This original essay was written by Paul Cienfuegos, Founder and Co-Director of Community Rights US. It has also been published in The PeaceWorker, Oregon’s monthly PeaceWorks news magazine. Paul welcomes other media to publish it also.
In early October, Project Censored released its always-newsworthy Top 25 Most Censored Stories of the past year. These are urgent and essential stories that the mainstream corporate-owned media failed to cover. There’s just one problem with this annual list, and it’s the same problem year after year with Project Censored’s annual Top 25 lists. Sixteen of these twenty-five news stories – 64% of them – really aren’t stand-alone stories at all. They’re actually mere symptoms of what happens to a society when We the People forget who We are, and allow large business corporations to possess more constitutionally protected “rights” than We do. We are in fact The Sovereign People. “Sovereign” means “the authority to rule”.
Every state constitution begins with words like, “All government, of right, originates with the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole” (Georgia State Constitution); and “[The people] have at all times a right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper” (Oregon State Constitution); and “All political power is inherent in the people” (Michigan State Constitution), etc.
Abraham Lincoln acknowledged this in his First Inaugural Address, delivered in the first minutes of his presidency:
“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.”
So when our government permits business corporations to poison our water, air and food, and interfere in our elections, why do We act from a place of such profound powerlessness? When we protest and demand and plead and petition and march and sue and lobby, our tactics demonstrate how colonized our minds have become, for all of those tactics are exercised by people outside of power, outside the locked doors of our corporate and government decision-makers. But We are the ultimate decision-makers! Government is required to serve us. It has constitutional duties and responsibilities to us.
So what’s going on? Have we forgotten our history? Do we no longer remember that for almost a century after the American Revolution, business corporations were each required to serve one specific social need and to cause no harm? That these corporations were given privileges – not rights – to operate very narrowly defined for-profit enterprises as our subordinates. The corporate shackles were finally removed in the final decades of the 1800’s, and the corporate state rapidly began to take shape. And thus we now find ourselves in the quite scary situation where sixteen of Project Censored’s 25 top stories illustrate the latest batch of culturally and ecologically toxic corporate activities – all of which are both legal and inevitable only because We the People have forgotten who We are, and what our responsibilities are as citizens.
Allow me to illustrate my seemingly far-fetched claims by reviewing these sixteen stories, and posing some provocative questions that unveil what our nation’s early corporate law-making would have prevented:
Since 2012, and without their members’ prior permission, Facebook Corporation has been buying and bundling more than 1,300 categories of sensitive data about its more than two billion members’ offline lives in order to target them individually.
If corporations were prohibited from collecting and utilizing a person’s private information without explicit prior consent, what impact would that have?
Without the public’s awareness, fossil fuel corporations and their associations have “colonized nearly every nook and cranny of energy and climate policy research in American universities”.
If corporations were prohibited from funding and managing university-based research, what impact would that have?
How chemical weapons, including several types of tear gas, are being used against prisoners in the US in 18 states, despite the fact that the international Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997 bans their use in warfare. US corporations “remain the single largest manufacturer” of one of the two compounds used in most forms of tear gas.
If corporations were prohibited from manufacturing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, what impact would that have?
In September 2015, twenty-one young plaintiffs sued the federal government and the fossil fuel industry, arguing that they knowingly endangered the plaintiffs by promoting the burning of fossil fuels, and that this violates their constitutional and public trust rights. In January 2016, three fossil fuel industry trade associations, representing nearly all of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, called the case “a direct, substantial threat to our businesses.”
If corporations were prohibited from participating in energy policy decision-making, what impact would that have?
The Sundarbans are a vast mangrove delta that connects India and Bangladesh along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Residents of islands in the Sundarbans are “struggling to cope” with rising seas, erratic weather patterns, severe floods, heavy rainfall, and intense cyclones that are the consequences of global climate change.
If energy-producing corporations were prohibited from any further involvement in fossil fuel exploration or sales, what impact would that have?
As early as 1986, Shell Oil Corporation had a sophisticated scientific understanding of climate change and its potentially disastrous consequences, but has consistently undermined the production of renewable energy for its own financial gain. ExxonMobil Corporation knew of climate change “as early as 1981 … seven years before it became a public issue.”Despite this knowledge, ExxonMobil Corporation “spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate [change] denial.”
If corporations had been prohibited from any further fossil fuel exploration, promotion or sales, beginning in the 1980’s, prohibited from contributing a corporate “voice” to ongoing public discussions on energy issues, and prohibited from influencing elections and ballot initiatives, what impact would that have had?
Judges across the US are using racially biased software to assess a defendants’ risk of committing future crimes. The corporation that created the software deems its algorithm to be proprietary, so the company will not publicly disclose the calculations that its product uses to determine defendants’ risk scores.”
If corporations were prohibited from providing such software, and were prohibited from keeping secret records of any kind, what impact would that have?
Corporate conservatives – such as the Koch Brothers – are pouring millions of dollars into influencing public policy through model legislation to suppress student dissent and free speech on university campuses.
If corporate-funded individuals (of any political stripe) were prohibited from pouring millions of dollars into influencing public policy of any kind, what impact would that have?
With full cooperation from AT&T Corporation, US federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies have been secretly collecting telephone records since 1987 “without a warrant or any judicial oversight,” in breach of the Fourth Amendment, under a program known as Hemisphere. Google, Apple, and Facebook corporations are also actively involved.
If telecommunications corporations were prohibited from providing private phone records to our various government bodies without meaningful public and judicial oversight, what impact would that have?
Governments around the world shut down Internet access more than fifty times in 2016, limiting freedom of speech, swaying elections, and damaging economies. One way to stop government shutdowns is for internet providing companies to resist government demands, or at least document them to show what’s been happening, to at least have a paper trail.
If internet providing companies were prohibited from cooperating with governments that try to shut down the internet, what impact would that have?
Each year, more than 65,000 pregnant women in the US suffer life-threatening complications, including physical and psychological conditions aggravated by pregnancy, and more than 600 die from pregnancy-related causes. Inadequate health care in rural areas and racial disparities are drivers of this maternal health crisis.
If health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations were prohibited from participating in decision-making about state and federal health-care policy making, what impact would that have?
US Navy training activities are deadly for marine mammals in the North Pacific. In a five-year period, the US Navy has killed, injured, or harassed almost twelve million whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, and other marine wildlife in the North Pacific Ocean—legally.
If military-industrial corporations were prohibited from providing these torpedoes and air-to-surface missiles to the Navy for these specific purposes, what impact would that have?
Pharmaceutical corporations that produce antibiotics are creating dangerous superbugs when their factories leak industrial waste. Pharmaceutical factories in China and India—the places where the majority of the world’s antibiotics are manufactured—are releasing “untreated waste fluid” into local soils and waters, leading to antibiotic-resistant superbugs that may signal “the end of modern medicine as we know it.”
If pharmaceutical corporations were prohibited from providing antibiotics to factory farm corporations (with very specific exceptions), and if pharmaceutical corporations had their charters revoked, their assets seized, and their directors criminally charged with negligence whenever their factories leaked industrial waste, what impact would that have?
Cambridge Analytica Corporation, a data analytics company that specializes in “election management strategies,” played a pioneering role in the election of Donald Trump through its groundbreaking use of targeted psychometric messages. Its CEO was quoted the day after Trump’s victory, saying, “We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communication has played such an integral part in President-elect Trump’s extraordinary win.”
If for-profit corporations were prohibited from participating in any way in US elections, what impact would that have?
The Pentagon paid a British public relations company more than $660 million to run a top-secret propaganda program in Iraq from at least 2006 to December 2011. Bell Pottinger Corporation’s work consisted of three types of products, including TV commercials portraying al-Qaeda in a negative light, news items intended to look like they had been “created by Arabic TV,” and fake al-Qaeda propaganda films.
If public relations corporations were prohibited from providing propaganda services to the various branches of the US military, what impact would that have?
Over the past two decades the US Army has accumulated $6.5 trillion in expenditures that cannot be accounted for. A substantial percentage of the Pentagon’s budget goes to purchasing military hardware and services from military-industrial corporations as well as maintaining a global network of corporate-managed mercenaries.
If military hardware and services corporations were prohibited from generating any profits from their sales to the various militaries of the world – in other words if the profit margin was entirely removed from war-making by law – what impact would that have?
And finally, there’s one more corporate rule story hidden in plain sight:
Our entire mainstream media system is now owned and managed by a handful of giant corporations. These media corporations shape news and opinion, based on what generates the highest profits for their shareholders, not what news and analysis We the People most need to be effective participants in our various societal institutions. Therefore, these sixteen stories and thousands more were never adequately reported in the corporate media.
If media corporations were required to provide comprehensive news – and analysis from across the political spectrum – what impact would that have? Or perhaps the question should instead be: In a society struggling to function democratically, can We the People afford to have our news media NOT publicly owned and operated?
The attached questions I’ve posted above are not based on some wild fantasy about a utopian future. In fact, the general legal principles I’ve referenced were all once background-normal here in the US. After the American Revolution, and continuing for almost a century, business corporations were legally and culturally understood to be our subordinates – with duties and responsibilities, requirements and prohibitions, necessary to maintain their state-granted charters of incorporation. Directors and stockholders were held personally liable for all harms and debts (no limited liability protections). Corporate directors were prohibited from keeping their financial or other records secret. Directors could be charged with a felony if the corporation was found to have donated money or services to influence an election or the voting habits of a politician. It was also a felony if a corporation donated to civic or charitable organizations. Corporations were prohibited from owning or merging with other corporations. And their charters could be revoked by state government, at any time and for any reason.
This is our country’s history!
Today, the People could choose to mobilize ourselves towards bringing these impressive laws back to the present. We could be working to re-subordinate business corporations so that once again they are required to serve one specific social need and to cause no harm. We could once again require what we want, and prohibit what we don’t. But instead, 99% of active citizens devote their time to conventional single-issue urgent response forms of activism, that never challenge the corporation’s Supreme Court granted right to harm people and nature, right to interfere in our elections, right to define our energy and food choices, etc. This form of activism is far less effective than most of us care to admit.
If a large percentage of us shifted our energies from single-issue activism to this very old but infinitely more effective form of citizen participation, we really could stop corporate rule dead in its tracks. And every one of these sixteen stories would have a very different outcome in the future.
Ten or twenty years from now, one of Project Censored’s top stories might instead include: “How The People Dismantled Corporate Constitutional ‘Rights’, Banned All Harmful Corporate Activities, and Enshrined the Right of Self-Government for All People”. Now wouldn’t you rather be reading that story than one about the latest inevitable corporate atrocity? I certainly would!
This is less far-fetched than you might think! Since 1999, the Community Rights movement has helped more than 200 communities in nine states to pass locally-enforceable laws that ban (rather than merely regulate) harmful corporate activities, strip corporations of their so-called constitutional “rights”, and enshrine the right of communities to govern themselves and to protect their health, safety and welfare. Is your community ripe for this kind of transformational process? If so, please get in touch with us!
We the People have our work cut out for us, because as long as citizens merely protest and march and plead and sign petitions and lobby to stop these supposedly unrelated corporate harms, Project Censored will continue to publish variations of these Top 25 lists into eternity, or until the corporate state destroys all life on earth, whichever comes first. (Not a joke!) So I urge Project Censored to re-think how it decides what is an actual story, and what is merely a series of institutional symptom stories that collectively repeat themselves year after year after year.
Now let’s get to work. Situation Urgent.
* Paul Cienfuegos is a leader in the Community Rights movement, which works to dismantle corporate constitutional so-called “rights” and assert the people’s inherent right to govern themselves. He has been leading workshops across the US since 1995. Launched in October 2017, Paul is the Founder and Co-Director of Community Rights US. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Want to learn more about how corporate constitutional “rights” interfere in our ability to govern ourselves and protect the health and welfare of our communities and the natural world? Visit Community Rights US, sign up for our newsletter, share this article on social networks, check out our extensive list of trainings. And consider making a generous donation to our Indiegogo campaign so that we can continue to awaken, engage, and empower the public to stop corporate rule dead in its tracks.