An Occupy group out of Portland, www.shutdownthecorporations.org, is targeting ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, for direct action next month.  Here's a brief statement from the Portland groups's website about the destructive influence of this organization on the US body politic:

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is composed of the biggest corporations in America, like ExxonMobil, Bank of America, BP, Monsanto, Pfizer, and Wal-Mart use ALEC to buy off legislators and craft legislation that serves only the interests of corporations and not people. They then duplicate and spread this corporate legislation in Washington, D.C. and in state legislatures across the country. The anti-labor legislation in Wisconsin and the racist bill SB 1070 in Arizona are two recent and destructive examples of what corporations use ALEC to do.... For more, see www.alecexposed.org.

This got me thinking... It's fine to fight ALEC.  But what if we also organized an Anti-ALEC coalition of corporate executives and citizens?  I think there might be corporations out there run by people (or with a majority of shareholders) who believe as we do that the system we now have where they are incentivized to spend vast amounts of money lobbying Washington and supporting political candidates is corrosive.  What if we offered them another option?

What if we invited corporate leaders and shareholders rights groups to join us in forming a new organization that not only opposed ALEC but actually worked to foster the opposite of everything it stands for.  Let's call it "Smart-Alec," or SA for short.  SA could fight to:

  • End "corporate personhood"
  • End the revolving door of lobbyists and government
  • End corporate funding of political campaigns
  • Safeguard our electoral processes and enhance voter participation
  • Support deep democracy and the sovereignity of the people in ways that go beyond traditional voting (e.g. Citizen Deliberative Councils).
  • Prioritize the protection and stewardship of the Commons
  • Collaborate with small businesses to build local economies
  • Help to create "new economic systems" that serve the needs of people and communities first, by exploring the use of such things as alternative currencies
Unlike ALEC, which operates in secret, or at least well below the radar, SA would be highly public and would be a coalition of grass-roots organizers, NGOs and corporate executives that worked together to call attention to all the ways that the current system fails to serve the broad interests of "we the people," and to support laws that reverse the current trend of corporate dominance.

Is this a pipe dream?  Are there no major corporations in the country whose leadership, board of directors, or a majority of shareholders might come on board such an initiative?   We won't know unless we try to find out.  Maybe there is already something like this going on that we might support or enhance with some powerful grass-roots "Occu-energy?"  I think this movement would do well to find or create things to be for, as well as things we can oppose, and this might be a great opportunity to do just that.

So... is anyone here at Occupy Cafe inspired to join an exploratory group to evaluate the potential for this concept?  Let's start by seeing if this thread takes off or not.  If there is interest, I can imagine some first steps we could take involving connecting with shareholders rights groups and managers of socially responsible investment funds who might have some sense of whether or not sympathetic corporate leaders are out there, for a start.

Cheers,
Ben Roberts

Please note that this is a hosted discussion.  We want to focus on dialogue and collective/creative thinking, not debate or the promotion of personal agendas.  If the activity gets heavy, we will periodically ask people to step back or step up, to make sure the dialogue is balanced and there is space for all voices to be heard.  We will also ask that side conversations that emerge be taken onto new discussion threads so that this core conversation remains focused and readable.  Thank you in advance for your help with this, and if you are interested in hosting a discussion yourself, please email connect@occupycafe.org.

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What is it, exactly, that people have a problem with concerning ALEC? Is it solely the fact that corporate interests are increasingly driving legislation and disempowering them, or is there a more fundamental issue that is only partially recognised which manifests as disempowerment? The point of this line of inquiry is to establish whether or not what ALEC stands for has been accurately identified in terms of finding a remedy for the problem. If you don't cut the root out the weed will just grow back.

With this in mind, I'd like to expand a bit on the nature of personhood within the context of legislation and citizenship.

Within the Greek model, citizens are sovereign and are therefore the source of municipal law. Modern civil law is not based on the Greek model of citizenship, but on Roman law. In Roman law citizens have diminshed legal status and are not sovereign. The loss of status at Roman law is called capitis deminutio, and involves the legal separation of the individual from the agnatic family, or paternal line, and the individual with reduced legal status is called a person. In Rome the name for an individual whose legal status was unmodified by law was "homo", meaning "same". In English the term corresponding to "homo" would be "individual", and an individual unaffected by capitis deminutio can also be called a man, or collectively "people" (the legal condition is called sui juris). In a contemporary legal context calling someone a person leads to the assumption that they have diminished legal status, i.e. the same status as a corporation which owes its existence to the government.

The ability to make law which is binding upon people is a function of sovereignty. If no sovereign exists in any particular state, then all that the enactment of legislation does is to bind the corporate entities which it does have authority over, and municipal law is no longer authoritative, but is based solely on power. Naturally enough, people assume that the enactments of government are authoritative (or they give consent), and a state of de facto authority exists.

I am not clear, NDT, if your comment is intended to question the goals I have suggested for Smart-ALEC, i.e. you are "OK" with the idea of corporate personhood and the actions of ALEC or if there is some other purpose to the points you are making.

Whatever the legal origins are of the concept of "personhood," it is its current use vis a vis corporations, in which  the US Supreme Court has declared that they have first amendment rights of free speech, that is in question in this discussion.  Smart-ALEC would oppose this interpretation as one of its key tenets, and would fight to limit political speech to actual people only.  It would also fight the doctrine that "money = speech" which has allowed the loudest voices in the political room to be those with the greatest concentrations of wealth.

The main intention I have for this conversation is to see others believe, as I do that the idea of getting corporations themselves to stand for ending corporate dominance of our government, is worth exploring.

Hi Ben,

I wasn't questioning your goals so much as attempting to lay some groundwork out as an aid for understanding of my criticism of your approach to achieving your goals. Corporations can't stand for themselves because they utilise governments to limit the liability of he real party which directs their operation. Governments themselves are technically corporations, with their mandate being assumed of the people.

What I'm saying is that only way to change the system to the extent that you describe is to abandon civil government.

Ben,

I like this.  The idea of organizing a coalition of socially and politically responsible business interests as a counter point to the mega too big to fail too much money in  govermet and in public manipulation is brilliant.  Part of our work should be to idenitfy socially responsible companies and  to bind them tigether as a voice for stewardship in the same way the plutonomy has a netwrork of voices  for unfettred profit drive free enterprise..  You are the perfect perso for this Benn because is;t that what you do in real life..help people incvest i socially resposnble companies.?

It takes decades ad decades to build counter-instituios ad I woder if that is even the best strategy.  Aren't we really ater truth and trasnparaecy?

The plutonomy has a huge network of  shadowy NGO's with noble sounding names at work in national and global politics and in the case of the National Endowment for Democracy ( really a CIA type foreign interventionist arm of the US government) financed with our taxpayer dollars.  We should be indentifying and outing all these chanels with fine sounding names through which the plutonomy keeps its grip on us.  That why I have brought the issue of Americas Elect to the fore and Maine One here in Maine to be sure that these are not just other manifestations of the NGO's of the plutonomy.  I think we need to put our efforts there first..aming outing examining all these extra-governemntla structures through which the plutonomy keep s its grip on us, our legislature on our courts.

As much as I would like to see counters to these shadowy NGO's doing the work of the plutonomy representing the 99%   I think our time would be bette rinvested now in identifying and workig with whatever is alreday ni place fighting these battles for the 99%..like MoveOn and Credo.

Occupy keeps losing sight of a standard to be positive and connstructive in all its actions. What eaxctly has it done in Iowa i this vein? Why  isn't it using thesese opportunities to identify the  record on all particpants..to build a huge "non committed"at every primary to bring more information and truth ad light to the legisl;ative history of those running for re election and those seeking the presidency.

Every occupier in every caucus state should have signs t shirts baloons chnats saying vote nonn-committed.  Every Occupy in every caucus state should be mapping what these candidtaes actually stand for..wearing quotes from the cadidtaes themselves that show who these pepole are and whattheir agenda is.

Thanks for your thoughts, Lindsay.  Just to be clear, I no longer am an investment advise, although I did do that for five years, with a focus on socially responsible investments so I know the lay of the land.  Actually In "real life," I spend the majority of my time stewarding Occupy Cafe.  I also design and host online conversations, with a specialty in the World Cafe process, as a partner in weDialogue.

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