Note: this encore column by the late Billy Lloyd Hults was first published in January of 2003.
Once there were no corporations. Corporations were originally created by kings granting charters to friends who could exploit the resources of the kingdom. Thus the East India Company, the Hudson Bay Company and millions more over the centuries, chartered by kings, dictators, and the sovereign people of this democracy.
We have watched as corporations gained control of our democratically elected government. We watched as they gained control of our free press. We are watching them gain control over the military and the schools. And no, it is not just about the money. We must remember that the Democratic, Republican, and several “third” parties are all incorporated as non-profit corporations. It is about the power. Writers like Orwell, Vonnegut, and Heller have warned us, but to no avail.
During the First Age of the Moguls and the Robber Barons corporations were given the rights of citizens in a democracy, including the protection of their property by the military, the use of the infrastructure including the transportation systems, the courts, water systems, energy systems and the education system. They were given no responsibility to work for the common good. In many cases they were not even required to pay taxes to support that system that allowed them to do business. In many cases they were not held responsible for the damage they caused to the common good.
We can’t go to war against corporations. They own the guns. They own the oil. They own the natural resources of the planet. Government and the people are dependent upon them, but they are independent.
The power of corporations has been demonstrated countless times. ITT’s financing the overthrow of the democratically elected Allende government in Chile. The use of US military to protect the Occidental oil pipeline in South America. The Army could not wage war without the support of Brown & Root and other defense contractors. Coke and Pepsi own exclusive rights to sell their products in High Schools. Marriott Hotels are bankrolling High Schools that will offer service industry courses. There are police cars with ads on the sides.
Endless lobbying and propaganda is meant to convince the government and the people that what is good for the corporation is good for democracy. It becomes like M&M Enterprises in Catch 22. Multi-national corporations not only determine our foreign policy, but out environmental policy and control our economy.
We can’t call ourselves children of our founding fathers and mothers and allow property rights to outweigh human rights. Property and people are two different things. In the Dred Scott case the Supreme Court declared that people were property. That decision was overturned. The Supreme Court now has declared that money is speech, protected by the First Amendment.
The only reason we the people have not changed this situation is because we too have formed corporations. Non-profit and for-profit corporations are the norm in America. Everyone has one, some people are one, and we all deal with them. Pogo summed it up: “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”
If such concepts as Democratic Capitalism, Fair Trade, and Corporate Responsibility are not laughed at and considered oxymoronic, we have a chance. If people can revoke the charters of corporations that break our laws, we have a chance. We, the customers of the corporations, the stock holders of corporations, the victims of corporations, and the CEO’s of corporations must demand responsibility be taken for the behavior of our corporations. Otherwise, I fear for my planet, my nation, my state, and my village.
There is an idea that we should have a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that a corporation is not a person and money is not speech. I would vote for that.