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The Next American Revolution?

The current grassroots movement against corporate power can draw inspiration and lessons from the time our American forebears liberated themselves from a British king.

This is the twenty-sixth of a series of blogs based on excerpts adapted from the 2nd edition of Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth. I wrote Agenda to spur a national conversation on economic policy issues and options that are otherwise largely ignored. This blog series is intended to contribute to that conversation. —DK


The other 98%, photo by The Other 98%

Protesters take a stand against Wall Street on April 28, 2010 in New York, NY.

Photo by The Other 98%

The parallels between the independence movement that liberated thirteen colonies on the east coast of what is now the United States and the emerging independence from Wall Street movement are both revealing and instructive.

Taking on the king:

As I wrote in Agenda for a New Economy:

As the economies of Britain’s thirteen colonies on the eastern seaboard of North America began to grow in their production of real wealth, their prosperity attracted the attention of the British Crown, which sought to increase its take through new taxes and the grant of a tea monopoly to the East India Company, in which the king held a financial interest.

Taking on Wall Street:

More than a century and a half later, in the years following World War II, the policies of the Roosevelt New Deal created a prosperous middle class and flourishing Main Street businesses growing the real wealth of their local communities. Main Street’s prosperity attracted the attention of Wall Street, which used its political and economic power to assume the role of colonial overlord and increase its take by charging interest rates and fees; asserting monopoly control of intellectual property rights, markets, and resources; and accelerating its creation of phantom wealth financial assets to expand its claims against the real wealth produced by others.

Taking on the king:

As the threat to their liberty and prosperity became evident, the colonists mobilized in resistance to the British Crown. Some colonists formed local resistance groups, with names such as Sons of Liberty, Regulators, Associators, and Liberty Boys, to engage in acts of non-cooperation such as refusing to purchase and use the tax stamps that the Crown demanded be applied to all colonial commercial and legal papers, newspapers, pamphlets, and almanacs.

The New England merchant class—given to slave trading and piracy—had no reservations about evading import taxes by adding smuggling to their business portfolios. When the Crown decided to assert its authority over the Massachusetts Supreme Court by paying its judges directly from the royal treasury, the people responded by refusing to serve as jurors under the judges.

Other colonists formed Committees of Correspondence, groups of citizens engaged in sharing ideas and information through regularized exchanges of letters carried by ship and horseback. These committees linked elements of diverse citizen movements in common cause across the colonial borders that had long kept them divided.

Taking on Wall Street:

As the Wall Street threat to their liberty and prosperity became clear, the people began mobilizing in resistance. They formed organizations with names like Art and Revolution, Direct Action Network, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the International Forum on Globalization, National Farm Workers Association, Public Citizen, Rainforest Action Network, the Ruckus Society, and United for a Fair Economy. They created Internet forums to share ideas and information and to unite movements in common cause, reached out even across the national borders that had long kept them divided. In alliance with similar groups in other nations, they mobilized millions in global demonstrations that regularly disrupted the international meetings in which the rich and powerful gathered to circumvent democracy, rewrite the rules of commerce to remove restrictions on the consolidation of corporate power, and negotiate their division of the spoils.

Taking on the king:

The colonists also undertook initiatives aimed at getting control of economic life through local production. They boycotted British goods and subjected merchants who failed to honor the boycott to public humiliation. Artisans and laborers refused to participate in building military fortifications for the British. Women played a particularly crucial role by organizing Daughters of Liberty committees to produce substitutes for imported products.

Cairo protest photo by Kodak AfgaWhy We Revolt
When and how do ordinary people discover their own power?

Taking on Wall Street:

Local Main Street businesses, workers, and consumers undertook initiatives aimed at getting control of economic life through local production and the patronage of local business. They organized farmers’ markets, food co-ops, “local first” campaigns, local investment funds and credit unions, and consumer boycotts of big-box stores and the products of corporations that harm the environment and pay substandard wages. They campaigned for state banks. Local businesses formed national alliances like the American Independent Business Alliance, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, and Transition Towns. Local chambers of commerce disaffiliated from the corporate-dominated national Chamber of Commerce and joined these new alliances. New organizations like Americans for Financial Reform, the New Economy Network, the New Economy Working Group, and a New Way Forward formed to mobilize popular support for new rules to break up the big banks and hold financial institutions accountable to the public interest.

Because economic democracy and political democracy necessarily go hand in hand, the New Economy movement is an essential leading edge of this next phase in the larger human struggle to liberate ourselves from cultural and institutional chains of Empire. Wall Street is a formidable foe, but so was Britain. At the time of the rebellion, it was the most powerful empire on Earth. Fortunately, the advantage in any such struggle ultimately lies with a motivated and organized citizenry.

[Next: When the People Lead]


David Korten author picDavid Korten (livingeconomiesforum.org) is the author of Agenda for a New Economy, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World. He is board chair of YES! Magazine and co-chair of the New Economy Working Group. This Agenda for a New Economy blog series is co-sponsored by CSRwire.com and yesmagazine.org based on excerpts from Agenda for a New Economy, 2nd edition.

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