Richard Moore

dear cj,

it's a beautiful crisp sunny day here in san francisco!  i was treated to a 
drive around town this morning... along the embarcadero & marina, down to fort 
point where there was, if you can believe it, surf.  then through the presidio, 
along ocean beach, up along the panhandle, and lunch at hayes street grill.  it 
turns out san francisco was the first city in the world to have electrified 
street cars and in celebration of a centennial cities everywhere sent a sample 
of their own antique cars... so up and down market street you can see a 
hodge-podge of street cars, each of which looks like it must be part of a period
movie shoot.

tonite i'll be meeting with jay kinney (cj#887 , the author of the piece in the 
whole earth catalog) and we'll be joined by brian hill (cj#882, the activist who
took me on a northern california tour).  the piece below is by paul cienfuegos 
(director, democracy unlimited of humboldt county) who was also mentioned in 
jay's article...

best regards to all,

Date: Thu, 28 Jan 1999
To: •••@••.•••
From: •••@••.••• (Paul Cienfuegos)
Subject: "How Corporate Rule Makes Consumers Of Us All"

Dear friends, media, and social movement allies,

On the day after Thanksgiving (1998), I was invited by the organizing committee 
of Portland, Oregon's annual Buy Nothing Day festivities to give a keynote 
speech linking consumer addiction to the rise of corporate power. Since that 
day, I have received a surprising number of requests for copies of my speech. I 
therefore have decided to send it out to friends and allies who may have a use 
for it, or may wish themselves to reprint all or part of it in their newspapers,
newsletters and journals. (In addition, KBOO radio recorded it and both they and
I have audiotape copies available.) Thanks 

for your interest,
Paul Cienfuegos


by Paul Cienfuegos
Director, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County

***Keynote speech delivered at "Reclaiming the Holidays: A Buy Nothing Day 
Conference" on November 27th, 1998, at the First Unitarian Church in downtown 
Portland, OR, organized by David Sweet of the Northwest Earth Institute, and 
many others. For more info about Paul's work, phone Democracy Unlimited at 
707-822-2242, or write POB 27, Arcata CA 95518, or check out their new website 
at www.monitor.net/democracyunlimited 

I am honored to have been invited to join you this afternoon at what I 
understand is the biggest Buy Nothing Day celebration in the country. We come 
together today to reflect on how our consumption patterns affect our lives. To 
begin to tackle our unhealthy relationship to STUFF. Unhealthy for us as 
individuals, unhealthy for our communities, and certainly unhealthy for mother 
earth. I'm sure many of you are here today because you've been thinking a lot 
about how to get off the consumption treadmill. How to not get sucked in to all 
the holiday advertising. How to help your kids understand that the holidays 
aren't just about getting more STUFF.

I'm going to take you on a somewhat unusual journey, behind the scenes of the 
corporate monolithic culture that endlessly spews such enticing offers at all of
us. I'm going to offer you a different and more hopeful framework for viewing 
the issue, one that I believe will help all of us to see ourselves less as 
SPECTATORS, and more as fully active PARTICIPANTS in the key decision-making 
that affects all of our lives.

But before i begin, I want to spend a moment reflecting on the word "consumer".

Personally, I think there's something profoundly sick about the word "consumer".
These days, when I hear the word, all I can think of is a person whose mouth is 
open really really wide and he or she is just sucking up the planet's natural 
wealth. That's not how I want to view myself as a human being on planet earth. 
And I don't believe its how anyone else wants to view themselves either. Yet we 
tend to use this word - consumer - to describe ourselves. Why? I am convinced 
that it is because we have grown accustomed to living in a culture GOVERNED by 
large corporations, and that's how corporate leaders want us to see ourselves - 
merely as consumers, workers, and other stakeholders. At the same time, 
corporate leaders work very hard to convince us that corporations are actually 
"good corporate citizens". They've turned the tables on us! And we've barely 
even noticed. They're citizens, we're consumers.

The origin of the word is quite interesting. "To consume" means: to use up, to 
destroy, to lay waste, to annihilate.

The word "consumption" also has an old and somewhat forgotten meaning: it's a 
condition characterised by a wasting away of the tissues of the body. People 
used to say a person was "suffering from consumption". Wouldn't you agree that 
our mother earth is currently suffering from consumption? And that those of us 
here today are suffering from consumption?

There are many paths that people are taking to break away from these 
unsustainable patterns of living. We move to the country and try to grow our own
food, or join an intentional community. (Yet we can't ALL move to the country!)

We learn how to fix our appliances rather than buying new ones made in countries
where people are paid starvation wages. And we try to live more simply. (Yet 
this has little impact on the overall economic decision-making in the country.)

Many of us may be able to heal our OWN consumption addictions, but the culture's
consumption addictions continue because corporations continue to deluge us and 
our children with advertising. And, of course, they continue to decide for us 
what gets produced with our money, how our money gets invested, and how work is 

We citizens are supposed to just sit back and gloat over our freedom to choose 
which products we want to buy from the global marketplace. Do we want Coke 
Corporation or Pepsi Corporation to help us quench our thirst? Do we want to be 
fed by Kentucky Fried Chicken Corporation or Taco Bell Corporation? Both 
businesses, as well as Pizza Hut Corporation, are owned by Tricon Global 
Restaurants Corporation. Makes you hungry just thinking about it, doesn't it!

What many of us are forgetting, which suits corporate leaders to a tee, is that 
we live in a democratic society born of revolution. Our freedoms are not simply 
based in the marketplace; they are much more profound than that. Frances Moore 
Lappe, the author of Diet For a Small Planet, and now the co-director of the 
Center For Living Democracy, said some very wise words that i'd like to share 
with you. She said: "Growing up in America, we were taught that we inherited a 
democracy. No one told us that we ourselves had to create one."

If everyone in this room began to view democracy as a verb instead of a noun, 
would we act any differently?

Once upon a time in this country, We The People acted VERY differently. Let me 
take you back to the founding of our nation, and share with you some history 
that I only recently learned myself.

I grew up believing that the American Revolution was about throwing off the 
British monarchy. This is accurate, but it was the colonists' forced 
subservience to British Crown corporations, corporations that were already 
global in their reach since the early 1400's, that was at the heart of the 
rebellion. The original 13 colonies were either managed by or were themselves 
British corporations. The nation's founders were quite clear that - at least 
here in the United States - the corporation's role was to serve the needs of 
society, and cause no harm. For this reason, it had to be made a legally (and 
culturally) subordinate entity of the people. To accomplish this, these British 
corporations were constitutionalized and re-made into states. State legislatures
were given the task of writing a unique "charter" for each new corporation that 
was created. The charter was its defining document. It could be revoked, and the
corporation dissolved, if the corporation acted beyond its authority or caused 

Citizens were quite clear that a corporation was an artificial entity, with no 
inherent rights of its own, and that incorporation was a privilege bestowed by 
the sovereign people. In 1834, for example, the Pennsylvania Legislature 

"A corporation in law is just what the incorporation act makes it. It is the 
creature of the law and may be moulded to any shape or for any purpose that the 
Legislature may deem most conducive for the common good."

This was an era of our nation's history when people still understood that they 
had a civic responsibility not to create artificial entities which could harm 
the body politic, interfere with the mechanisms of self-governance, and assault 
their sovereignty. They also understood that they did not elect their agents to 
positions in government to sell off the sovereignty of the people. In other 
words, they were human beings who tried to act as a sovereign people would act. 
If we look at the mechanisms of chartering of corporations, and at the language 
in corporate charters, state incorporation laws, and state constitutions prior 
to the 20th century, we find precise and defining language, and mandatory and 
prohibitory language.

I live in California. Here's an example of such language from the California 
Constitution of 1879. Article 12, Section 8 reads, in part,

"[T]he exercise of the police power of the state shall never be so abridged or 
construed as to permit corporations to conduct their business in such manner as 
to infringe the rights of individuals or the general well-being of the state."

(By the way, this section was repealed only recently - in 1972.)

In California in 1879, the Workingman's Party controlled the legislature. It was
a Populist party led by farmers and blue-collar workers. Imagine that!

I am not trying to claim that early American democracy was perfect. It was not. 
In fact, it was an extremely screwed up democracy from the start. It was racist,
it was sexist, it was classist. Only white men with property had the 
Constitutional protection of personhood. Nevertheless, it was still 
revolutionary for its time as the sovereignty which had always been claimed by 
the British royal family was transferred directly to We The People. For the 
first time since the birth of global corporations in the early 1400's, the 
people controlled corporations, and not the other way around.

For the first time in history, it was prohibited for corporations to make any 
donations to political candidates, direct or indirect. It was prohibited for 
corporations to own stock in other corporations. Boards of Directors and 
shareholders could be held personally liable for all harms and debts. It was 
prohibited for corporations to make charitable or civic donations.

Imagine if these prohibitions were still in place today.

How our nation got into its current ecological and social predicament is, to a 
large degree, the story of how corporations overwhelmed the power and authority 
of "We The People". Corporations have become powerful not simply by amassing 
great wealth, but because a series of federal court decisions in the late 1800's
gave them extraordinary new privileges. One of the most significant judicial 
decisions, Santa Clara County vs Southern Pacific Railroad (1886), gave 
corporations the right of "personhood" under the 14th Amendment to the 
Constitution, which was originally intended to protect the rights of freed 
slaves. In other words, corporations became people many years before women 
became people, before African-Americans became people. In fact, even before 
white men without property became people.

But the rise of corporate power didn't start in 1886. It became an issue of 
major debate in the mid-1800's. Many American leaders were horrified by what 
they were witnessing. Here are two quotes to give you a sense of the culture of 
the period.

In the 1860's, President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech which contained the 
following words:

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to
tremble for the safety of my country. As the result of the War, corporations 
have been enthroned, 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 the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and 
the Republic is destroyed."

In 1873, Chief Justice Ryan of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, addressing a law 
school graduating class, had this to say:

"There is looming up a new and dark power...the enterprises of the country are 
aggregating vast corporate contributions of unexampled capital, boldly marching,
not for economical conquests only, but for political power. ...For the first 
time really in our politics, money is taking the field as an organized power. It
is unscrupulous, arrogant, and overbearing. ...The question will arise in your 
day, ...which shall rule - wealth or man; which shall lead - money or intellect;
who shall fill public stations - educated and patriotic freemen, or the feudal 
serfs of corporate capital...?"

Is it as hard for you as it is for me to imagine a current President or Supreme 
Court justice making such remarks? Or even privately having such thoughts? What 
do these comments tell us about how American citizens used to feel about 
corporate power - not just dissidents, but leading American citizens - and how 
effectively a century of corporate propaganda has muddied our thinking about who
we are and what it means to live and participate in a democratic society.

In the late 1800's, a social movement - that came to be known as The Populist 
Movement - rose up to try to stop the rise of corporate power. It was the 
largest social movement in American history - bigger than the American 
Revolution - yet very few Americans today know anything about it. It was the 
last great social movement that refused to concede that corporations should have
ANY right to participate in the key decisions that affect society. (If you want 
to learn more, read The Populist Moment by Lawrence Goodwyn.) In the 1890's, the
Populists were crushed by corporate and government violence. The social movement
that followed was the Progressive Movement, whose name many of us borrow today 
to describe our own politics. This is unfortunate, because the Progressive 
Movement was the first American social movement that saw corporate power as 
inevitable, and chose to REGULATE corporate harms around the edges rather than 
PROHIBIT corporations from causing harm in the first place.

You may find this hard to believe, but the whole arena of regulatory law was 
originally shaped and urged on by corporations - around the turn of the century.
Up until then, the language of American law governing corporations had been 
prohibitory language. In other words, corporations were prohibited from causing 
any harm to persons or communities.

Regulatory law allowed much more flexibility for corporations; in effect it 
legalized harm - for example: instead of prohibiting the discharge of poisons 
into the air or water, there were new parts-per-million legal limits for each 
poison. Additionally, where in the past, a corporate crime might ultimately 
result in the actual dissolving of the corporation and the state legislature 
seizing its assets; now the corporation simply paid a fine when it violated a 
regulatory law and went on with its business, which proved, of course that the 
system was working. Indeed, ongoing corporate fines are now simply factored into
the cost of doing business, and are themselves tax-deductible. And no one is 
held personally accountable.

There is much more to share about the intricacies of this history. But it would 
take hours, and in a moment I want to tie this forgotten history back into Buy 
Nothing Day, and how it has come to pass that We The People have come together 
today to try to reclaim our society from corporations, at least on this one day 
of the year.

Everyone in this room already knew before they came here today that corporations
are enormously powerful. What I want to emphasize is that they have so much 
power not primarily because they are wealthy, but because they are considered 
LEGAL PERSONS. Corporations can now claim free speech and private property 
protections, they can participate in the democratic process just as you or I 
can. But unlike you and me, corporations don't die, and they have no duty or 
responsibility to place, to people, or to the Constitution.

They don't need to INFILTRATE the political process, they ARE the political 
process. That's what NAFTA and the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) 
are all about: they're only mechanisms to get governments to be the enforcer for
giant corporations.

Corporate leaders understand that as long as they keep citizens' groups always 
on the defensive, challenging corporate harms one at a time, they keep us from 
going on the offensive. They keep us from strategies that challenge their 
authority. Instead of challenging one Nike Corporation sweatshop at a time, or 
one timber harvest plan at a time, or one bank merger at a time, we need to work
diligently to delegitimize all of the rights which corporations CLAIM as theirs.

Let's examine a few current examples of how corporate rule affects our society 
today. And as I list these examples, I will place them in some historical 

1. If we're shopping at the mall, and being good "consumers", we are free to 
move around, and sit and chat with our friends. But as soon as we attempt to 
hand out leaflets, ask people to sign petitions, stand on a soapbox, we're all 
of a sudden in a different category: now we're trespassing on corporate 
property. WHY? Because mall-owning corporations have more free speech and 
private property protections than we do! What would it look like if citizens 
began to reclaim our authority over our local mall-owning corporations? If we 
began to treat corporate property as the commons - which is how we MUST treat it
if our society is to be truly democratic! How many of us would they have to 
arrest before they gave up trying to stop us? Think about it! Why do we concede 
that our free speech protections stop at the entrance to shopping malls?

We either are We The People, or we aren't! And exercising our free speech at 
shopping malls is a great way to practice democracy as a verb.

2. Corporations are invading our public schools and universities in a wide 
variety of ways: sponsorship of school events, exclusive sales of products, 
incentive programs such as collecting product labels, appropriation of walls and
bulletin boards, sponsored educational materials, and lots more. Eight million 
students are now required each day to watch Channel One, a full-length 
commercial masquerading as news. The list of examples is mind-boggling, and 
grows daily. Who gave Chevron Corporation the authority to teach our kids about 
global warming? In the 1950's, corporate income taxes made up 28% of total 
federal revenues. By the 1990's this figure had dropped by almost two-thirds. Is
it reasonable to assume that the people corporations elect to public office will
vote to cut corporate income taxes so that we will all become more dependent on 
corporate "generosity"? No wonder our schools can no longer afford to teach our 
children and are forced to make ridiculous deals, such as the school in Evans, 

Did you know that a high school student there was suspended earlier this year 
for wearing a Pepsi T-shirt on Coca-Cola day. School officials said the shirt 
was an insult to visiting Coca-Cola Corporation executives and ruined the school
picture. The school had been participating in a statewide contest to win money 
from the corporation. Is this acceptable in a democratic society?  No wonder 
corporate donations to civic and charitable organizations were once prohibited!

3. The National Consumers League was founded at the turn of the century by labor
and other citizen activists. In recent years, it has accepted such a flood of 
corporate money that it can no longer be considered a legitimate independent 
citizens' organization. Almost every current project, seminar, brochure, and 
newsletter is now sponsored by a giant corporation. For example, a recent 
conference titled: "Focus on Youth: The New Consumer Power" was sponsored by 
Visa Corporation, the Chlorine Chemistry Council, Monsanto Corporation, 
Burson-Marsteller Corporation, the National Meat Association, and many other 
corporations and corporate associations. The annual Awards dinner this year 
honored Liz Claiborne Corporation whose product is manufactured in Chinese 
sweatshops. Three corporations contributed to the event. You guessed it: Liz 
Claiborne Corporation was one of them!

Let's look at one final example: Credit card corporations - with names like 
Providian Financial Corporation, Citibank Corporation, Visa Corporation, and 
Mastercard Corporation - are pushing credit cards on more and more Americans, 
searching desperately for new customers, many of them high-risk. In 1997 alone, 
these corporations blanketed the country with 3 billion credit card offers. The 
companies hope you'll overspend, because that's where their profits are made. In
1983, 20% of poor families had a credit card. In 1995, it was twice that number.
63% of all US households now owe money on their credit cards. Credit card debt 
now accounts for 43% of all consumer loans, and is the fastest growing type of 
home loan today. The average household now owes an amount equal to 95% of their 
yearly income. At the same time of course, personal bankruptcy rates are 
skyrocketing - 1.3 million people in 1997. Even as these corporations flood us 
with easy credit and higher credit limits, luring us into debt, they are trying 
to restrict our access to bankruptcy protection. The US Senate and House are 
currently considering a "reform" measure proposed by these very corporations.

If the laws in place in the 1880's were still in place today, this story would 
be VERY different. None of these corporations would be permitted to send us 
mountains of junk mail, because they would have NO free speech protections. They
would be prohibited from engaging in the writing of new federal laws. In fact, 
they would not even be allowed to create the credit card as a mode of purchasing
goods without the explicit approval of the state legislatures in the various 
states where they wished to do business.

Finally, let's turn for a moment to the media, which works night and day, 365 
days a year, to get you and me to keep buying more and more stuff. Virtually all
of the media today is owned by giant corporations. Imagine if we applied the 
same historic groundrules to these corporations as well. General Electric 
Corporation owns NBC, Disney Corporation owns ABC, Westinghouse Corporation owns
CBS. All of their programs are transmitted over OUR public airwaves. Yet we are 
so meek in our demands of them! We plead for an hour a night of educational 
programming, instead of reclaiming our sovereign authority over our subordinate 
corporate creations. Imagine if we rewrote their charters. If we explained 
nicely to their executives that those are OUR airwaves, thank you, and we're 
taking them back. That they're welcome to continue providing programming as long
as they understand who's in charge here.

Do you begin to get the picture?

What I have laid out here is a different way to think about our society's 
addictions to more and more stuff. We aren't mere consumers! "Consumer" is a 
corporate word! We are We The People, participating together as citizens! We are
in charge here. This is a democracy!

A single day of buying nothing is an excellent start. But what we REALLY want is
to get our democracy back from giant corporations. We don't just want a 
"democracy theme-park" which is what the current corporate culture provides for 

In a truly democratic society, citizens MUST have authority over the basic 
decisions that affect all of us. Decisions such as what products get produced, 
whether the production process creates toxic side-effects, how the people's 
money gets invested, and how our workplaces are organized.

In short: who's in charge? We The People or corporations?

Currently in America, these decisions are beyond our authority because the 
Federal Courts have ruled that the decision-making process itself is a corporate
property right. Yes, you heard me correctly. The decision-making process itself 
is now legally defined as corporate property, and therefore a legally protected 
right of all corporate persons. It is fundamentally illegitimate in a democratic
society for corporations to be making decisions that are beyond the authority of
We The People!

We have to re-learn how to stand up together, and make our voices heard.

We must NO LONGER remain silent while the Girl Scouts of America launch their 
new Fashion Adventure Program complete with power-walking activities at the 
mall, and sponsored by Limited Too Corporation!

We must NO LONGER remain silent while the Safeway Corporation imposes a new 
"forced friendliness policy" on the citizens who are its employees, causing many
of its female employees to be harrassed and propositioned by male shoppers.

We must NO LONGER remain silent while Monsanto and other corporations overpower 
the US Department of Agriculture and force it to redefine the legal meaning of 
organic food into oblivion.

This is OUR country. It's a democracy. We want it back!

You may be sitting there and quietly thinking to yourself that what I am 
proposing is wildly unrealistic in the year 1998. That corporations have become 
so powerful, that nothing can be done. Let me tell you about three extraordinary
events taking place this year across the country:

1. In May, the Attorney General of the state of New York, a Republican by the 
name of Dennis Vacco, initiated corporate charter revocation proceedings against
two front-groups for the tobacco corporations: the Tobacco Institute and the 
Council for Tobacco Research. He accused the groups of posing as nonprofit 
groups while, at taxpayer expense, they "fed the public a pack of lies in an 
underhanded effort to promote smoking and addict our kids." I heard only last 
week that he had completed the revocation of the Council for Tobacco Research, 
it had been dissolved, and most of its assets will be turned over to the Health 
Sciences Center at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Imagine that!

Here's an Attorney General who understands his authority, and his duty to 
protect the people from harms caused by their corporate creations. An action 
like this hasn't occurred in almost 100 years, and is cause for real 
celebration. Imagine if citizens' organizations began challenging the legitimacy
of other non-profit tax-exempt phony educational corporate front-groups. The 
Global Climate Coalition, for example, which teaches the public and our elected 
officials that global warming isn't really a problem at all, and may even 
benefit the economy - it's funded by oil and other corporations. Or how about 
the American Cattleman's Association - made up of cattle corporations, which 
sued Oprah Winfrey simply for saying she would never eat a hamburger again? 
Another example of a corporation having more free speech than an actual person.

2. Here's another remarkable development: Last month, the township of Wayne, 
Pennsylvania passed into law a new ordinance which had been drafted by public 
interest lawyers. The new law prohibits any corporation from doing business in 
the town if it has a history of consistently violating regulatory law, or if any
members of its board of directors currently sit on the board of any other 
corporation which has a history of consistently violating regulatory law. That 
includes environmental and labor law, occupational safety and health law, tax 
and consumer law. In other words, the people of Wayne, Pennsylvania are standing
up as citizens and stating clearly that they don't want scofflaw corporations 
doing business in their town. That sounds pretty reasonable, doesn't it?

3. Here's one final story, which i have been a key player in, and which i'm very
proud of: In my community of Arcata, California, we just passed a ballot 
initiative titled "The Arcata Advisory Measure on Democracy and Corporations". 
It was on the ballot earlier this month as Measure F and it won by more than 60%
of the vote. It was merely advisory, so no laws will be changed quite yet. But 
here's what it does. It asks the City Council to co-sponsor with our 
organization two major town hall meetings on the topic, "Can we have democracy 
when large corporations wield so much power and wealth under law?". Imagine 
thousands of residents gathering twice to discuss that topic? Out of the town 
hall meetings, the City will create a new standing commission on Democracy and 
Corporations. Its mandate will be to propose "policies and programs which ensure
democratic control over corporations conducting business within the city, in 
whatever ways are necessary to ensure the health and well-being of our community
and its environment." Our ballot initiative is gaining national attention, and 
was endorsed by the Mayor who was running for re-election, as well as the 
Central Labor Council. In addition, it has been endorsed by three of my favorite
citizen activists: Jim Hightower, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky.

I leave you all with a few critical questions: What would it look like if we 
governed ourselves, as was the intention of our nation's founding fathers? What 
would it FEEL like? What would happen if we relearned our history, and began to 
understand once again that democracy is a verb?

Do we want giant corporations writing our news? Do we want giant corporations 
interfering in our elections? Do we want giant corporations sponsoring our civic
organizations? Do we want giant corporations deciding what products will and 
will not be produced?

Let's all stand up together for a moment, and say a few words together.

(Let's say,)  "We are We-The-People".   /    "We govern ourselves."

Thank you very much!

Paul Cienfuegos
Director, Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County


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