a discussion with
Richard Grossman & Ward Morehouse
Monday, January 29, 1996, Palo Alto, California
The Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy Council on Public and International Affairs Box 246 Suite 3C, 777 United Nations Plaza S. Yarmouth, MA 02664-0246 New York, NY 10017 508/398-1145, fax: 508/398-1552 212/972-9877, fax: 212/972-9878 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com http://www.poclad.org/
Richard Grossman and Ward Morehouse are co-directors of The Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy. Richard was also Director of Environmentalists for Full Employment from 1976 to 1984, and Ward is President of the Council on Public and International Affairs. This is a partial transcript of a democratic conversation in Palo Alto lasting almost 2 hours. Richard Grossman was the first speaker.
Other relevant documents can be found at: http://www.ratical.org/corporations/
Ward and I are here to talk about democracy and self-governance. And within that umbrella, to talk about the cultural and legal and societal relationships which a free people should engineer, should define, between us as the free and sovereign people (that we allegedly are supposed to be), and our institutions of enterprise.
So much today, so many of the important issues that affect our communities, that affect our health, that affect our children's future, that affect the ability of people to work, that define the work that people do, seem to be off the political agenda. We, as the sovereign people, don't seem to have any authority over making decisions. To take a specific example, the shifting from glass bottles to plastic bottles, which was a major decision made by goodness knows who -- certainly not made in the public process -- which changed a vast manufacturing process from a relatively responsibly recyclable, sustainable one, into an incredibly poisonous, disastrous, sickness-and-death-creating industry.
You can cite any equivalent area of our society -- from transportation to energy to housing to banking, genetic engineering, what's happening to our seeds, our whole food supply -- the real decisions about the nature of the product, how it's made, how work is organized, which communities do well (because money is invested), which communities do badly (because money is taken out by absentee ownership, by foreign, distant corporations) -- we don't seem to have legal standing in those decisions. And public debate is off to the side. We end up choosing between "paper or plastic" and not about what goes in -- there's nothing about the products.
Why, how did this come about? We are supposed to be the sovereign people. Right? Even in the California Constitution: Article 1, Section 2: "All power is inherent in the people". All power is inherent in the people -- it doesn't say, `All power is inherent in the corporations'.
So, I think it becomes important to talk about What Is The Giant Corporation, that seems to be exercising so much power today? And where did it come from? And for that we need to go back to the time of the American Revolution.
As I look back and rethink the revolution, one of the major accomplishments of the revolution was in fact to kick private corporations out of this country; or to transform -- to kick some out (like the Hudson's Bay Company), which were very powerful private corporations of the day, and to transform what had been private stock corporations charted by the king.
Massachusetts Bay Corporation (which was a colony that founded the commonwealth where I live today), the Virginia Corporation, the Carolina Corporation, the Maryland Corporation, the Pennsylvania Corporation; these were business corporations that settled and created the 13 colonies. They were dictatorships -- there was no pretense. The people who ran those companies decided what you could grow, where you had to ship your products, what kind of work you did; they could conscript you into the militia; they were dictatorships.
And the revolution fundamentally transformed those companies into constitutional states. Not perfect by any means. But it shifted the source of political power. It shifted the nature of sovereignty. So that there became institutional processes for making decisions: legislatures, the courts, separation of powers, terms of office, for those holding office.
A process and people -- and "the people" were defined -- of course that's a political definition of who "we the people" were, because, a lot of people -- African-Americans, women, men without property, Native Americans, trees, rocks, rivers -- they had no legal standing, they were not included in "we the people" -- but the people who were "we the people", who had legal standing, then became "the sovereign people".
So in effect, by force of arms, the colonists transferred the sovereignty that had set with the King of England to the people. And the king was the sovereign, he got his sovereignty allegedly from God. All his rulers ruled in his name. That sovereignty, with the revolution, passed to "the people".
And when you look at all the constitutions of all the 13 colonies and the other states, and the United States Constitution, it says, "We the people". We the sovereign people. We existed as a people, we came together and wrote our constitutions in order to form a government. In order to figure out, how to get together in order to protect the general welfare. Government was a voluntary association of people in order to figure out how we use our resources, how we get along, and all that.
Because of the experience that people had had with crown corporations, understanding the reach of their power -- not just ones here, but also companies like the East India companies, the Africa company -- which in the 18th century were truly global corporations of the day, rapacious, dictatorial -- if you go and read the histories of these companies, if they had had anything near the kind of technology that we have today, the world would have already been destroyed. What they did to India, to Africa, to South and Central America; they did enormous harm, killed huge numbers of people and basically vacuumed out the wealth and the resources, and enslaved the rest.
So there was a lot of consciousness about that at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. And when it came to institutions of enterprise, people were very cautious, and they gave the authority to create corporations to the state legislatures.
The state legislatures, until after the Civil War, essentially gave out charters one at a time. People applied for a charter, for articles of incorporation. They had to come before the legislature. The legislature decided whether this was something that was in the interest of the people. I'm sure there was a lot of bribery and a lot of corruption, but that was the principle.
The legislatures defined the corporations in the charter. If you go back and look at the corporations up through the Civil War -- for the most part -- they had limited duration, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years -- they were not given forever, like corporate charters are given today.
The amount of land a corporation could own was limited; the amount of capitalization a corporation could have was limited.
The corporation had to be chartered for a specific purpose -- not for everything, or anything.
The internal governance was very different. Shareholders had a lot more rights than they have today, for major decisions such as mergers. Sometimes they had to have unanimous shareholder consent.
In addition to which, there was no limitations protections on liability. Managers, directors, shareholders were liable for all debts and harms and in some states, doubly liable or triply liable.
And the states reserved the right to amend the charters, or to revoke them. Even for no reason at all.
Because of the principle that we're the sovereign people, and these are subordinate entities. And there was also a very clear sense -- there were a lot of people -- who wrote pamphlets and discussed all these issues, people without fancy educations -- who understood that there was a danger, that once wealth became concentrated in private entities, these private entities could then begin to affect the political process. Could start affecting elections, could start shaping the laws, could start shaping public education in general on issues of public policy, could start shaping the values and the culture: to become a commercial culture, to turn people in consumers rather than citizens. The literature on this is pretty exhaustive.
So folks were very conscious of all these things and they tried, their best, to keep the corporation defined through the charters and then through general state incorporation laws. To be defined in a very clear and limited way.
And I want to make the distinct here between the state and the people through the legislators defining the corporation, defining its limits, expressly giving only certain powers, privileges, rights, in exchange for the privilege of incorporation. To distinguish that defining process from a regulatory process which is basically about preventing excess, preventing the worst kinds of harms but basically giving the entity an enormous authority to make all kinds of decisions. They are two very different concepts. Of one defining the nature of this entity, this fiction, this subordinate entity, versus giving this entity enormous political powers, and then trying to curb it around the edges and saying that the role of the state is to perfect the market, to have "fair competition" (whatever that might be) in some vague way.
The Civil War, given all the tremendous amount of government expenditures, poured billions and billions of dollars into the creation of new corporations in munitions, clothing, food, whatever -- and the railroads. And it was at this point that we started getting giant -- for the day -- giant conglomerations of capital, particularly the railroads, banking and insurance companies, and industrial corporations. After the Civil War -- in the 1870s -- they began not only to grow in size and wealth, but to use that wealth in order to fundamentally recreate the circumstances of their own existence.
From 1870 to about 1905 we had what scholars call the Transformation of American Law, basically around the nature of corporations. All that have I described to you, as the situation in law and culture prior to the Civil War, was totally turned on its head. So that by 1905, corporations were generally charted forever; the shareholder rights were trampled on; limitations on capital -- thrown out; limitations on land-holding -- thrown out; charters were given for any legal purpose -- no longer was there a single purpose for the corporation.
So the nature of the entity was transformed -- the entity itself transformed its own nature. In addition to which, by decisions of the Supreme Court, the corporation was given political rights and powers. One of the most relative ones -- given where we are sitting here today -- is that the Supreme Court in 1886 declared that the corporation is a person, a legal person for the purposes of 14th Amendment, which is about guaranteed equal protection of the laws and due process. The 14th Amendment was passed in 1868 in order to protect the rights of freed slaves. It was not passed to protect the rights of corporations, a fundamental misuse of this constitutional amendment.
Corporations became persons which means, over the years, that is one of the sources of their political rights. Because if they're persons, then eventually they got 1st Amendement protections: free speech. And because corporations have free speech, the full power of the United States government is behind them as they can participate in elections, contribute and engage in the public policy debate, they can lobby lawmakes because they are persons, and what the court has held is that to deny them the ability to contribute money or lobby is to deny them free speech; and to deny the civil society of the benefit of a broader public debate. All right? That's the logic.
There's a lot more to that history which we don't have the time to go into here, but to emphasize: we must examine the fundamental difference over what is a decision for the civil society that needs to be conducted in an open way, through the constitutionalized process, and what are decisions that are the private domain of the corporation?
And another whole set of decisions that the Supreme Court made, was to make the intangible rights of decisions about investment, production, and the organization of work, be the property rights of corporations. The constitution, as you know, is a very property-protective document. Once these intangible rights were declared property rights of corporations, combined with personhood, that was an incredible one-two punch. Since that time corporations have had one-hundred years to perfect all that.
So fundamentally, now, we have a situation where the subordinate entity called "the corporation" -- the legal fiction -- now has more rights and privileges than flesh-and-blood people. So much of the important decision-making that affects our very lives and our future, are off the public agenda. We have very little legal standing, and that is more actually in the hands of anonymous corporate leaders behind closed doors.
In most states a lot of the language from the early days, that reflected the subordinate nature of corporations is still on the books (including California). Some of that language is gone. But we still have the authority, in California, and other states, to define the corporations through their charters; we still have the authority to amend the charters; we still have the authority to revoke the charters -- the language is there. We still have the authority to rewrite the state corporation codes in order to order corporate executives to do what the sovereign people want to do.
A sovereign people do not negotiate with subordinate legal fictions. We instruct them. We define them. We don't regulate them about the edges so they can poison here and poison there, but not more than the acceptable amount. We say, You can't operate if you poison. That is what a sovereign people should do. And you may say, given the power of corporations, this could not be possible.
I happened to look up the Constitution of California of 1879, which was the constitution that you had when you joined the Union. Article 12, which runs several pages, is called "Corporations". There are 24 sections in Article 12 defining the corporation. 20 of them have been repealed, the last set in 1972. I'd like to close by reading you some of the sections of your constitution from 1879 that have been repealed.
As I read these I urge you to think about how, in those years, there were people who came together, as we are coming together today, who had concerns about the banking corporations and the railroad corporations and the insurance corporations -- many of whom had come from other states, and other territories -- and when they said, as we are going to form our own constitution and our own state, we have to preserve our political authority over this fiction. They were strong enough and mobilized enough and educated enough to force these articles to be put into their constitution despite the power of the railroad magnates and the other magnates here who are honored all over San Francisco and California.
Section 1 -- repealed in 1972: " . . . All laws now enforced in this state concerning corporations, and all laws that may be hereafter passed pursuant to this section, may be altered from time to time or repealed." Pretty simple but says, nothing is written in stone forever regarding the laws about corporations. [Also, that means sections can be reinstated or strengthened in favor of nature, citizens, and communities, too.]
Section 3 -- repealed in 1930: " . . . Each stockholder of a corporation, or joint-stock association, shall be individually and personally liable for such proportion of all its debts and liabilities contracted or incurred during the time he was a stockholder, as the amount of stock or shares owned by him bears to the whole of the subscribed capital stock, or shares of the corporation or association. . . " One of the purposes of the modern corporation is to separate the results from the decision-making. They understood that and they made shareholders proportionably liable for the results of their decisions.
Section 5 -- Here's the people directing the legislature: "The legislature shall have no power to pass any Act granting any charter for banking purposes, but corporations or associations may be formed for such purposes under general laws. . . " Those had to be publically-controlled corporations or entities only, no private banking corporations. Many states had sections in their constitutions like that.
Section 8 -- repealed 1972: "The exercise of the right of eminent domain¹ shall never be so abridged or construed as to prevent the Legislature from taking the property and franchises of incorporated companies and subjecting them to public use the same as the property of individuals, and the exercise of the police power of the State shall never be so abridged or construed as to permit corporations to conduct their business in such manner as to infringe the rights of individuals or the general well-being of the State." Repealed 1972. Where were we? I was living in this state in 1972. I can say, where were we.
Section 9 -- repealed 1930: "No corporation shall engage in any business other than that expressly authorized in its charter, or the law under which it may have been or may hereafter be organized; nor shall it hold for a longer period than five years any real estate except such as may be necessary for carrying on its business."
Section 14 -- repealed 1930: "Every corporation other than religious, educational, or benevolent, organized or doing business in this State, shall have and maintain an office or place in this State for the transaction of its business which shall be kept for inspection by every person having an interest therein and legislative committees, books in which shall be recorded the amount of capital stock subscribed, and by whom, the names and owners of its stock, and the amounts owned by them respectively, the amount of stock paid in, and by whom, the transfers of stock; the amount of its assets and liabilities, and the names and places of residence of its officers." The books had to be open to the representatives of the people and to interested parties.
Then, within the whole of Section 22 -- I haven't been able to figure out when it was repealed -- the entire section has been jumbled up and some taken out and some added -- but here it is in the original constitution, it is not in the current constitution: "The legislature may, in addition to any penalties herein prescribed, enforce this article by forfeiture of the charter or otherwise."
I'll close by suggesting that just those sections alone -- and there is more in your constitution of 1879 -- reinforce the concept that people of other eras, over 100 years ago, understood the vital importance that the fiction of the corporation was the subordinate entity to the sovereign people. If we are going to have pretense to a democracy, we cannot give political rights and powers to a private entity. We cannot let that private entity get so strong that it rewrites the laws, that it shapes the culture, that it shapes the education.
As people are looking into the histories of their states they are finding very similar histories. Although it may be difficult to imagine a country that's not dominated by giant corporations, other people before us have imagined that, and they've taken big steps toward that, and there is no reason why we can't continue that struggle. Because they also left us many important mechanisms that we can use. Thank you.
I would now like to introduce my colleague, Ward Morehouse.
Like Richard I am very pleased to be here with all of you and to participate in what I hope will be an active and engaged dialogue on some subjects that are of very profound importance to all of us in this room.
Richard has given you a good sense of the kind of mess in which we are, and how we got there. I would like to share with you some thoughts about how we get out of that mess.
Some of you may have had the occasion, not very inspiring in my view, to have heard President Lincoln, Lincoln! -- excuse me, Clinton!, a terrible Freudian slip! -- Clinton's State of the Union address earlier this month, and as you will recall, he built his address around the "Seven Challenges". And I would like to take a leaf from his book and give you seven challenges. He took 51 minutes to deliver his oration. I hope to reverse those digits in mine.
I think the first challenge for all of us is to overcome the colonization of our minds. Cornel West said it better than I can when he stated that "the sheer power of corporate capital . . . makes it difficult even to imagine what a free and democratic society would look like if there were publicly accountable mechanisms that alleviated the vast disparities in resources, wealth, and income owing in part to the vast influence of big business on the US Government and its legal institutions."
This leads to the phenomena that There Is No Alternative. We have abbreviated it to its acronym, the TINA phenomena, and I think the first challenge we have to come to grips with is how to overcome this colonization of our minds and to recognize that there are alternatives to a society dominated by giant corporations.
Our second challenge involves taking a lesson from the play book of the corporations who (as Richard has indicated), have spent the last century or more consolidating their power and insulating themselves from meaningful democratic control. And we need therefore to try to change a body of legal doctrine rather than fight case after case after case of corporate transgression.
Our third challenge is to resist the temptation for co-optation and accommodation and not to accept as "victories" those which leave corporate power unchallenged and intact. In order to stimulate some discussion, I would put the social investment movement in this country in the category of accommodation to corporate power.
Our fourth challenge is to recognize the myth of American democracy and to overcome the plutocracy² with which we live. All societies have myths about themselves. Ours is no exception.
The fifth is to understand that we will never win in this struggle if we play by their rules because they wrote the rules.
Our sixth is to determine how we know when we really have won in the struggle against corporate power, and I would submit to you that we only really win when there is a fundamental shift in power from corporations back to the people where it was in the first place, and should be again.
I'll save the seventh challenge until the end, and go on to one of Clinton's throwaway lines in his speech: "The era of big government is over", he said. And you will recall that there was a round of applause on both sides of the isle. I would submit to you that here, this evening, the era of the Giant Corporation is over and that it is time for us to take the offensive in the struggle to establish democratic control over corporations.
Here is an eleven-point program for doing just that:
So there is an eleven-point agenda to get you started on this challenging task. A Canadian friend of ours, who has given a lot of thought to how we develop a dynamic for dealing with corporations and corporate power, has suggested that we need to follow what he calls "the 5 D's of Action": We need first to define corporate power, then to dissect it, then to denounce it, then to disrupt it, and finally to dismantle it. And I would submit to you that that is the challenge before all of us here this evening.
- We can start by revoking the charters of especially harmful corporations who have inflicted mass harm on innocent people. As Richard indicated, there are provisions for the revocation of charters in 49 of the 50 states. They have some provisions similar to that in the New York Business Corporation Law, Section 1101, which specifies that corporations that act contrary to the public policy of the state are subject to dissolution.
- We can recharter corporations to limit their powers and make them entities subordinate to the sovereign people. For example by granting charters (as used to be the case) for limited time periods, requiring that there be a conscious, deliberate act of approval by communities and workers for corporations to continue beyond the initial time in which they have been chartered. For making corporate managers and directors liable for the harms done by corporations.
- We can address what I think is a fundamental obstacle to democratic control over corporations, which is their sheer size. I think many of you are well aware that the largest corporations today are larger than most nation-states. General Motors has gross income greater than the gross domestic product of Denmark. So we need to reduce the size of corporations by breaking them into smaller units with less power to undermine democratic institutions.
For those of you who think this is a wild flight-of-fancy, I would remind you that as an issue in public policy, this has historical precedence in the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 which did just that: it said certain public utility companies will divest themselves because they may not be larger than a given set of criteria determined through a democratic process.
- We need to establish effective worker and community control over production units in order to protect the "reliance interest", an important, if not fully developed, legal doctrine which workers and communities acquire over time in the actions, the activities, and indeed the assets of corporations.
This could be done in a variety of ways including prohibitions in the charter of the corporation in the future, prohibitions for the hiring of replacement workers (scabs in other words), requiring independent health and safety audits by experts chosen by workers in the affected communities, and so on.
- We can initiate referendum campaigns, or take action through state legislatures and the courts, to end constitutional protections for corporate persons. As Richard indicated, we are, in a certain sense, in the belly of the beast here in Santa Clara County, because that is where all this terrible mischief of corporations being persons before the law, began.
- We can prohibit corporations from making campaign contributions to candidates in any elections, and from lobbying any local, state, and federal government bodies.
And if you think this is off-the-wall, you should be aware that in the state of Wisconsin, up until a couple of decades ago, it was a felony for corporations to make political contributions.
- We can stop subsidy abuse and extortion by corporations through which large corporations rake off billions of dollars from the public treasury. Please let us not call it "corporate welfare". Welfare should be a positive concept. This is extortion and subsidy abuse and we need to stop it.
- We need to launch campaigns to cap salaries of corporate executives, and tie them to a ratio of average compensation for production workers (say, five or ten to one). I'll return to this subject in a moment, as the reality is much different today as all of you know.
- We can encourage worker and community-owned and -controlled cooperatives and other alternatives to conventional limited liability profit-making corporations. They need not be the only game in town, in fact they are not the only game in town. But we need to work hard to expand alternative types of enterprises that will subject themselves to genuine democratic control.
- We can prepare model state corporation codes based on the principle of citizen sovereignty, and begin the campaign for their adoption, state-by-state.
- (and I'm sorry Richard didn't have more opportunity to talk about this important subject, but perhaps we can explore it further in the discussion) We can invigorate, from the grassroots up, a national debate on the relationship between public property and private property -- including future value -- and the rights of natural persons, communities, and other species when they are in conflict with those corporations.
This whole subject of how we define property rights is at the heart of much of the accumulation and codification of corporate power.
You can make one concrete step in that direction if you are so moved. Some of you may have seen, an advertizement that appeared in the west-coast edition of the New York Times back in December entitled Should Corporations Get Away With Murder? I assume we have one common answer to that question but reality is that they do. And the example in this ad is Union Carbide Corporation which I think all you know is the perpetrator of the world's worst industrial disaster.
This ad asks that those who read it and were sufficiently moved, to do two things. First of all to send a communication to the CEO of Union Carbide demanding that Union Carbide stop flouting the law, stop being an absconder from justice (which is it at the present), by standing trial in Bhopal for culpable homicide, for what it did to the people of that tragic city.
The second was to send a communication to the New York State Attorney General (since Union Carbide happens to be incorporated in New York State) demanding him to begin charter revocation proceedings under Section 1101, and other sections of the state incorporation code, as long as Union Carbide continues to flout the law.
So I hope that any of you who have not taken these steps will consider doing so, and, if you are suffering from writer's cramp, there's even an 800 number you can call and Western Union will do it for you for 5 bucks: 800 / 651 - 1421. That's a Western Union service they provide to groups like ours who put this ad together.
I said I was going to leave until last the seventh challenge, and, that challenge is to take to heart the big lessons of 20th century history, and not to be discouraged by the challenges that indeed do confront us. It was said no where better or more eloquently than by Howard Zinn in one of his recent books, when he wrote that, "[t]he struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money, and who seem invincible in their determination to hold onto it. That apparent power has again and again proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, ingenuity, courage, patience. Whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Viet Nam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just." Thank you.
RG: Comments? Thoughts?
WM: Questions? Arguments? Challenges?
Q: What chunk of the GNP is basically the corporation in this country?
WM: I can't give you an answer to that off the top of my head but I can give you another indicator of the relative importance of large corporations in the US economy, and that is the growth of assets of the Fortune 500 which over the last 15 years have increased by roughly two-and-a-half times to something on the order of magnitude of 2.6 trillion dollars.
I didn't include (because I was trying to stay within my 15-minute allotment) some observations about sources of discontent and hope. But one of these revolves around the changing role of large corporations as major employers. During the same period of time their assets have grown 2 and a half times, they have shed one-third of their US-based workforce; they have shed roughly 5 million workers during this same time-period. And I think that increases their potential vulnerability -- for many others as well, perhaps we'll get into some of the other ones.
RG: A couple of more numbers: According to a United Nations study, the world's largest corporations account for about three-fourths of the world's commodity trade, and four-fifths of the trade in technology and managerial skills of market economies. The largest 50 corporations in the world obtain over half their revenues from outside the country of origin. The 500 largest US corporations control 35 percent of all non-financial corporate assets. . . .
WM: Yes sir.
Q: I believe "fundamental" is a very fundamental premise that we, we people have. And it touches sons, and now daughters, often husbands, and now probably includes wives. And this has historically been going on for a long time: we've established our social contracts; we have given our lives, literally -- not only given willfully, but they have been made mandatory in the sense of giving their lives by conscription. The fiction of the corporation, has no such ultimate sacrifice of blood.
This country was built on lives that were surrendered and given. I, in World War II, came upon a scene where full squadrons were wiped out right after the Paluski raid -- I came in on that to replace them. I feel there is no sacrifice like this, none whatsoever, in fact I feel one of the large arms of the corporation is reaching into our sons, daughters, husbands, and now wives, giving their lives in what we believe, is a sacred trust which is for the next generation, for this generation, what we have inherited in the beliefs and the ideals. And I feel this is being trampled on, we are being used. Have you ever heard the argument against the corporation, that they are fiction? We, in truth, give lives. We in truth give body. In our very blood. Have you ever heard that?
I think it's a very strong one. And today I think, we are being asked by these corporations, reaching out into the large global community, to establish beachheads, to establish, ATT for example at one time had income equivalent to 33 of our United States -- 33 of our states before they broke it up. I'm sure we can reassemble numbers that are very high indeed. But I ask you this: have you seen this in the literature attacking the corporation as a fiction from this point of view?
RG: Not as specifically and eloquently as you put it. And I think you make a very good point -- that in rethinking the nature of our sovereignty as people, as human beings, and in some sense of the sovereignty of what the Sioux called the creeping people and the crawling people and the flying people, places -- rocks, rivers, trees, mountains, valleys -- the places where we live: that we, have in fact surrendered our sovereignty, we've given these rights away to this fiction. It is a fiction, and we live in such a corporate culture, we don't think about it.
Just think of our metaphors and our language, how often we refer to corporations as human. Even here people refer to corporate hands, corporate arms; somebody at a meeting we had yesterday said, We are going to bring corporations to their knees. Do corporations have knees? On issue after issue, and in our whole way of thinking, we need to distinguish between the fiction that is the corporation, and us, the sovereign people, flesh-and-blood.
Another point I bring up from what you said, you mentioned the social contract. For me, there's only one social contract. There's no contract between us and the corporations. There's no contract between business and labor. The only contract is when we the people, in voluntary association, come together to form a government to govern ourselves. That's the theory behind democracy in this country. The contract is among ourselves, about the nature of the institutions of self-governance that we create, and explicit in that is that any institution that we create is subordinate to the people.
It says that in your Section 2 -- I didn't read the second half of Article 1, Section 2 -- which says "All power is inherent in the people" when, it is basically a reflection of the Declaration of Independence: when the people feel that the government is not just, they have the right and the obligation to change it.
It's a little messy now because corporations are persons. So everything in our basic documents that has to do with the rights of people and persons, the courts are now interpreting as the rights of fictional entities called "the corporation". Once we get into the realm of law, where most public policy issues end up, it's a stacked deck.
As we redefine the nature of the problem we will find that we will be working in different arenas. Instead of going after one chemical at-a-time, to stop one clear-cut at-a-time, to stop one disaster at-a-time (as Ward suggested), let's change the whole bedrock law and change the culture, so that everybody going around will understand that we're people, and these are little fictions, subordinate entities.
Q: Could that be done by initiative? Lets say in California, have an initiative to repeal the right of corporations to be treated as individuals?
RG: It would be interesting to try. It is a federal doctrine. It is the Supreme Court that has made that as the law of the land -- even though it is not written anywhere in the constitution. So, that's a tactical question: What happens if people in a lot of states start to raise challenges to this issue of personhood, in a whole different variety of ways?
Corporations will of course say, immediately, That's a federal issue, you have no right to even raise it. We have the rights that we take, and that remains to be seen. Yes?
Q: Would you elaborate a little bit more about challenge number 3 regarding co-opting and social investments?
WM: The concern I was trying to express is that when we allow ourselves to be overtly co-opted, or we acquiesce in an act of accommodation to corporate power we effectively reinforce that power rather than limit it or to alter the configuration of power. This is a very difficult proposition to deal with because the persons involved in many of these efforts, such as the social investment "movement", if we can call it that, are persons who share many of our same values -- they would, I'm sure, stand with us when we assert that corporations should be subject to some form of democratic control -- so they share many of our values, but in the act of accommodation, instead of altering the structure of power they tend to reinforce it.
This, as I say, is a very difficult matter to deal with. And we find this frequently in the work that we do, because we are trying to take the position (as you may have gathered from our remarks here tonight), that the fundamental issue is reestablishing democratic control over corporations.
It is not "business ethics" (which some of us feel is an oxymoron), it is not about adopting voluntary codes of conduct like the CERES³ Principles if you are familiar with them which were developed out of the concern with the Exxon Valdez disaster, and presumably obliged a corporation that agrees to sign these principles to adhere to them, to a standard of environmental performance. But the game is really given away in the last clause of the CERES Principles which says, there is nothing in these principles that shall have legal standing, shall be binding in any way on the signatory. So, they have no value. Sadly. It is surely worthwhile to make corporations more protective of the environment, but we don't think you can do this through a voluntary code of conduct that has no legal teeth. It simply leaves it entirely up to the corporations to do what they damn well please.
C: An explication was presented on a group doing $100/minute radio advertizements challenging and ripping corporations with elan and humor, and asking people to consider contributing money to broadcast these.
T: A man expressed his views on coming and working together, of ending the division between different movement groups, to get on with the business of taking back the culture for the good of all people.
Q: Are there are any politicians, state or national, who are aware, or are sympathetic with this cause, or all they all bought?" . . .
WM: Most of them are, but not all of them though. I think there are a few honest folk around. . . .
RG: One of the things we've been doing is convening, around the country, meetings that we call "Rethinking the Corporation/Rethinking Democracy" +, ++, +++). We have tried to sketch out some of the history and some of the thinking about this and it's very hard to talk about this in shorthand and in a short period of time, so the meeting we have tried to organize (we just did one this weekend down in Santa Cruz) are basic two-day meetings for twenty or so people so they can really have a democratic conversation.
At some of the meetings in Maine and some other states we have had several state reps, senators and assemblyman have participated. It is very important, and in every state legislature there will be a few, to start with. I can't believe there aren't a few here in California.
It is important for us to recognize, from a tactical standpoint, that the state still is the legal jurisdiction over the corporation. There are still enormous amount of powers in the state constitutions -- the legislature writes the state incorporation code -- for the business corporations, industrial corporations, utility corporations, banking and insurance corporations. Each one of those industries has its own corporation code, that is written by your state legislators and signed by your governor.
The American Bar Association, for the last fifty years, has been going around state-by-state on a rotating basis, with what they are calling "modernizing" the state corporation codes. Taking out all that stuff, and making them more corporation-friendly. The state codes are in fact being amended on a regular basis, contrary to the interests of the public.
Right now, our sense is, we as in "we the people" don't have much clout in the Congress. It's a corporate congress. And maybe the state as a arena is a different story. Combined with lots of different efforts in different states (focusing on these issues), with some general efforts going after personhood and some other doctrines and interpretations of the Constitution that have been used to limit state's authority over the corporations, such as the use of the Commerce Clause, and all the intangible rights as property rights that we've talked about.
Maybe there is a way that not even a large number of people can begin to take the offensive. To get off the defensive where I think we have been for a very long time and say, we are going after these privileges and immunities that are illegitimate for private entities to have in a democracy. Our states are a battleground here, and absolutely, we need the legislators involved.
WM: Could I just add a footnote to this gentleman's plea that we all get together and start struggling on this real problem. There are some things stirring in California. Richard mentioned a gathering we had this past weekend in Santa Cruz. We were involved earlier in the week in some meetings in Willits which involved people from other parts of Northern California. We are going down to Los Angeles tomorrow for some more meetings there. There is to be another one of these weekend, "Rethinking The Corporation/Rethinking Democracy" meetings at the Occidental Art Center in Santa Rosa in July.
So I hope that out of this may come a critical mass of persons around the state who would be prepared to join hands in whatever fashion is most appropriate.
C: [A mailing list sign up was cited as being passed around as well as a sign up list for those interested in more information about the July two-day meeting in Santa Rosa. If interested, contact POCLAD, Box 60727, Palo Alto, CA, 94306, 415/325-7530 for more information.]
Q: What is to stop corporations from simply moving to another state? What is to stop competition between states? And moreover what is to stop corporations from simply rechartering themselves in other countries (the way they do with ships)?
WM: Basically, us. First of all as to rechartering in other states. Corporations may be chartered in one state, but if they operate in any significant level in other states they have to get what are known as Certificates of Authority which are, broadly speaking, equally challenge-able to a charter, in that state. I would say that a major constraint certainly for any large company that is engaged in the manufacture of consumer products, is markets. I don't think there are many large corporations that want to write off the California market. So if California says, In order to operate in our state you shall not hire any scab workers. Whatever it may be, it will penetrate corporate consciousness.
Q: Are you also referring here to consumer boycotts?
WM: Well, boycotts are certainly a weapon. They are not easily used. It takes a lot of work to make a really effective boycott, but surely yes, it is one of the tools available.
As to whether they go running off to the Cayman Islands or some other idyllic hot spot around the world, I'd say again, "markets". The US market is by the far the largest market in the world and few global corporations are going to want to write it off. So we have some counter-balance.
RG: I would like to add something else if I may, and that is it gets back to question of property, and what is property that corporations claim as theirs? Assets, real property, whatever. One of the things that we have been talking to lawyers and law professors about is, What would happen if there is a charter revocation? And people have their different ideas out this, they lay out different scenarios.
What has become clear to us is that's a political question. It depends upon how powerful a movement there is, and how much it is operating in many states, and the extent to which this is a reflection of our changing the culture, our changing the definitions of property. So that there is a grappling with this issue of, What's private?, What's public?, What's the civil society?, and What is subject to the democratic process?
For example when there is a bankruptcy of a large entity, the state (through the mechanism) appoints an administrator who is responsible for the well-being of the state. Now the bankruptcy laws are a little distorted in the sense that the largest creditors have first dibs, the smallest creditors come in last. But in fact the administrator, is not working for the corporation, technically, is not working for the stockholders. It has the interest of all the people who are party to this. If there in fact were a trustee, appointed by the state, to deal with, if a corporation has been judged to have violated its charter to the extent that dissolution is then appropriate. What would happen to the assets, to the property?, then becomes a public question.
Because if you're saying that the entity of the corporation has forfeited its charter because of its actions, as the law in most states prescribes, for which there is ample precedent -- not recent precedent, but precedent -- then it becomes a question of what the civil society wants to do with that property. To take it and recharter it under a different ownership -- by the workers, municipally owned, a different set of owners, of incorporators, under a rewritten charter that goes back to the model of the past to say it defines the nature of the corporation. All this stuff, which may sound very utopian or whatever, it is within our hands because in many states, that's what the norm was 120 years ago. Both in the law and reflected in the common culture.
We have ample examples in this country -- not that we have great faith, at this point, without a citizen's movement, in throwing everything into the courts, and that the judges will do the right thing. But there are examples of judges who have laid down injunctions forbidding a corporation from moving a single nut or a bolt out of the state because of the nature of the case brought against it. Raising the very issue of, What are the rights of a community versus a corporation?, What are the rights of the workers versus a corporation?, What are the rights of future generations versus the rights of the corporations. We desparately need to open up the issue of property in this country.
Q: It seems like a good idea to put corporate powers into the hands of the people perhaps, but I wonder why we can expect the people to do such a better job managing corporations than they do in voting for say, Jesse Helms, or Avons in Colorado.
RG: That is a very good point. I'm going to take an example from here in California about the difference between a public entity, that is constitutionalized that we have legal standing and access to, and where that is clear and where it is not. There is no guarantee that people are going to do the right thing. But what we are talking about is the fundamental mechanism and the theory.
You all know about the utility in Sacramento, SMUD (the Sacramento Municipal Utility District), that had a nuclear power plant. The utility was municipally owned, it was owned by the people of Sacramento -- their nuclear plant. A lot of people didn't want want it, they wanted it to be shut down. For awhile they were organizing and educating, asking them and all that. Finally it dawned on some people that, We own this. There is a mechanism, by initiative, to order that nuclear power plant to be shut down, the utility shift its energy efficiency into solar, and planting trees, etc.
I think it took two referenda. They won the second one. Basically, the sovereign people said, We own it, shut it down. It was shut down. There was a legal mechanism. We still have democracy on paper, we still have -- it's our strength here. There was a public entity that was constitutionalized -- it had a mechanism -- they found it, they did it, they won.
Compare that, say, to the efforts by some large environmental law groups, to try to get the Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation, to do more energy efficiency. Even though this is a chartered, regulated monopoly, guaranteed a rate of return, given all kinds of privileges -- more than business corporations -- in return for their being given monopoly status -- the largest utility corporation in the country.
The environmental groups went to the directors and staff and said, We figured out some ways for you to be more energy efficient, so you won't have to build new power plants. We'll help you do that, and we'll also help weaken the public utility commission oversight, we'll allow you to make these decisions in private, it will all be voluntary -- you can withdraw at any time.
And this is exactly what happened. They helped PG&E officials develop what they call this "Demand Side Management" (DSM) effort, to become more energy efficient. This company that already had a guaranteed rate of return in exchange for all kinds of privileges, was given more rights and privileges in order to do more of the right thing, only on a voluntary basis. In fact they did change their minds -- they are pulling out of it now.
Basically, the environmental law groups did not use the legal mechanism to order the Pacific Gas & Electric Company to do the right thing. They went and said, Please, do the right thing, we'll give you more money, we'll give you more rates and authority. It doesn't make sense. We, the sovereign people, shouldn't be negotiating like that with these entities when we can instruct them what to do. We have that authority. It's rooted in our history.
To repeat: the sovereignty that was culturally and legally vested in the King of England, we took that away. That's what the American Revolution was about. The sovereignty rests in the people. It is all cliches now in all our documents in the Constitution, Declaration of Independence -- those are cliches -- but those cliches culturally once had an incredible meaning to people. They died for it, as you're suggesting. . . .
Q: One part of the "we" I haven't heard mentioned at all tonight is employees, and I wonder if you all have ever given your talk to a union or group of people who work for one of these big corporations. It seems like there is a lot of potential, for example, if you succeed in disbanding Union Carbide, that people who are going to get hurt the worst, are going to be the employees who are going to lose their jobs, as the directors fly away in their lear jets. I wonder what sort of response you've had to this argument from employee groups.
WM: Well, as it happens, I'm a member of the union that represents a number of Union Carbide workers, so I'm very much concerned with this question. Indeed, my own local includes one bargaining unit from a Union Carbide plant.
I think it all depends on how it's done. The assumption implicit in your question is that, if we revoke Union Carbide's charter, we would immediately shut down all of its operations. But that doesn't necessarily follow.
What probably would happen, is that Carbide would be placed under the jurisdiction of a trustee -- the kind of arrangement Richard mentioned that usually applies in bankruptcy proceedings.
Then would come, admittedly, the very difficult task of determining who really owns those assets. And here is an area that has been, for all practical purposes, entirely unexplored for a hundred years because there have been no major charter revocations of large companies in that period of that time.
But there are available doctrines, one of which I mentioned in my remarks, the so-called "reliance interest", that workers and communities develop over time in a production unit in which they work, or which is in their community. So one could conceive of a number of arrangements that would protect the concerns of workers in that particular corporation, such as becoming worker-owned, or worker- and community-owned.
The concerns of working people are very real in this struggle. Many of them also suffer the most because they have to deal with these concentrations of power in which, not only do corporations have more rights than you or I do, especially for workers. Once a worker enters the plant gate, he loses his first amendment rights. The right to assemble, the right to free speech -- he doesn't have those on corporate property -- the corporation retains them.
We haven't talked much about this, but I think it goes back to some of the observations several of you made about the time has in fact come to organize, to come to grips with these realities we've been describing to you this evening, and to move forward. It won't be easy, but as this gentleman here suggested earlier, there is a lot of discontent in this country and for good reason.
Real industrial wages are now lower than they were in 1969. In the meantime, corporation executives are ripping off in an obscene way. To encapsulate -- this is enough to make any good working person angry. What's happened to the ratio of what's paid to the lowest- and the highest-paid employee of a Fortune 500 company in the last 15 years? It's gone from 41 times as much to 150 times as much. Now, any working person knows that a system which allows that to happen is sick. This is obscene.
Consider the rewards of downsizing: Here's George Fisher, the CEO of Eastman-Kodak. He cut 14,000 jobs. Before they were cut his pay was 1.8 million. Afterwards, it was 3.9 million. Take Michael Jordan, the CEO of Westinghouse. He cut 5,000 jobs. His pay beforehand was 700,000, afterwards it was 1.3 million. Or take this fellow -- he's even acquired a nickname that sort of sums it all up -- he's call "Chainsaw Al", Albert Dunlap of Scott Paper. He cut 10,000 jobs. His pay before he cut was 600,000. Afterwards, 3.5 million. Working people know that any kind of a system in which this happens, stinks. It sucks. Yes.
Q: Just to continue in that vein for a moment. The numbers that I'm reading indicate about a 20% loss of real inflation-controlled dollars in average standard-of-living for working class people in the last 20 years, and about 10% of average middle class wages/salary for persons. Add to that, housing has doubled for most everybody in the country. We're talking about a quarter or a third of loss of real income in the last 20 years. I think that five years from now, the political landscape is going to be so hot, that all of us in this room, we won't recognize it. For that reason, it's a good time to start planning for what we're going to do.
Q: I was looking at what Communities for a Better Environment has been trying to do in the bay area with UNOCAL and Standard Oil, for example -- which are committing tremendous havoc on people in Richmond constantly, or dumping in the bay, or whatever else. And this kind of information including the sections you listed in the California Constitution which were then repealed, when the Bar Association or whoever else comes through and they just clean it out, so they get more and more and more and more of what it gives them as a locked up game. What type of approaches can you recommend -- given that most of them are bought-and-paid for up in Sacramento?
Clearly it's going to be very hard, a lot of work, focus, creativity, wits to somehow break through there. It seems like the corporations as their own "natural persons" is one thing on the federal level. That's a different tack, a different area for people to focus on. In a given state, if a couple of these revocations can actually occur, in a big way, so there is some new precedents in the present day that, begins to push into that dike and break that wall, how can some of these initial places here say, where things right in the bay that are occurring in this state, what's your sense of some of the details -- obviously this is what you try and do on weekends with people which you have more time to go into the details -- can you give some glimmering of what that might involve here?
RG: The essence is to reframe the problem. So that we rethink our goals. I think when that happens a whole new range of different political arenas become available to us and whole new range of creative strategizing. What they're doing is wonderful: trying to stop these poisons. But, basically, not challenging the legitimacy of these corporations. They're not challenging any of their political rights. They're not challenging any of their claims to property rights. They're not challenging their personhood. They're not challenging their "claimed authority" to do what they do in Sacramento, and in Washington. They're going after one chemical at a time. We've all done that: one issue at a time.
The challenge is: that's where people are. People are concerned about this company poisoning. How do we work with people, to reframe the problem, that the entity doing the poisoning is illegitimate, as a political entity. Giant corporations act as political entities, they wield political powers. That's why they can do physical harm. Most harms that corporations do are treated as legal in the culture and by the courts. That's because they have this enormous political power because they've shaped the culture.
So how do we redefine the problem? I think there are two ways to look at it: One is, How do we fight the single toxic in a way that begins to reveal the nature of the large corporation? That starts to raise the issues we're raising here. That educates people about the bigger, underlying questions. And that begins to build in some next steps. We're not just fighting this chemical, but, we're going to find something that's really pivotal about the nature of the corporate rights, and we're going to go after that simultaneously.
Or we can look at in this way as some people around the country are beginning to do and say: The most efficient and effective way, to go after a single problem that a corporation is causing, is to withdraw privileges and immunities from the corporation. To weaken the rights under law and the culture, that the corporation's have.
When we begin to redefine the problem as illegitimate corporate political rights, people all over the country are going to be smart, and creative, and start coming up with all kinds of approaches.
There's one example of the first, as far as we know, political guerilla theatre that begins to reframe the question. A group up in Washington state got ahold of Weyerhaeuser Corporation's charter. They read the state corporation code, what the conditions are for revocation. They did their research about all the laws, all the violations, all the guilty convictions of Weyerhaeuser. They went to George Weyerhaeuser's house, the CEO. Did a guerilla theater where they burned the charter, and issued this people's and species' Certificate of Dissolution.
They were reframing the question. They were making the statement that, We're not saying, Weyerhaeuser please don't cut this forest, or don't fire these workers, or don't do this one thing. They were saying, The Weyerhaeuser Corporation has forfeited its right to do business, to be chartered, because of all the things -- this is a partial list -- it has transgressed against the well-being of the people, and therefore abused its charter, and therefore, it shouldn't exist. They are trying to educate and change the nature of the debate.
Q: [Person articulated grappling with shifting the way we think about our world, of uncolonizing our minds, the sense of needing to feel there's some sort of "hope" of actual change, being an important ingredient, and asking,]Help me see how the Supreme Court's decision does or doesn't matter.
WM: For roughly 60 years settled legal doctrine, with respect to races, was "separate but equal". In 1954 that doctrine was overturned. Is there any reason why, if we the people, collectively, are determined, that the doctrine of corporate personhood cannot be overturned? I think there are many other lessons in history of settled legal doctrines, that, when there has been -- it'll never happen just in a court of law -- when there has been sufficient public agitation, these things will happen.
Q: [The supreme court at that time was composed of nine men where that paradigm shift was able to happen; the same thing happening in the nine minds today seems remote.]
WM: . . . Yes, the outlook in many ways is not encouraging, but that's the colonization phenomenon that we have to overcome. We have to truly believe that we can do these things. If we do they will happen. If we don't they won't
RG: I would add two things: When Thurgood Marshall and his associates sat down . . . in 1947 and said, We're going to change the separate but equal doctrine, what do we have to do? I'm sure a lot of his friends and colleagues said, You're crazy. And they set out a plan. Bringing all kinds of cases all over the country. Losing. Getting dissents. Taking those dissents. Agitating. Educating. They had the vision to say, We're going to take five years, ten years, and we're going to change enough of the culture so that the court changes the law.
Nobody could have predicted in 1947, Earl Warren would be there. But they had their own intentions, their own needs. And they got a unanimous vote out of that court. Which I don't think anybody in 1947 could have predicted.
He used the same strategy that the railroad corporation lawyers did to get personhood. I referred to Santa Clara County: the case was Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad. Santa Clara County wanted to tax all the rolling stock and all the property of this railroad company. The company said, That's unconstitutional because you're taxing us more than you would tax a human individual, or another person. The 14th Amendment says, equal protection of the laws. If we're persons, you can't tax us differently.
By the time that case had been brought, they had brought 10 other cases of that nature. One in San Mateo County, and in other parts of the country. They lost case after case after case. But two judges dissented, three judges dissented. Finally, they had enough of those dissents, the judges changed, it became one-by-one vote, and that became the law of the land, that corporations were persons, starting right here.
I wanted to read you something. In 1890, in the highest court in New York State, the Court of Appeals, a revocation case came to them that had already gone through the other mechanisms that called for the revocation of the charter of the North River Sugar Refining Corporation, a giant trust, that had cornered 98% of the sugar market. Not bad.
Unanimous court, in a remarkable opinion, voted to dissolve the corporation. I want to read you from that decision. I'd you to think about, What must have been happening out there in the culture and in society, for these nine men unanimously to speak with these words. And to think if people, 106 years ago, could shape the culture like that, why can't we?
The judgment sought against the defendant is one of corporate death. . . . The life of a corporation is, indeed, less than that of the humblest citizen. . . . Corporations may, and often do, exceed their authority only where private rights are affected. When these are adjusted, all mischief ends and all harm is averted. But where the transgression has a wider scope, and threatens the welfare of the people, they may summon the offender to answer for the abuse of its franchise or the violation of its corporate duty. The [North River Sugar Refining] corporation has violated its charter, and failed in the performance of its corporate duties, and that in respects so material and important to justify a judgment of dissolution. . . . All concur.
Q:It seems to me we have to think about the workers in this country that work for corporations. They don't feel that they're fiction, and they're very frightened about their jobs, and unless we can offer a safety net, that they're not going to be out on the streets, or they're not going to be unable to support their families -- for instance Union Carbide: if you jerk the charter, and that's a company that manufactures toxic materials, those people don't have a job. Because they're not manufacturing anything allowed to be manufactured.
So they don't see beyond corporations. It's hard for us to see beyond corporations. But if I worked for a big corporation, it would be very difficult for me to see. It's not in their best interests to even think clearly. . . .
People are afraid of losing their jobs.
WM:Of course they are. But the reality is they're losing them anyway. The downsizing figures I mentioned that Fortune 500 corporations have shed 5 million jobs in the last 15 years -- one-third of their workforce. Fewer and fewer people are working for large corporations. 10 million, roughly, work now for the 500 largest corporations. But the total US labor force is somewhere around 120 million. So its a diminishing number.
Now, that is not to say that if a corporation charter is revoked, that all of the production units are going to stop, and that everyone will lose their jobs. They may end up working for a different employer -- including themselves.
Q:Well that's what I mean about showing them beyond the corporation. And to be able to make that leap.
WM:Oh indeed. In many other cases (as I suggested in my earlier observations), I think revocation -- it's an important step, symbolically, to demonstrate that we have gained our sovereignty to the extent that we can tell a subordinate legal fiction that it no longer has the right to exist -- but at that point what we're really talking about is the role of the corporation which Union Carbide surely is, have perpetrated mass harms; I think the much normal process in reasserting democratic control over corporations will be through rechartering which simply will involve including in the corporation's charter conditions of the sort that we mentioned, that will make it impossible for that corporation to violate our democratic rights as they now do with relative impunity.
RG:I would just add to that, you said, We have to show them,
Q: -- the workers,
RG: -- the workers, and I would reframe that and say the we who's going to do all this has to include them. They have to be part of this. They have to help define what it means to revoke a charter, to recharter. They have to help define this. We're going to have to have a lot of meetings. People are going to do a lot of talking, because we're facing something we haven't done. To substitute one sort of hierarchical system for another, outside of making the decisions, doesn't make any sense. So we're talking about some major transitions here, done in a different way, with different values and criteria.
WM:I'd like to just add one final thought here. Some of you may read William Grieder's latest book, Who Will Tell The People? The Betrayal of American Democracy. It's a very realistic book. Some people would say it's a very discouraging book because it reveals how decisions are in fact made in Washington. And they are made essentially by major corporations. But the remedy, he ends the book on a hopeful note: he says the remedy lies in building relationships of trust among people who share these concerns, and this can only be done through a series of what he calls "democratic conversations".
And I'd like to think that that's what we had here tonight, a democratic conversation. And we need, are going to need a LOT of such conversations before we build relationships, and make it possible to join hands in a common struggle. So think of this as just the first step in a long journey.
RG:I'll close by saying we've held about 25 to 30 weekend Rethinking the Corporation meetings around the country. In three states, some of the people from those meetings have actually formed an organization and now doing education all around their states, and trying to research the history of their state, constitutions and corporation laws, and precedents; starting to fashion some tactics: what are the issues in this state? what are the points of entry? how do they reframe the problem?
They're in 1947 looking at 10 years ahead -- where do they want to be? That's started. Here in California, as Ward mentioned, there are bunch of meetings, a bunch of people who are energized, alliances -- some of you may have seen Ronnie Dugger's article in The Nation magazine in August -- out of that people are organizing across the state.
Out of this meeting -- I think in fact there were 57 people here -- people who have signed the name-and-address sheet -- we'll make that available to everybody so everybody here can contact everybody. Nodes of people who live near each other can start coming together. We'll be able to put you in touch with other people in California. There are some groups of people who have already come forward in some of the places we've been and said, We want to form a committee to research California Corporation Laws -- to look at what else can we find besides the Constitution, where are the precedents? When has a corporation charter really been revoked? What about the state corporation code? What used to be in the old corporation codes? How has it changed?
There are people from north-to-south who are going to do that. We don't live here -- we live in the east -- but we'll give you all the mechanisms so you can be in touch with each other. How long would it take you to take over your state? No very long.
- eminent domain, in law, the right of a government to take, or to authorize the taking of, private property for public use, just compensation being given to the owner.
- plutocracy, n. 1. government by the wealthy 2. a government or state in which the wealthy rule 3.a group of wealthy people who control or influence a government 4.a controlling class of rich men - plutocrat.
plutocrat, n. 1. a member of a wealthy ruling class; hence, 2. a person whose wealth gives him control or great influence. 3. [Colloq.], any wealthy person.
- CERES, an acronym for the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economics