Citizens of Barnstead, NH, protected their water from corporate bottlers.
Photo by Channing Johnson for YES! Magazine.www.channingjohnson.com
“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. ... corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
In our own century, corporate power has expanded in the media, health care, prisons, schools, war, disaster relief—the list goes on—and it has constrained desperately needed action on climate change.
It's not hard to see how the gradual concentration of corporate power takes place. As corporations accumulate wealth and power, they change the rules and the cultural norms in their favor. These new rules and norms enable them to accumulate still more wealth and power. This system rewards behavior that concentrates wealth and discourages behavior that does not.
It's a vicious cycle, and we see its grim effects in the growing gaps between the affluent and poor, in the downward spiral of our environment, in the conflicts caused by scarcity and exclusion, and in the fear of being left behind that permeates our lives.
We also see the effects of this lopsided power in the low voter turnout among ordinary people, who believe, with good reason, that the doors of government are closed to them but wide open to those who hire lobbyists and write big political campaign checks.
As corporate power grows, its excesses are harder to mask. CEO compensation packages are in the hundreds of millions. Big-box corporations don't even pretend to care about their effects on towns across the United States. Pharmaceutical companies extract supersized prices and profits from the most vulnerable—the ill, disabled, and elderly. Outsourcing and downsizing leave employees destitute while corporations and their financiers grow richer. Wall Street speculation and trading further inflate the value of paper wealth, while the real wealth of our world—our ecological support systems, family wellbeing, and communities—declines.
The mainstream media seldom cover these issues. Nevertheless, popular understanding of the power and damage of corporations is growing. People are starting to look behind the “corporate veil” only to discover that the Great and Powerful Oz is only powerful if we offer up our compliance.
At this critical moment, a number of leaders in human rights, labor, environmental protection, constitutional rights, and socially responsible investment are rising to challenge excess corporate power. Some have taken on individual campaigns against specific corporations, often with success. But recognizing that they can win some battles and still lose the war, some of them have begun to take on the corporate form itself.
When YES! was approached by a team of these people who have formed a “Strategic Corporate Initiative,” we agreed to help them to tell the stories of how We the People are gathering ourselves up to do again what we did when the 13 colonies first struggled for independence—to declare ourselves free of the dominance of corporate power.