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How to Put People Back in Charge

Corporate power is behind the politics of climate denial, Wall Street bailouts, union busting, and media consolidation, and more. What prospect do We the People have for putting power back where it belongs?
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Photo by Stephen O'Byrne.

Most Americans know we’ve got problems with corporate power. Eighty-six percent say Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington, D.C., and 80 percent oppose Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates to corporate campaign contributions.

But how do we change that when corporations have so much wealth with which to protect their privileges?

The YES! editorial team set out to answer that question by searching out the best strategies for rebuilding our tattered democracy and putting We the People in charge. This is an especially critical question at a time when corporate power is at the root of so many of the crises our world is facing. Among them:

  • Wall Street banks insist on deregulation and then continue to engage in practices that brought on a financial collapse that threw millions of Americans into poverty.
  • Agribusiness demands taxpayer subsidies for foods that make us sick; for farming practices that destroy rivers, soils, the climate, and the oceans; and for trade practices that cause hunger at home and abroad.
  • Private prison corporations press for laws that boost prison populations.
  • Health insurance and drug companies squeeze families, employers, and governments for premiums and out-of-pocket costs while they deliver fewer and fewer benefits.
  • The corporate 1 percent invests in an army of lobbyists and in massive campaign contributions, and gets a payoff in policies that boost its share of the nation’s wealth while moving a middle-class way of life out of reach of millions.

The result of having government cater to big corporations? Joblessness. A poverty rate that has gone up 27 percent since 2006. Insolvent state and local governments and school districts. Deferred repairs. Cutbacks in services for struggling families.

Meanwhile solutions—like a World War II-scale response to climate change (which could create millions of jobs)—are blocked by the powerful fossil fuel lobby.

There are plenty of caring, compassionate people working for corporations. But an ownership structure that puts return on investment above all else means money and power trump the common good.

So what prospect do We the People have of getting our government to work for all of us, instead of for corporations and Wall Street?

Some say such a shift is out of reach. But many said the same thing about apartheid in South Africa. In hindsight, apartheid’s fall was inevitable: The legitimacy of the system crumbled years before the structures of white rule collapsed. It was harming too many for the benefit of too few, and anti-apartheid activists in South Africa and around the world were tenacious and principled.

Occupier Paul photo by Joseph Holmes
Rights Are For Real People

Where the infamous Citizens United
decision came from
and how to overturn it.

Likewise, the legitimacy of rule by giant corporations and Wall Street banks is crumbling. This system also harms many and benefits few. And around the world, people’s movements are rising up and demanding change.

It won’t be easy or fast to take on the power of corporations. But the Occupy movement opened up the conversation, and thousands more are now demanding change on issues like “corporate personhood” and money in politics, using strategies that range from constitutional amendments to street theater. This edition of YES! brings you our pick of nine strategies that work. In the end, though, we need to transform corporations so that doing good—for communities and ecosystems, not just for shareholders—becomes part of the corporate DNA. In her wrap-up piece, Marjorie Kelly shows us how that could be done. Enjoy!


Sarah van Gelder newSarah van Gelder wrote this article for 9 Strategies to End Corporate Rule, the Spring 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is executive editor of YES! and editor of This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement.

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