The Central Grievance of Occupy
One of the biggest complaints I’m hearing from people who should otherwise be supporting the Occupy movement, is that they just don’t understand what it’s about. There’s no mouthpiece, no catchy slogans, just, to them, a faceless mass of angry hippies. To make matters worse, the organization of the movement appears, to many, to be a lack of organization – people are conditioned to be accustomed to a visible leader, if at least in the form of a figurehead. But in the Occupy movement, there is no single director, no one conductor of the people.
It is a movement of the people, and, to date, the organizers have done their utmost best to keep it truly democratic – a feat which would have been impossible prior to the internet and social media, at the scale of today. There is a reason our nation was founded a Republic and not a true Democracy – to obtain the input and vote of every single person for every single motion across the 13 colonies before the advent of electricity or any form of mass communication would have been strictly impossible, at least without vast amounts of time and effort expended on every measure, to the point that our nation would have ground to a complete halt before it even began. What was necessary then, and indeed up until the advent of mass social media in the past decade, was a representative republic, wherein our votes were not for every measure, but for a delegate who would speak on our behalf.
The Occupy movement, however, has the benefit of social media. It has Twitter and Facebook, YouTube and Ustream. Cell phones with web-based applications and live-streaming webcams are the tools of the people. They allow for instant and mass communication. These tools have allowed events to be organized in minutes, and allow a popular response time that is defying attempts to quell the Occupation. With these tools, and the People’s Mike (a method developed to relay a speaker’s voice so large crowds may hear what they have to say after NY authorities forbade Occupy Wall Street the use of megaphones and other electronic amplification devices), Occupy is able to communicate the thoughts of many, and all who participate are able to cast their votes. So far, this seems to have been somewhat effective, but whether it is sustainable, we have yet to see, as the movement is still young.
What this leads to, however, is a faceless organization, a mass of people with many angry voices that some who are accustomed to a representative democracy have difficulty interpreting. Which then contributes to the impression that there is no agenda – that Occupy doesn’t know what it wants. That the people are unclear in their desires.
The second problem generating the confusion about Occupy’s agenda, is the fact that it is not a movement about any *one* thing. There are a multitude of issues at stake here, and being addressed, but they do have something at the core that is a commonality. But that core feature makes the movement seem somewhat anarchistic – not the case, but this does seem to be the perception of may outside of Occupy.
At the core of Occupy is a desire to address the fact that the American system is just flat broken. And what has broken it is political corruption allowing undue corporate influence upon our laws and how they are enforced. This is intrinsic to ALL of Occupy’s grievances, and it is intrinsic in the American system. For the purposes of this editorial, I will address this one central grievance.
How did our system get this way? How did such an inspiring document as the US Constitution produce such a fallible government? There are more than a few theories about this, and I doubt I have time to really get into my favorite one, but one clear point is that corporate contribution to political campaigns allow entities controlling those same corporation to have undue influence unforeseen by our forefathers.
When drafting the Constitution, much effort was spent on balancing the needs and rights of the majority with the needs and rights of minorities (and I’m using minority in the strictest definition of the word – any group outnumbered by the larger voices). To guard against the tyranny of the majority, each state was given equal say in the Senate, but, likewise, recognizing that it was by no means fair to allow a small group to have a disproportionate say in matters, in the House of Representatives, each State is given a voice proportionate to its population. I know I’m stating the obvious here, but the point is that our forefathers did not intend our nation to be ruled by an elite few. This is clear in the structure of the legislative branch.
However, what we currently have in this nation is exactly that – a plutocratic oligarchy – rule by the richest few. This is achieved for them in two ways. First, in Corporate Personhood, and Second, in unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns.
Corporate Personhood. I have seen this described, I believe accurately, as “the legal fiction that property is a person.” It allows corporations all the rights and privileges as a U.S. Citizen. They are immune to everything to which U.S. Person is immune (as by giving a corporation personhood, they are thusly defined as a U.S. Person), which means protection by ALL Amendments in the Bill of Rights, protection by Executive Order 12333 (Intelligence Oversight), and other protections. Unfortunately, while granted all the rights and privileges of a person, Corporations are burdened with virtually none of the responsibilities and duties of a citizen.
When a corporation causes damage in any way, the corporation itself is never held accountable in anything but civil court – never criminal. For instance – if a corporation causes the death, be it wrongful or not, of a human being, that same entity is never held accountable in criminal court. It cannot be charged with manslaughter or murder. While it can be sued civilly and perhaps be liable for monetary damages, it can never be deemed to have committed a felony. Certain individuals within the corporation may be held accountable for such, but never the company itself.
These protections with the lack of responsibilities allow corporations to behave in ways in which no person ever could. They can inflict dangerous and damaging conditions upon their employees and upon their neighbors, and have little fear of accountability beyond monetary remunerations. And, for many companies, those monetary remunerations are considered the price of doing business and are by no means a deterrent from doing harm. Witness the dangerous environments set up on many oil rigs, fracking operations, coal burning operations (especially atomized coal), and products designed and sold with full knowledge that they are harmful and in some cases deadly.
But upon investigation, are these protections necessary? Is it truly needed to grant corporations the rights of individuals? Why are they granted personhood? I would argue that it is not necessary. Free speech is a right of the employees and executives of the corporation, and as such, need not be granted to the company itself. Any media material produced can be claimed to be the speech of one of its human components, and thus be protected by the First Amendment. The corporate properties are the properties of one or many individuals, and thus can be protected by the Fourth Amendment without making the company a person. And so long as the company performs its operations within US Borders with US Persons as its employees, it would be largely protected by Executive Order 12333 without any need for labeling it a person. So it is clear to me that it was not a need for protections which inspired the declaration of Corporate Personhood. At least not the standard rights of all US Citizens.
What could it be, then? The answer is clear – money. By declaring a Corporation a person, three things immediately occur. First, it instantly gains access to ALL tax protections and loopholes any Citizen might enjoy, in addition to any loopholes already granted a company (which are NOT also granted an individual, unless they protect their assets by investing them in a corporation). Secondly, it gains protections under the 14th Amendment – which means the company CANNOT be nationalized. Third, it gains a voice and the ability to exert influence on a political scale. The latter I’ll address in a moment. But first, we must question, WHY should a Corporation, an entity which, if run efficiently, produces income, enjoy more tax immunities than an individual? Why should a company, which has MORE assets, and MORE income than any individual, be expected to contribute less? Because of the second point, which, combined with unlimited campaign contributions, leads to undue influence upon our political system by corporations.
That voice granted to corporations, combined with the potential great assets they can possess, leads to the ability to exert influence on our political structure. By their very nature, and their very possession of combined assets, a company is able to provide contributions to political campaigns – to get people voted into office that they want. And with the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling that corporations may invest unlimited funds into campaigns, there is no restriction on the amount of influence they can have.
One might argue “but a corporation is just a group of people, and an accommodation of their collective wealth, and therefor is speaking for all of its component members.” But, sadly, this is not the case. The employees do not get a say. Most of the stockholders do not get a say. Only the MAJORITY holders in the corporation actually get a say in where those funds are spent – and, in the case of most companies, the majority holders are a very few, very rich individuals. In fact, many corporations are owned by the same few families. The Rockefeller family alone has documented influence, connections to, and ownership of at least 125 corporations(http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~schwrtz/Rockefeller.html). Given the ability to contribute unlimited funds to campaigns from EACH and EVERY corporation, that gives a very small group of people exorbitant political clout. Extrapolate this to the 10 richest families in America (including the infamous Koch Brothers and the Waltons, majority owners of Wal-Mart and many other corporations), and you very soon have a very grim and frightful picture illustrating how our nation is controlled not by the people, but by the elite few.
And *that* is central to the list of Occupy grievances.
This is not what our forefathers intended. This is not how the Constitution was drafted. This must be changed.