Guest Columnist #62 - Tearing Down the Walls of the Corporate Maze

by Karen Coulter
    At a regional barter fair, I asked many of the people who came to our booth to trade what they thought of the idea of dismantling the whole corporate system of oppression and ecological destruction, of making corporations accountable to the people and a biocentric value system. The people asked represented a cross section from right wing militia and survivalists to back-to-the-land "hippy”-types and left wing activist.  Their response was fairly evenly divided between "Great idea, but how can we possibly do it?" and "There's no way; corporations already control everything." Both responses suggest the need to break down perceived barriers to dismantling corporate rule and to demonstrate positive alternatives to our corporate-dominated societal lifestyles. Below are eight common perceived barriers to ending corporate rule (each in quotation. marks, as a statement), followed by tools of perception to de-code the corporate colonization of our minds and reveal alternative strategies and positive actions which, when combined, could displace corporate domination.

1."The problem is too immense."    
    As Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, has pointed out, the power of the individual should never be underestimated, as major social changes have always been brought about by committed groups of individuals. The power of collective action has been demonstrated by the historic wins of the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, the labor movement, the anti-nuclear movement, and the wilderness and forest movements. Otherwise we would not have many of the rights taken for granted today or much of the last wild areas that still remain. All of these have been only incremental victories. We must continue the struggle on a broader scale, reclaiming our inherent empowerment, and change the corporate-set ground rules which keep us separate, fighting issue by issue, and which keep our victories incremental.
2. “We all depend on corporations."     
    No, we depend on things we already have independent of corporations-- trees, land, water, air, each other. Look at where dependency on corporations is leading us: to polluted air and water, no intact forests, sick and dying people, a depleted ozone layer and global warming, inequitable distribution of resources and services, many poor and a few rich and powerful -- is this something we can depend on to meet our needs?
3. "It is not realistic or politically feasible to fight corporate power.”
    What is considered politically feasible or "realpolitik" has been fed to us by those in power to bolster their control. The same argument was espoused by those who benefited from slavery and many other ills since ended by peoples' struggles.  What doesn't look realistic to those immersed in Washington, D.C, corporations must look necessary to us if we are not to blindly follow corporations to a collective global suicide, which is our source of life and survival.
4. "Corporate control is inevitable; we don't have any power to change situation.”
    Actually, corporate rule is a relatively recent phenomenon that has only developed in the U.S. over the last 220 years or so since the American Revolution. Citizens used to decide the fate of the corporate fictions they created, not vice-versa, holding the legal authority to determine the purpose and longevity of the corporation and to revoke corporate charters ("kill" the corporation) if corporations acted beyond their given authority or not in the public interest. In some countries (eg. the so-called "Third World”), the rise of corporate power is even more recent. There are still some indigenous peoples whose minds have yet to be colonized by corporate brainwashing, people who have much to teach the rest of us. The globalization of corporate power is still being consolidated. We still have a chance to stop it but must act decisively and quickly to prevent further takeovers of the commons, sustainable cultures, and public spheres of self-governance by corporate entities. We must assert the sovereignty that is inherent within us.
5.  "Decisions are made behind closed doors; we have no way of influencing them.”
    The worst decisions (such as starting a war or determining that a species may be driven to extinction) are always made behind closed doors. Yet this opens up an avenue for us to build a powerful mass movement through public outrage over the flagrant violations of democratic process. It is up to us to expose this lack of legitimacy and make use of it. Politicians are dependent on our votes; corporations are dependent on us to buy things from them, work for them, obey theme and limit the scope of our dreams to the confining limited reality they impose on us. These are all cracks in their armor we can push through like grass growing up through the concrete and crumbling it.
6.  "Corporate authority over us has been legitimized through established legal precedents; corporate power is legal -- therefore there's no way to oppose it."
    In reality, the legal system is to a large extent molded by public pressure turning into new cultural mores and political pressure. For instance, it used to be illegal for blacks to ride in the front of the bus (etc.) in many parts of the country; this is no longer illegal due to a mass movement against discrimination. Actions taken to change fundamentally bad laws successfully usually must step beyond the law -- eg. boycotts strikes, direct action, occupations, rallies, marches, etc. These are tried and true tactics in successful organizing campaigns to change the status quo.
7.  “If we stop corporate abuses in one place, they will simply take their factories, jobs and pollution somewhere else."
    First, transnational corporations are doing that already anyway, using international trade agreements like NAFTA and GATT to shift production (and pollution problems) to countries with lower labor and environmental standards and cheaper minimum wages. Second, to stop this trend and force corporate accountability to communities and adherence to stringent environmental and labor protection laws, we need to dismantle the mechanisms of corporate control directly; regulation has not worked. While we have been enacting regulatory band-aid reforms, they have been tossing out unwanted restrictions of locals, state, fed and international laws by making them unenforceable due to multilateral trade agreements such as NAFTA an GATT. The Multilateral Agreement on Investment would even make nations subject to corporate lawsuits for trying to enforce national laws setting standards restrictive to destructive trade. Realize that we can seize corporate assets, criminally prosecute corporations and find now ways to hold them accountable for their actions; they are licensed in our name. Of course, so as not to be NIMBY ("not in my backyard") in our efforts, so as not to allow the corporations to pass our problems on to others, one of our immediate tasks is to form strong links of international communication and solidarity for our work. In some cases, we may need to educate other nations and cultures, based on our experience, on the need to actively oppose corporate colonization. Corporations seek to divide and conquer us; our challenge is to find common cause while allowing for cultural and political diversity. to unite our various struggles against corporate dominance here and internationally.
8.  "There are no alternatives to corporate control; corporations house us, feed us, give us jobs....:
    There are plenty of alternatives to the existing corporate system -- what's more they are more life-sustaining and community-nurturing alternatives and have been around helping people much longer than corporations. These alternatives include: the use of extended families to provide community services such as childcare and care for the elderly; the use of natural herbs, physical therapy and diet programs for healing the use of barter (direct trade) instead of currency to obtain needed goods and labor from each other locally and regionally; the use of alternative currency such as is now in use in Madison, Wisconsin, in which bills represent amount of labor exchanged for goods; local production of organic food on a small farm scale; worker-owned business cooperatives; abandoned simpler (and safer) technologies (such as bow saws, candles, oil lamps, wood stoves home canning of food. waterwheels, windmills, gathering wild plant foods, sharing, wildcrafting herbs, etc.); simpler means of transport (bicycles, a local economy, towns designed to have business diversity easily accessible to pedestrians, etc.); basic carpentry; use of
alternative building methods and materials; barn-raisings; community harvests, etc.  For instance, in the face of no more economic support from the Soviet Union and a trade embargo from the US, Cuba went cold turkey on pesticide use and turned to bicycles for in-town transportation needs -- both successfully, Cuba now more fully meets its citizens' needs for food independently.  Bicycles proved cheaper, less polluting, and easier to fix than automobiles, leading to cleaner cities and a more personally interactive community life.  Denmark is considering going organic in its agriculture and Swiss Air is planning to serve 90% organic food to its passengers, both recognizing he corporate toxins (and bio-engineered grains to go with each pesticide) as a dead-end to a healthy future.  Such initiatives show we are primarily limited by our fears and lack of imagination, not by the absence of alternatives.  Let’s take back the phrase “Dream on!” and make it a positive affirmation!  WE  have been very controlled by corporate manipulation of language.  We need to create our own language and our connection with the land, our communities.  Let’s work and play across the artificial barriers imposed by the corporate cancer, re-defining “democracy” and “progress” to reflect life-affirming values, our most basic needs and desires, not greed, profit, genocide and the end of nature.  Let’s make the dream real.
—originally printed in Compost the Corporations published by
End Corporate Dominance/ HCR-82/ Fossil OR 97830