April 27-May2, 1999
Proposals by Jim Griffin, Detroit, that interstate corporations should have an elected
board that includes workers from all levels of the corporation, and by John Lowry, Ft.
Bragg, Ca., to federally charter corporations, were referred to the action group on
transforming the corporation.During the convention a group of about a dozen delegates held
a series of meetings on the subject of the internal dynamics of the Alliance. They
proposed the establishment of an internal dynamics committee, specifying its powers and
responsibilities in their resolution. Objections to some of the terms of the resolution
were raised from the floor, and in a compromise agreement, everything was struck from the
resolution except the establishment of the committee, with its responsibilities and
recommendations to be subject to the approval of the Council. The committee has been
meeting by teleconference weekly since the convention. Its concerns, David Demere of
Belfast, Me., told the convention, are diversity, inclusivity, communications, and
Robert Cohen, Boulder, Co., proposed, as a positive alternative to boycotting
objectionable corporations, finding "the least bad actors" and endorsing the
buying of their products. His resolution provoked controversy, however--Robert
Pedersen, Camby, In., said that choosing the "less bad actors" would be
difficult and divisive; Erin Clare Quinn, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin who
is a new member of the Alliance Council, said, "I sincerely doubt that a corporation
can be responsible." Cohen is at 1410 Sunshine Canyon Dr., Boulder, Co. 80302,
303-443-4884/ email@example.com. On the last
morning of the convention most of the delegates rose one after the other and spoke about
whatever was on their minds. Tempers agitated by the Kosovo debate or the creation of the
internal dynamics committee receded into a general cameraderie after an extraordinarily
Nick Penniman, the national coordinator, reminded the delegates that despite its committed
and insightful people and its strong start, the Alliance still does not have enough
financial resources and press and political contacts. He asked each member with
access to any of these to work with the national office.
There were 173 registered participants in the convention from 28 states, in addition to
those attending public forums.
SPEAKERS GIVE A POPULIST JOB DESCRIPTION
For the opening plenary at the University of Colorado math auditorium, about 125 assembled
to hear the president of the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy, Mark Ritchie,
who called himself "a pretty serious populist," review what he described as
"some of our victories" and outline the work ahead.
The defeat of "fast track" authorization for trade treaties after 14 hours'
debate in Congress was, he said, one recent victory. "We stopped a global
locomotive--it was stopped." Public outrage against proposed lax standards for
defining what "organic" food means led to 280,000 letters addressed to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, stopping that, too. "Chiapas is the first global
rebellion against globalization--and they say it," Ritchie went on. "I
also think in terms of victories--the founding and growth of the Alliance as a place where
people can come together and do this." He mentioned, too, the defeat of nuclear
power, "the defeat of U.S. aggression in Vietnam," and the growth of food
co-ops, organic farming, and wind and solar energy.
What would be a job description for the populist movement, a global populism, in the next
millennium? Ritchie undertook one.
First, he said, rebuild and repopularize historic people's movements. Although the
peace movement is weak now, he noted, a handful of people forced adoption of a global ban
on land mines. Alluding in passing to the civil, social, and human rights and the
labor movements, he said the somewhat de-energized co-op movement is also making a
Second, Ritchie said, is beginning to build a new movement based, not on globalization,
"the idea that every person on the planet is in competition with each other,"
but on globalism, "the photograph from space where we see that it's one planet--that
we need a global system of some kind that's based on cooperation, not on
Other jobs to be done, he thought, are confronting more directly and self-consciously the
ideology of neoliberalism and globalization, "and the willingness to accept their
economic agenda if they will let you have your social agenda"; "slaying the
inevitability dragon," the effort "to make us think that this madness is
inevitable"; learning to struggle in new ways--in a global way with boycotts, more
local-to-local coalitions, citizen diplomacy, new coalitions North and South, right and
left, new ways to express patriotism; facing new issues such as biotechnology and the
patenting of life and genetically modified organisms, genetic or biological pollution; and
"starting self-consciously to win," "figuring out how to balance our
anger," preparing "to win and take power and exercise power."
"We have to be very clear: if you want peace you have to fight for justice,"
Ritchie concluded. "If we want peace we have to struggle for love. The struggle
for justice and the struggle for love have to come together. We're going to need all the
anger we can get, we're going to need all the strength we can get, we're going to need all
the love we can get, to struggle to victory in the next millennium."
A Time to Shape the WorldThe convention's first full day, a Friday, began with discussion,
including some wrangling, as reports on credentials and rules and the agenda were adopted.
Then Charles Derber, a professor of sociology at Boston College and author of
[italicize next two words] Corporation Nation, a new book on the history and dominance of
corporate power in America, spoke on that topic. "The corporate century is
about 150 years old," he said. Its four phases have been 1865-1900, the robber baron
period and the Gilded Age; the rise of the national economy and corporate consolidation
through 1932; a limited but significant challenge to corporate sovereignty lasting
"almost to Reagan"; and since then "the stage of pan-corporatism,
full-fledged towards a kind of triumphal corporate supremacy. The corporations have
taken over much of our state and lives."
Derber, a mover, along with Dave Lewit of the Boston/Cambridge chapter, in the first
community anti-MAI conference in 1997 sponsored by AfD and Public Citizen, said that
originally the corporation was a public entity under firm control, but the Fourteenth
Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in 1886, created the modern corporation,
privatizing it and giving it due process and the Bill of Rights.
Now, he said, "personal identity is becoming a corporate construction," so that
one's own moral integrity and self-respect "are both agents and targets of corporate
power. The air we breathe, the clothes we wear, the books we read, everything in our
lives has been subsumed under corporations and the market," including the government
and both major political parties. "We have two parties of business, we do not have a
people's party, reflecting corporate ability to essentially expropriate politics."
Decisions made at the WTO conference in Seattle next fall, said Professor Derber,
"will shape the century beyond." Trade agreements "are fundamentally
eroding the ability of government to govern....Governments are basically subsidiaries to
bond markets and other financial arenas. It's a frightening thing when financial
markets operate globally to erode the ability of governments to make fundamental decisions
that affect our lives. "He drew an analogy to the U.S. Constitution based in
property rights and the emerging new international constitution based on property and
investor rights. We're seeing, he said, a ruthlessly aggressive attempt by economic
powers to rewrite the national constitution through international treaties.
"We need a popular movement that can reassert the most radical challenge to the
corporation on the issue of democracy," Derber said. "That's what the Alliance
is about and that's why I'm here." But noting the absence of people of color in
the hall and too few women as speakers during the convention, he said, "There is no
way we can succeed without becoming inclusive."
"We're living in a period of history that is a constitutional moment," he
concluded. "Decisions are being made at Seattle and beyond that will
shape the world.... We must hold corporations responsible for violating popular
democracy at home and abroad."
The Arcata Challenge
Paul Cienfuegos, the director of Democracy Unlimited, a movement rooted in Arcata and
Humboldt County, northern California, reported to the convention on that community's
enactment of a local initiative for two publicly-sponsored discussions of the role of
corporations in Arcata. To get "Measure F," as it was called, on the
ballot, volunteers obtained almost 2,000 signatures in 26 days. It provided
that, in the context of citizen sovereignty over corporations, the city council would
co-sponsor two town hall meetings on the question, "Can we have democracy when large
corporations wield so much influence?"
The daily newspaper, "owned by a major corporation," attacked the measure eight
days before the voting as a waste of money. But the mayor, running for re-election,
supported the measure, and testimony for it from a local weekly, local nonprofit radio,
Jim Hightower, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky were critical, Cienfuegos said.
The measure was passed with a 58% yes vote.
Newsletters on the issue were delivered to every house in Arcata. Last April
10, 350 citizens, facing each other in concentric circles, discussed the question, and in
comments on an evaluation form voted 2-1 that we cannot have democracy when large
corporations wield so much power. The second forum was held May 10, and
Cienfuegos told the delegates that groups are starting identical initiatives in three
Cienfuegos, a new member of AfD, offered to travel, speak, or conduct weekend workshops
about this plan and to help create models for raising and discussing the
corporation-and-democracy issue in local communities. He is at PO Box 27,
Arcata, Ca. 95518, 707-822-2242/ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Working closely with Cienfuegos, coordinating responses from Alliance chapters to
the Arcata challenge, is attorney David Cobb, a leader of the Houston Alliance, 818 West
31st. St., Houston Tx. 77018, 713-880-3219/ email@example.com.
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