromis (13c.), from Latin compromissus, past participle of compromittere “to make a mutual promise” (to abide by the arbiter’s decision), from com “with, together” (see com-) + promittere (see promise). The main modern sense of “a coming to terms” is from extension to the settlement itself (late 15c.).

The history of the word shows us that, while the word has always had the element of mediation steeped in it’s roots, along the way and over time we seem to have lost sight of the role of the mediator or the arbiter. We may have also forgotten the essence of the key element in the word: promise.

I’m alternating between flummoxed, frightened, fatigued and fortified.

We who fight for the Salish Sea are not an honored party in an arbitration for compromise in any sense of the word. I have mentioned it before, and I will continue to call out, the fact that industry gets the first word and the best seats in any discussion with the city and the port. It’s not so much an arbitration as it is medieval theatre: politics and intrigue. And we are the audience, not the players.


The City Council’s decision was not unexpected, though many of us were still holding on to hope that somehow the people and the Salish Sea would be more important than profits and degradation.

How and where do we find hope from this point forward?
What does the path of our work moving forward look like now?

It was hard for me at certain times during the meeting to listen the comments of people who are in opposition to the proposed interim regulations. From those opposing, I heard two main lines of thought: one was outright denial about the effects of industrial pollution, the other being the standard company line about profits and economy and the sacred cow called jobs. A couple of times during public comment I had to shake my head in disbelief. It is hard on the soul to hear and see the closed hearts and closed minds of people. But there they are. There were some outright lies, too, and I don’t usually throw that word around.

The decision makers like to frame their decision as a compromise, but in reality their decision is a perfect example of their intransigence, the opposite of compromise. The only version of compromise that has been evoked here is the verb – “bring into disrepute or danger by indiscreet, foolish, or reckless behavior; cause to become vulnerable or function less effectively”.

In a way, I’m grateful for where we find ourselves today. There is no longer any doubt that the city and the port are completely subsumed by industry. We must now come to terms with, and disabuse ourselves of, the notion that we are part of a democratic municipality, functioning under the ideology of self-government. As I brush up on my history, I can see how this has been going on since the inception of this ideal called “The United States of America”.

Our city is a municipal corporation, operating within the framework of ‘home rule’, with decision makers who have no desire to listen to those people whose opinions, ideas and beliefs are not directly tied to a revenue stream. All decisions made by the City are made as business transactions, under the guise of self-governance, but without respect of the people. Let’s not forget: a corporation is an artificial person, which will not die from the toxins and poisons it creates.

Here is where I start to find my hope.

The Tacoma Municipal Code which addresses the Salish Sea is titled “Harbor: Chapter 4” and addresses Puget Sound as:

“estuary consisting of approximately 2,500 square miles of inlets, bays, and channels, more than 200 islands, and in excess of 2,000 miles of shoreline which supports navigation, commerce and other water-related economic uses and provides employment, recreational, educational, and other opportunities to the approximately 65 percent of Washington citizens residing within the 12 counties which border on Puget Sound…”

Only once is there a reference to the marine life of the Salish Sea, and it is couched in the framework of ‘fishing’ as one of the recreational uses available.

The City does not see the Salish Sea, our waters, as anything but an economic resource. And they only protect it within this framework. When they state that they are protecting the environment of the harbor, it is within the context of managing conflicting interests of economic and recreational users. 

For 100 years, industry has asserted their droit du seigneur (lord’s right) to first access to the Salish Sea over and over again. “Lord’s right”, also known as jus primae noctis, is an historical law, no longer technically in use, that allowed the feudal lord to have first right of access to any woman in the clan or kingdom. There is another legal principal, and this is where I start to find some hope, jus cogens, which is a set of certain overriding peremptory norms of international law which can not be relaxed or exempted. Two examples of jus cogens norms that I think are particularly compelling in our situation: the law of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Since I’m approaching 1000 words, and I have more research to do, let me leave off with just a few thoughts.

We must start asserting jus cogens, together with United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).   We must assert our rights to clean air, clean water and clean lands. We must compel the city and those who hold positions of power to relinquish their ability to make laws and rules that do not consider the inherent rights of the people. We must make them redefine how they use ‘home rule’. We must overturn the informal use of jus primae noctis by industry, once and for all.

It is time for us to make a new way, to create a new “term of art” as it pertains to our inherent rights to have a responsible and respectful reciprocal relationship with our relative, the Salish Sea.

I find hope in knowing that there are brilliant, committed people out there who will be part of this making a new way and creating openings in the closed hearts and minds of people.

Miigwech for reading.

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