Breaking the Spell of Misguided Obedience

From the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund e-newsletter
Making History One Year Ago:
Celebrating the Lake Erie Bill of Rights
One year ago today, the residents of Toledo secured a victory for the Rights of Nature Movement in a special election. The first law recognizing the rights of a specific ecosystem to exist, flourish, and thrive – Lake Erie – captivated the world. This voter approved charter amendment is known as the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.
Immediately following the election, an industrialized agricultural corporation filed a lawsuit against the City of Toledo for “trampling” their corporate “rights.” Oral arguments were heard in January of this year, marking another historic moment for the Movement as Rights of Nature was argued for 90 minutes in federal court.
Toledo organizer Markie Miller drafted this letter to Lake Erie the night before the federal hearing. In honor of this moment in history, we share her letter here.

A Letter to Lake Erie from Lake Erie Bill of Rights Petitioner Markie Miller

CELDF Editor’s Note: Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund-associated Toledoans for Safe Water organizer Markie Miller has written a powerfully beautiful letter to Lake Erie. Miller has been featured in news media across the world for her work advancing the historic Lake Erie Bill of Rights, the first law in the United States to recognize the rights of a specific ecosystem. That law is currently tied up in U.S. federal court. Today, she shares a meditation on “misguided obedience.” It was written the night before a federal court hearing on the merits of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

Dear Lake Erie,

As I write this, you are dying.

I am searching for the right words – of comfort, inspiration, even acceptance – because all you ever seem to receive is an “I’m sorry.” An apology, no matter how sincere, feels hollow and cold. It will not bring you redemption or peace.

You have sustained me for 30 years through your constant and selfless presence. Yet it was not until you were sick that I fully understood the quality of life you were capable of providing.

I have watched you more closely since that time. I keep my distance, respecting the condition you are in, and observe the decline of your allure from the Toledo shoreline. Your appearance is always calm and subtle, despite your pain. Aggressive waves do not break against your western bays unless encouraged by the wind. Yet, this characterization is misleading. We forget you are not always so tame and soft-spoken – in fact, you can be fierce, powerful, and free.

I caught a glimpse of your sickness in 2014 – but your screams were muffled by our own concerns and fears. I cannot justify any further silence. You undergo endless monitoring and testing, but it’s done with an inherent disregard for your life.

Your “caretakers” claim ownership of you as an excuse to throw money at you in exchange for your services – and silence. Can they really not see that the rhythmic dance of your waves along the shore has grown weary, heavy with the flesh of dead fish, void of the life and recreation that adorns the beaches and open waters of your sisters? I want to say they are ignorant of your pain, but I know better.

How long can I enable this abusive relationship without guilt?

There will be no chance of defending your memory. At your end, we will soon follow. The severity of that situation sits heavy on my shoulders and deep within my gut. I have fought hard for your rights without always realizing how much they reflect my own.

I am sorry. I promise this sorrow is fleeting – it has served me as a moment of rest. I understand your desire to be seen as stoic and brave. Damsel in distress does not suit you – a quality you have passed on to those you sustain. I likely will not weep for your loss. If that day comes, I will be too exhausted from this fight to shed tears of sorrow.

In your revival, we will find life; in your death, we will find only blame. Blame for our misguided obedience and trust in a system of law that upholds injustice, legalizes your abuse, and has ensnared us with a false illusion of representation.

Today I feel burdened with knowledge, but tomorrow I will feel empowered by truth.

I will always fight for your survival, never your memory.

With devotion,


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