In May of 1886, the modern Corporation was from its mother’s womb untimely ripped. Without fanfare or understanding, Corporate Personhood worked its way through the birth canal via the headnote of an obscure tax case involving Santa Clara County and the South Pacific Rail Company. It was summary, not precedent, a Court Reporter’s personal opinion hastily typed onto the front page. A judgement which has shaped the growth of society for more than a century, tucked into the summary of a 22-page judgement about fence-posts in California. The insidious amongst the innocuous. Within a decade, the Santa Clara County decision had been exploited to free commercial interests from the direct control of the States that chartered them, and the 14th Amendment – drafted to guarantee the equality of freed slaves – had been commandeered to benefit corporations. Decades of aggressive state control, the Constitution, indeed, the very idea of democratic government, undermined by a few well-placed lines of text.
At first, their growth was slow. Like a newborn, they flailed. They grasped. They learned to speak – to each other and to us. Edward Bernays gave them the words, and the newspapers and airwaves gave them the platform.
A few lines more. And a few more after that.
Then, with Citizens United, they became more than people. They became politicians. Statesmen. Capable of using Freedom of Speech to overthrow equality of speech, capable of spending as much as they wanted to say whatever they wanted to whomever they wanted. They could do more than talk. They could scream. The insidious amongst the innocuous.
Evolution, a few lines at a time.
Persons. Politicians. And now, they stand on the brink of nationhood.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the largest trade deal in history; 6000 pages. 7 years of secret meetings. 40% of global GDP. 500 transnational corporate interests. 9000 foreign-owned companies. 18,000 US-owned companies. Investor-State Dispute Mechanisms allowing corporations to sue governments. To challenge state, federal, and local court rulings in “special tribunals” – World Bank Kangaroo Courts that could, once and for all, succeed in putting profits before people. Profits before governments. Profits before federal legislation, or fair use guidelines, or intellectual property provisions, or environmental protection, or temporary foreign worker restrictions, or any of those other pesky freedoms that get in the way of shareholder returns. It’s the creation of an alternate, parallel universe for corporations alone, one which has its own charter, its own rules, its own Bill of Rights, one which gives them the ability to crush anyone – people, states, countries – who refuses to comply with their vision.
A line has been crossed. And like before, these are more than just a few lines of text on a page. This is the next step in their evolution. It’s the latest in a line of succession that stretches back centuries. The most subtle changes happen over geologic time. A gradual, creeping erosion of rights that happens so slowly, so imperceptibly, you don’t even notice.
NEXT UP: Massey Energy initiates litigation against the EPA. GE sues the sun for cutting into light-bulb profits. Red Bull January. Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Washer. Have your passport ready – you are now leaving Flavor Country. The Dairyland Milky Way.
Corporate Persons. Corporate States.
Can Corporate Sovereignty be far behind?
In 1832, we revoked the charters of close to a dozen banks operating contrary to the public interest. In 1911, we revoked the charter of Standard Oil, then the most profitable business in history, and broke John D. Rockefeller’s empire into pieces. In 1976, we dissolved Citizen Utilities Co. for delivering impure water to its customers. In 1998, we dismantled two cigarette industry shills (The Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research), and passed a law in Wayne, Pennsylvania that prohibited repeat corporate offenders from doing business inside city limits. In 1999, more than 50,000 of us marched on Seattle and left egg on the face of the WTO. In 2005, we drafted legislation in Arcata, California, giving the city increased power to fight corporate malfeasance. In 2010, we used the Internet and creative activism to stop Nestle from contributing to global deforestation. In 2011, we occupied Wall Street. In 2012, we blacked out the Internet to speak up against SOPA and PIPA.
We’ve done it before. We have disrupted and undermined the operation of the multinational profit machine. Spat in the faces of the neoliberal elite.
We’ve done it before. And we can do it again.
Corporate evolution must be matched by activist evolution. The globalization of resistance. Protest Nation. It’s time to grow. It’s time to hit them somewhere other than the pocketbook. It’s time to color outside the lines.
It’s time to bring their executives to trial. GM for vehicular homicide. Monsanto for racketeering. Volkswagen for reckless endangerment. Exxon for Crimes Against Humanity. It’s time for UN sanctions against Pfizer. It’s time to demand fines that could cripple even the most robust multinational. It’s time to hack the mainframe of consumer indifference with online blackouts and website truthbombs. It’s time to slow the pace of turbo-capitalism and chop the heads off of market fundamentalists.
A line has been crossed. Now, it’s time for a few well-placed lines of our own. Robin Hood taxes on Wall Street transactions. A “3-Strikes” Mandatory Revocation Clause in every Corporate Charter. Reduce interstate competition by chartering at the federal level. Democracy restored by millions of voices and a few good legislators.
Revolution, a few lines at a time.
It’s time for the latest in our line of succession.
It’s time to pull the rug out from under the worst of them, time to pass sentence, time to divide their assets at auction or put them into a fund for their victims. It’s time for us to declare war on Corporate Sovereignty.
The time has come, and it’s up to us.
- by Jesse Donaldson