Revoke the Corporation
Esther Nighbert
October 1996

This country once sent a Monarchy packing. Why are we putting up with corporations?

It's time to get more and more peopel informed and active. Richard L. Grossman and Ward Morehouse, co-directors of the program on Corporations, Law & Democracy in Cambridge, MA have been organizing meetings with people across the country. Grossman is also on the Corporate Conference Planning Committee of the International Forum on Globilization. The following is a condensation of a speech he gave at the 14th Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon Law School in 1996.

Until the early 20th Century, most people did not think in terms of regulating corporations, but of controlling and directing them. In 1890 the New York State Court of Appeals (after an unanimous decision) revoked the charter of the North River Sugar Corporation. Historically and under law, corporations are creations of civil society and are subordinate to civic authority.

The last 30 years of the 19th Century saw a transformation of American law. Corporations emerged with exceedingly broad authority over investment, production, land and human labor as well as legal rights to shape local, state and federal government.

The populists realized what was happening. They saw a corporate state coming into existence. Farmers and urban workers forced state and federal legislators ot outlaw corporate privileges. But most of these were overturned by federal courts, primarily the Supreme Court.

In 1886, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the right of natural persons to corporate entities in the cse of Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad. . . in a willfully perverse interpretation of the 14th Amendment.

Elaborate regulatory and administrative mechanisms were devised to give the impression of social responsibililty. Our elected legislators delegated their constitutional authority to non-elected commissions, agencies, and the courts. They, in turn, made laws which preserved corporate autonomy. People began to regard corporate power as normal. Corporate harms were interpreted as mere infringements of specific laws - labor or consumer or environmental - as if corporations were people.

Today, our "corporate culture" makes it difficult for people to see that there is no net gain from granting vast rights and powers to people running the corporations. The media, the regulatory agencies, and the electoral process have deluded people into thinking that the giant corporations are a normal necessity for maximizing production.

Polls taken for the AFL-CIO and the Preamble Center for Public Policy, by Peter D. Hart Research showed, however, that more than two-thirds of all Americans now blame corporate greed for many of the nation's problems. Forty-two percent said corporate greed is a bigger obstacle to progress for middle-class families than governmental waste and ineffeiciency.

It would be a tactical mistake to continue focusing on their obvious harms, such as treating people as if we were all interchangeable, churning the fertile Earth into feedstocks, dumps and oblivion, engineering meass firings, buying elections. If we do this we will end up resisiting corporate rule one poison at a time, one violation of human rights at a time - instead of taking away the power and privilege under law which enables corporations to run over our lives.

Growing numbers of Americans are now seeking ways of exercising our citizen authority over the subordinate entity which is the modern giant corporation. We are demanding repeal of judge-made doctrines, the withdrawl of privileges which corporations have taken from the sovereign people and from the Earth; fixed terms for corporate existence, the banning of corporate ownership of corporations, and an end to interference with employees' freedom of speech and assembly within the corporate gates.

We propose that people achieve these ends by organizing to amend state corporation codes, rewrite corporate charters, revoke corporate charters; to limit corporate capitalizations and property holding; to ban corporations entirely from participating in our elections, in our lawmaking, in our judges' education, in our public education.

Grossman says popular action should begin at the state level. States have the power to charter corporations and to regulate corporate action.

People must act and exercise their citizen authority. In the state of Wisconsin, Democracy Unlimited will hit the country fairs talking to people about how to confront corporate rules. They might push for an amendment to the state constitution stating that corporations shall not be considered to be constitutional persons.

In Maine, the state chapter of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy is working with the 2nd Maine Militia. There is more information aobut other states in the April 1 issue of ITT.

Fro billions of years the universe has been exploding and expanding - releasing vast primordial energy, creating great galaxies, new stars and planets emerged, and finally the Sun appeared. Then the Earth, plants and animals and people.

Are we going to let it all be destroyed by International Paper Corporation? Union Carbide Corp.? Wal-Mart? Exxon?

The Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy can be reached at Box 806, Cambridge MA 02140.

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