Statement on Illegitimate Corporate Power

July 12, 2002

This is an opportune time to talk with people about corporate power and democracy, but the danger is great that we'll once again be co-opted by reforms and rhetoric about corporate accountability and responsibility. Only human beings can be responsible, and the corporate form should be more than accountable to us; it belongs subordinate, as do all institutions that We the People create to serve us.

George Bush and other administration officials, with the complicity of the corporate media, are engaged in the rhetoric and reform of damage control. They are scrambling to frame the problem as one of accounting, as a lack of integrity and character in a few bad corporate apples. It is our job to frame the problem as a constitutional one: the privileging of property over people, especially property organized in the corporate form; the Supreme Court's longtime and continuing empowerment of corporations through the Commerce Clause, the Contracts Clause; and the Court's 1886 declaration that corporations are legal persons entitled to 14th Amendment protections, from which a host of illegitimate rights and governing authority flow.

We as democracy activists must not allow ourselves to be co-opted by the pattern of pallid reforms. The early 20th century Progressive/regulatory era took the steam out of the powerful Populist Movement. The New Deal forestalled a serious challenge to corporate capitalism. The flurry of environmental regulations in the 1970s co-opted the growing awareness of ecological peril. Some of the resulting reform measures were indeed necessary and useful, like labor laws, Social Security, the Clean Air and Water Acts. However, their underlying purpose and net effect was to prevent more fundamental systemic change in who rules. Are we once again going to trade our self-governing birthright for a mess of potage?

The remedy is not pressuring or cajoling or seeking "reforms," but building a democratic movement -- already underway--to challenge the authority of corporations to govern. Of course the harms and abuses (many of which are legal) exposed by "scandalous" events of recent months must be addressed. We have a larger, longer term goal: to put we the sovereign people in charge, defining and instructing economic entities and other institutions. WILPF's national action to Abolish Corporate Personhood is designed to educate and mobilize people to challenge and change the power structure rather than simply react to specific corporate+government harms and abuses. This is a critical time and opportunity for WILPF to provide leadership in this direction.

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