The Alliance for Democracy Founding Convention

November 21-24, 1996
Mo Ranch, Texas
Draft Proceedings by Joanne Omang

Friday November 22

 

Election of Convention Officers

RONNIE DUGGER was elected Chair of the convention by acclamation.

JOANNE OMANG, Washington DC Alliance, was elected Secretary by voice vote to keep these minutes.

The proposed Agenda (Attachment 2) and Standing Rules of Order (Attachment 3) were adopted unanimously with perfunctory debate and without amendment.

 

Workshop on Using Democratic Processes in Meetings

Jim Price,
Birmingham AL Alliance

A democratic dialogue is the purpose of this gathering, one we hope to spread throughout the planet. The skills of holding a democratic conversation are crucial for the future of the entire movement.

Price asked: How should we react to one another here? Responses from delegates who stood to speak around the hall: with respect and listening; with tolerance for other ideas; with brevity, directness and simplicity. Speak loudly and clearly, without personal attacks. Work through your local chapter for maximum impact. Speak to the Big Picture, foregoing ego. Be open- minded; let yourself be challenged. Dialogue, do not lecture. Be consistent. Keep the mission of the gathering in mind--a secure future. Keep it light (form a mambo line--not a macarena) and have fun. Don't assume that others know your acronyms or your information; don't insist on your own view.

What are the barriers to achieving these techniques? Price asked. Responses: the blinders of myopia and personal ego (we must remain open to others). The diversity of the challenges we face. A short-term, hurry-up attitude; impatience with the process. Inflammatory language; fear of losing (fight that instinct for self-preservation!). Passivity, resignation and apathy (hang on to your passion!). Anthropocentrism (nature has rights). Frustration leads to anger that interrupts the democratic conversation. Conflict between personal goals and the broader ones. The complexity of the issues. Fear of differences (anticipate and express them instead). Practicality versus idealism. Try using "and" instead of "either/or."

Joanne Sunshower

Strategic thinking adds emotion and intuition to intellect in order to bring in new ideas and exhume buried ones. A list of Ground Rules, participant responsibilities, types of "thinking hats," types of active listening and two approaches to problem solving (Attachment 4) was adopted by consensus as an informal guide to conference and later discussions. Objections to Edward de Bono's use of a "black hat" designation in the informal guide for comments of a negative (devil's advocate or critical) nature led to agreement first to make those "yellow hat," and then to use purple, and then to the verdict that all colors are equally valid.

A women's caucus announced a noon meeting, as did a "youth caucus," defined by the announcer as for those with no personal or first-hand knowledge of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

 

Report of the Interim Steering Committee (ISC)

Nancy Campbell,
Dallas TX Alliance

The November 1995 meeting of about 70 people set up the current Alliance structure of about 45 chapters in seven regions, with 10 coordinators. The ISC ceases to exist after this Convention. Members are paid-up contributors to a local or the national Alliance. Expenses have averaged $2,300 per month. The convention will cost $53,000 and should break even, leaving about $4,000 in the bank. Current activity includes plans to secure nonprofit tax status (501(c)3 designation) for the Alliance Educational Fund while the Alliance itself would remain a 501(c)4 political organization (to which donations are not tax-deductible).

Confusion arose over distinctions among convention task forces, acting and working groups. Campbell advised that all issue groups could submit reports to the Convention and could ask for a Convention vote, which would be granted at the pleasure and time of the Convention. All reports not defeated will be compiled into a single bound volume as part of this Convention record.

Report of Work Groups and Task Forces (Attachment 5, pre- convention draft. this is now outdated, see the latest individual task force reports, ed.) Mission Statement: Locals' suggestions varied in length and language; at least 28 versions were submitted. The organization name: A survey produced a collection of suggestions that were then offered in a second survey, results of which have not yet been tabulated. The Constitution and Bylaws: A draft was compiled from existing organizations' constitutions, locals' suggestions and amendments offered by individuals.

Discussion: Integration and flexibility is needed among these issue definitions. Too much structure ought to be avoided. Let's not retype and reprint endlessly through the debate but reuse the paper. Keep the focus on direct democracy here, and on the corporate situation. Let's not debate the semicolons of the mission statement and the name but merely vote the proposed versions up or down. Keep the language simple; use the word "people" as much as possible.

 

David Korten
Author, When Corporations Rule the World

His hope for the future arises from groups like the Alliance, which is not alone in the world. The Canadian version is better established; even the Philippines has such a group. If we do our job, this will be remembered as an historic event: our grandchildren will marvel that we were here at the turning point in the struggle for freedom and democracy in the United States.
...
This creative process won't come from the dominant institutions of a dying era but from civil society, the creation of citizens in populist movements like The Alliance. This is the historic task we are here to engage.

 

[See complete transcript here.]

Ronnie Dugger
It's crucial to remember that all of us here are equal to all others in value and importance. Follow no one except each other, together.

Small-group sessions on working group and task force issues followed. For a report on one small group session (the Mission Statement), see Attachment 7.

 

The Corporate/Systemic Focus
Jane Anne Morris

Corporate anthropologist, founder Democracy Unlimited

Working through regulatory agencies is the main way we exercise democracy other than voting and writing to members of Congress. To deal with the Texas Railroad Commission, which also regulates oil and gas and lignite strip mining, her group was told first to learn the regulatory language, to educate themselves on all the issues and the corporations' viewpoint, to get themselves a lawyer, to dress right and to follow procedure. They did this. The response: thanks for your comments; next.
...
We have learned to speak the corporate language and we have forgotten our own. We have been censoring ourselves so as not to sound radical. Our founding parents, although not as strong as they should have been on multiculturalism, certainly knew that they did not want corporations running the state. At the time, "separate but equal" was seen the same way--too radical an idea, when in fact it wasn't radical enough. Now is the time to stand up and say it is time to take back the personhood of the corporations.

 

[See complete transcript here.]

 

Peter Kellman
Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD)

Here's a concept: it's not what corporations do wrong--it's what they do.

If corporations are killing people, the solution is now seen as to revoke the corporate charter. But the real evil is the space that corporations take in the body politic.

General Motors Corp., for example: the old difference between rural areas and urban ones began to break down when GM and the oil companies bought up urban trolley and rail systems and let them deteriorate and finally fail. Then the corporations opened bus systems--smelly, polluting, not as efficient. This promoted automobile travel, and the growth of suburbs and commuting. An enormous change in the American lifestyle occurred, yet no state legislature ever discussed these changes.

So-called "good" corporations pay decent wages, give benefits, don't pollute and so on, but we have changed nothing by prodding them to this because we still do not define what they DO. If we don't start, they will define what we do, just as GM did.

 

 

Michael Ferner
Former AFSCME organizer, Independent Member of the Toledo, Ohio, City Council, 1989-93

In Toledo, the Corning Corp. decided it wanted a new $90 million building. On the threat of taking its jobs out of the state, it won $87 million in cash grants or low-interest loans subsidized by taxpayers and a 25-year tax abatement, and put an officer on the state Board of Education. Compare that to the 1890 action by the New York State Court of Appeals that revoked the North River Sugar Corp.'s charter for abusing the public trust. "The rights of a corporation are indeed less than that of the humblest citizen," the court said.

Discussion

--No ten-point plan exists for fighting a corporation in any particular battle. Try reading the corporation codes of your local and state ordinances. You have to come up with your own plan and then keep modifying it as the corporation shifts tactics.

(Morris) --"Corporate responsibility" is an oxymoron like "military intelligence." --The fight should be framed as "for small business" or "pro- democracy" or "for the workers" or "pro-labor" rather than "against corporations" or anti-anything

(Ferner) --We don't have to choose among the corporations; we just need to figure out what it is we want, and then go after it. Redefine the debate and victory follows.

(Kellman) --Montana has had some success: one initiative banned corporate money from the initiative processes in the state. A current effort involves stopping an allegedly "socially responsible" Colorado corporation, H.B. Fuller, from making a shoe glue that millions of kids get sick from sniffing all over Latin America. But the corporation says its glue "used as directed" is harmless, so no problem. --Changing the relation between a corporation and people is hard, as a non-person by definition cannot be socially responsible. The Bill of Rights should be written into corporate charters. As it is, free speech and assembly don't apply on private property, so that, for example, unions can't meet on corporate territory.

(Kellman) --Antitrust legislation isn't much of a weapon against the corporate/government/media triad. The legislation wasn't serious to start with and has been used mainly to settle personal inter- corporate tiffs.

(Morris) --It may be true that some corporations and some regulatory agencies can and do work if people get involved in prodding them- -the EPA, for example. But the electric utility industry, for example, spearheaded a campaign to become federally regulated in order to head off a wave of state and local takeovers of rapacious electric utilities and corporations.

(Ferner) --The truth is that regulatory agencies are relatively powerless. All regulations wind up in court forever, and the agency operates in the middle: instead of eliminating pollution, EPA now allows corporations to trade pollution quantities, buying and selling them like commodities.

(Kellman) --A Colorado corporation voluntarily disclosed that it had been polluting, and asked that in return for its confession it be allowed to keep the details secret, to fire anyone who talked about them, and to be held harmless for any damages from the pollution. These are drip-by-drip losses of the public's power; we must have our own laws. --It's not just regulation that's the problem; it's the law itself and the enforcement of it. In a study of 52,000 cases brought by the Justice Department in 1995, TRAC (The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, of Syracuse University) found that only 250, or one-half of one percent, were brought against corporate violators of environmental pollution laws, OSHA laws or other measures. No one looks at what the Justice Department is or isn't doing. --Efforts to get at corporations through their stockholders have had some success when media attention is drawn (Kathy Lee Gifford, e.g.) But usually the corporation manages to issue new stock to maintain its majority holdings, or changes bylaws to restrict voting, or alters some other procedural rule to deflect or neutralize stockholder ire. Stockholder governance is good in theory but not in practice. Small-group sessions on the corporate system followed. Each randomly-assigned group was asked to consider two questions: Is the problem, in fact, "what corporations do" rather than what they do wrong? And, what is it that makes The Alliance different from other organizations? [For a report from one such small-group session, see Attachment 8]

 

Howard Zinn
Author, A People's History of the United States

This meeting is one of an infinite number of fulfillments of democracy that happen in the United States outside the government. On the blackboard (a good place for it), democracy was checks and balances, the great system, and all we had to do was spend a minute voting every couple of years, they said. We learned that picture is very far from democracy. Voting is a puny act in a complex society where power and the people have a much more intricate relationship. A bumper sticker: "If the gods had intended us to vote they would have given us candidates."
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The UN Declaration of Human Rights includes the right to work, to housing, to food and so on--the visions are already out there. Once people get moving, they see how much power they have, and how fragile are the powers of the corporations. A boycott, for example, is a very powerful weapon--all Jesse Jackson had to do was mention the possibility of one against Texaco and Texaco caved in [on promoting women and blacks to management positions].

[See complete transcript here.]

A woman called Zinn about a sweatshop in Everett, Wash., of Salvadoran women who were fired for trying to organize workers making less than $2 an hour. She asked him to come to a community rally demonstrating support for these women. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney happened to be in the area, and he showed up too. They asked the CEO to reinstate the fired workers and refused to leave his office. Police came, arrested and jailed them: a priest, a teamster, electrical workers, a student-labor activist, a senior citizen group, Jonathan Fine of The Alliance, others. The news made the business section (why is there not a Labor section where business news goes?) and the company surrendered. This is what the power of the people can do, what solidarity can do--at corporations and at the government level. Let's imagine more ways for things like this to happen.

Zinn's observations during discussion --Systemic reform will require consumers and citizens taking control over the decisions that affect their lives. As in the Paris Commune of 1861, groups of people will have to meet constantly to make decisions. An initial focus on hard-to-resist problems is good: Marian Wright Edelman suggests a national discussion of how to stop the deaths of 40,000 American children less than one year old every year. But no one victory is enough. --Zinn has more faith in direct action against corporations than in legal arena work, such as seeking constitutional amendments. After all the struggle of getting something into law, there is still no way to guarantee enforcement or permanence. --Alternative media are quiescent now and should be reawakened to report on the predations of corporations. In the early days of the Vietnam war, when the major media were not supplying reliable news, the alternatives filled the gap; more than 500 sprang up in high schools alone. When the need is evident, they should appear. --Health care is one area where corporate power is at its peak, and yet the US child poverty rate is four times that in Western Europe and Japan. A Child's Bill of Rights should be a strategy here. --Each person's different history means a different issue will excite that person, but we must try to link those issues under the corporate problem umbrella in order to mobilize the power of the people in this direction. --No central decree can create a nationwide Mondragon [Spanish economy-wide cooperative] movement or other self-help or rights- conscious enterprises or Ithaca Hours or pledged-market stores; only individual local effort that spreads by word of mouth and our own networking. --Visible actions recruit new supporters by showing them a working example, one that does not get you killed or fired and yet succeeds. These are educational and help bond the learners to your movement.

 

Evening task force and working group sessions were held concurrently with entertainment in the main convention hall by Tom Neilson, folksinger.