by Carolyn Chute
This is another in a series of guest columns that examine the forging of public policy in the nation's capital. Carolyn Chute has written "The Beans of Egypt, Maine," "Letourneau's Used Auto Parts" and, most recently, "Merry Men." The next column, by Neil Rolde, an author and former state legislator, is scheduled for Aug. 20.
Congress, we were told when we were in our formative years, is where the senators and representatives go to represent us. We live in a democracy which means when it comes to the sovereign power of our government, we are that power. Not a king. Not a queen. Not a dictator. But us, THE PEOPLE. Through our votes we have our voice. And through our freedom of speech and the rights to assemble and to petition.
Also those fiery idealistic ingenious hardworking radicals of our past cooked up another wonderful idea for us: state govenunent. This was nice. More personal. More handy. More part of the local grapevine. Easier to keep tabs on.
But the best thing of all about state government was its job of approving or disapproving and revoking corporate charters. For years and years, if corporations didn't do things in the best interests of communities, but treated their workers like animals, made nasties in the rivers, bullied', cheated or lied, THE PEOPLE made a racket and their legislators tore those charters up into confetti.
Meanwhile, rich folk were paying income taxes and property taxes like the rest of us and life went on.
Have you had a queer feeling lately that the sovereign power of THE PEOPLE has shifted? Have you felt as though corporations have become people and you are just a concept? Seems nobody in government even recognizes the existence of "employees," small farms or small business today. Or small anything. (Oh, excuse me. Today your small business is called micro-biz.) Welfare, real welfare, goes to corporations instead of your family or neighbors when they need it. Your grown kids can't afford a house. Lucky if they can afford a camper. (But then try living in a camper and the government will fine you.)
Meanwhile, your local and state tax bases aren't stretching because the people who pay the taxes are losing their jobs or working part time, and the people who make mountains of money pay NO TAXES. Your little squeaks of dismay are unheard. Your values are being called "provincial." Your grandfather's 32 Special hanging on the wall is being called "dangerous." Your kids are being called "unprepared." Your fears are being called "silly," "neurotic" or "fringe." Hundreds of articles are telling us that America is cynical . . . that cynicism is naughty, is unpatriotic, is ungrateful. "Look" they say, "just look at the starving masses in Bookibimmi. Look at the country that has the wild-man ruler and women who wear things over their faces and aren't allowed to show off their legs. Feel lucky!!!"
So you feel chastened. You hang your head. But you don't have a job! Or your job is in a place with no windows. No benefits. Practically no pay. Or just no variety, a job where one day is the predictable echo of the last, a living-death job. Your nghts in the shadow of corporate rights are only a notch above animal rights and you are aware that animal rights are dismal. Inflation is dogged. Government deficits billow. Advertisers expand our children's minds with all that they shall covet in the guise of all that they shall NEED. You dismantle your TV. But now TV is in the schools! Two paper companies own the state of Maine, two hog companies own Iowa, one chemical company owns Wisconsin.
Three hundred percent profit on your heart medicine. Machines answer the telephones wherever you call. Machines have all the jobs. Machines are getting all the trees, all the fish, shipping all your state's resources off to Wakakawasakimawa and there's nothing left but stumps and highways and Wal-Much and Video-Grab-N-Go. Your babies are in day care, then school, then colleges, then gone. Gone where? To Ploontooki, Minn., or San Crisco, Calif., or some "neighborhood" of the vast global corporate village, yes, your children gone, raising your Polaroid grandchildren and keeping the Mother's Day card corporations joyously dancing.
"But listen!" the articles remind you. "You are not the starving Bookibimmians! You have food! Pretty food. And supermarkels with aisles as wide as cite streets. And you can show off your legs. Stop complaining. In this country you have opportunities everywhere. Stop thinking negatively. You make your own luck.
"What do you mean every five years things are worse so therefore in five years it'll be worse and then in five more years . . . You need therapy maybe? Or one of the publishing industry's books on how to breathe differently in order to control your thoughts? You say you are worried there won't be enough money for basics like breakfast. And the computer which soon will be required to keep you in touch. Hogwash. Things are getting better. The recession is over! Congress is fixing things! And the president . . . if only we can find the right president, he'll FIX it all for us!!"
Yeah, I've been reading these articles and, my friends, I'm a little tired of this double-think bull.
First of all I should confess to you that I read only articles and newsletters that don't have pictures. And I have no TV. So if Bill Clinton, Jesse Helms, Bob Dole and O.J. Simpson all walked into this room right now, I would not know which was which. I consider their faces and their three-line quotes to be as trivial as sports stars and sports scores. I'm not the kind of radical that believes in blowing up government buildings. In the 1990s if you think for yourself, you're a radical.
I have a solution. Hear me out. Shut off the TV a minute. Listen. I would like to see the doors to Congress locked. For 10 years. Yes with our elected officials inside. They can't get out. We'll keep them comfortable. Lots of nice foods. Music. Movies. The ballet. Comedians. Big bands. Big orgies if they want. I don't care what they do in there. As long as MEGATROPOLIS INSURANCE MUTUAL AND TRUST and DUOTRON FOODS and MATRIX COMMUNICATIONS and CHEVASAKI AUTO and MONSANTDUPONZINCMECURICO CORP. can't get in.
Same with the State Houses. Doors locked.
Meanwhile, THE PEOPLE get busy as bees. ALL TVs are off. Instead we MEET. We get educated on what our sovereign rights really are. We learn the real history of business and business-charter making, where it's been and where it is now. There would be a great stir in all our households and meeting places and in the streets. We would be writing up proposals to our state legislators that would sound somcthing like this:
"We urge local and state elected officials to adopt this Resolulion: `Whereas only citizens have sovereign authority to grant charters of incorporation: now, Therefore, be it resolved, that the legislature of this state redefine, the process and criteria for granting corporate charters to our specifications; restore civic authority over the governance of existing corporate charters to our specifications; and finally, revoke the charters of harmful corporations and revoke the certificatcs of authority of harmful foreign and alien corporations operating in our state.'"
Then we write out our demands of Congress that the rich be taxed . . . REALLY taxed.
We decide also to challenge the prevailing judicial doctrines
And we strengthen ourselves against the blackmail that corporations always use on us if we don't let them do anything they want: They'll leave the state and take all our jobs. Good riddance! Where the great oak falls, many little cheery saplings will sprout.
Now THE PEOPLE surround the State Houses and Congress in huge mean-looking mobs, vast masses of Americans filling filling the streets.
"Silently, our eyes stare straight at the doors that are being unlocked. Out steps the Congress men and women, slightly older. They look down from the doorways and see THE PEOPLE. We are shoulder to shouder, rank and file. We call out, "HELLO THERE SENATORS! REPRESENTATIVES! WE HAVE SOMETHING WE WANT YOU TO DO!"
The senators and representatives, of course, are all smiling. They say happily. "Anything you want, you can have! It's really such a great idea, this democracy idea . . . once you give it a bit of thought."
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