April 6. 2002 press release: |
PSU SPEAKERS TO ADDRESS CORPORATE ROLE IN US WARS
POCLAD (Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy) is a research and activist group that studies the history of corporations and people's democratic struggles. Over the past seven years, the group has engaged thousands of people in "Rethinking the Corporation, Rethinking Democracy" meetings around the country, and last year published two books: Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy and Building Unions (Apex Press).
An excerpt from the POCLAD brochure: "In schools, union halls, coffee shops and village squares, around kitchen tables and over the World Wide Web, conversations are blooming. People are talking about what happened on September 11, and why. They're questioning why the US government responded with war on the Afghan people and a major orchestration of consent. They're asking why our government uses its power to freeze Al Qaeda's assets but not the assets of Enron Corporation. People are talking about the long-term destruction of sacred places, homes and farms, peoples and species. They're studying the past to understand the present, and writing new stories to explain how this nation got into such messes at home and abroad."
This week speakers from POCLAD will be presenting a free talk called, "The Necessity of War and Other Corporate Myths". In Portland Karen Coultier and Mary Zepernick, principals in the twelve-member POCLAD, will speak Thursday, April 11 at 7:00 pm in the Smith Center Ballroom at Portland State University, 1825 SW Broadway Street.
"A permanent war footing is diametrically opposed to democratic society, especially when 'We the People' haven't been consulted," explains Mary Zepernick, a columnist for the Cape Cod (Mass) Times and POCLAD coordinator. "The use of violence and the threat of violence is a well-worn means for perpetuating rule by the wealthy few." Adds Karen Coulter, a POCLAD principal who co-directs the Blue Mountain Biodiversity Project in Fossil, Oregon, "the war has been portrayed as being waged in defense of US interests, but whose interests are actually being served? Unocal stands to directly benefit from a proposed trans-Afghan oil pipeline. The line between corporate power, national governments, and international governing bodies such as the NATO and the WTO is now so blurred, corporate executives decide who the US goes to war against, the reasons why, the timing, and the objectives."
The speaking event is co-sponsored by the Alliance for Democracy, Students for Unity, Rearguard, and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In addition to their talk, Coulter and Zepernick will speak with PSU classes in non-violence, conflict resolution and social movements.
I saw the first showing of Jim Lockhart's cable access show, a Growing Concern, highlighting this event, that will be replayed 10 pm Sunday April 6 on ch 23, and again on Thursday April 11th. Another way to find out about this group if you can't make it to the event Thursday night, is to listen to KBOO Thurs April 11 7:30-9AM. The speaker on this show is Karen Coultier, who has been working since 1999 on the campaign to "End Corporate Dominance". I met Karen in 1995 when I was taught timber-sale monitoring skills with the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project in Eastern Oregon when I worked as an intern there. I have encouraged others over the years to be trained to assess and monitor timber sales and to learn to write appeals with this group, before the formation of the BARK groundtruthing group here in Portland. I have been consistently impressed with her dedication and effectiveness at preserving the forests of eastern Oregon, almost singlehandedly.
However, one point she makes during this show, a point made by Paul Cienfuegos as well, is that when we focus on the regulatory agencies, rather than the impetus behind the regulations that destroy our public lands, we are rendered ineffective in many ways. The reason is that by focusing on regulating wrongdoing, we are enabling some debatable amount of wrongdoing to occur. This she equated to asking for "bigger cages and longer chains." In other words, to focus on the source of the wrongdoing, is to get closer to developing sustainable alternatives, rather than simply arguing about how much logging/polluting/resource extraction/species extinction/habitat degradation can occur. This is the focus of POCLAD.
The program starts out with a clip from the speech given by Paul Cienfuegos in February. His emphasis is that the corporations have attained "person-hood" over time, but that at one time their original "corporate charter" could be revoked if, among other things, their existence did not clearly serve the interests of the public. This is happening on local levels around the country. Several states and counties have passed ballot initiatives preventing corporations from having this extreme power. This concept is new to me, as I was under the impression that corporations have always held sway over the people. Apparently the founders of this country knew that and put in safeguards to prevent that from happening, but in the late 1800's relaxed the restrictions on corporate power, in order to exert dominance over the growing insurgence of the people demanding equal rights, treatment, pay, etc. His was an intriguing talk that I attended during the event held in Portland called "Another World is Possible", which was held in solidarity with another well-attended World Social Forum with the same theme in Porto Alegre, and an article translated by www.mbtranslations.com/ was posted to Portland indymedia about this event.
Anyway, the show starts off with Karen explaining that Paul Cienfuegos, a friend of hers, has helped to spark real change in the town of Arcata California, by asking the city council there, "can we say no to corporate rule?", and working to develop alternatives to the dependence all towns have on multi-national corporations. Karen explains that we need to redefine the relationship between corporations and people, moving back to the time when each corporation was granted a specific charter. This had a finite time limit and mission and then after that, the charter was ended. Many states started out as corporations. Many colonists joined the Seven Nations Confederacy, attracted to the collective decision-making process. Dismantling the mechanism of corporate control is what has attracted Karen to this campaign as well.
After years of fighting smaller issues involving timber sales, grazing damage, water quality, and air quality issues, Karen realized that there is a "point of ignition" starting all these smaller fires, so to speak. As she works in the courts, and with the regulatory agencies, it has become apparent that this work is a revolving door that allows agencies to bog down activists in working in a quagmire of regulatory rules, that have as their source the greed and control exerted by the corporations who stand to gain by these regulatory bottlenecks.
Instead of asking for small reforms, like better media coverage, less money given by corporations toward elections, we need to say NO corporate money, NO corporate power superseding public interests. We need to break out of our mental acculturation, as tv and commercials bill us as the "consumer" or "worker", rather than as self-governing citizens. We need to redefine this self-image. We need to expose the hidden agenda that wars are being fought to defend the interests of the corporate elite. "This is no longer a democracy, this is a corporate plutocracy. The wealthy elite are the ruling class, as opposed to a dictator. Rather, the president seems to be a corporate puppet."
But Karen believes that making alliances is what is important, emphasized by the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs & the Environment (ASJE) in their conference Saturday at 9 a.m. and a meeting on Sunday April 6th at PSU Smith Hall as well. Karen was one of the founding members of ASJE, and mentions that LEAP in NY is another such alliance of the labor and environmental movements. These coalitions try to counter the angle of pitting environmentalists with labor movements, as is happening in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge issue. This coalition-building is more important than ever. Also speaking on Thursday at PSU will be Barbara Dudley, lawyer and PSU professor, during the presentation "Necessity of War and Other Corporate Myths." Mary Zepernick, past president for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom will also be involved in giving some of the history of how War Fervor has been consistently presented in the way we are being fed it now, since the 18th century, to sell the idea to the citizens. In this century the media has been a tool to convince the public of the need for war. The more recent developments in the propaganda campaign designed to mislead the public will be covered by Karen.
At this point it is pointed out that this country at one time provided 16% of the arms to the world. At this time, the U.S. supplies 64% of the world's arms and our 40% of our gross domestic product is weapons. Also pointed out is the fact that among the multitude of the dictators and terrorists we have provided arms to, the list includes Bin Laden, and the dictators in Chile and Guatamala. The protest in Pioneer Square to protest U.S. aid to Israel was then mentioned, with the enlightening fact that the number of Palestinian civilian casualties to Israeli casualties is 4:1. And that the connection that seems to be common to all the "terrorist"-related countries is that there are oil and arms-sales ties to these countries. Cheney is the ex-CEO of Haliburton, which supplied most of the chemical weapons to Iraq, as was highlighted in a recent article posted to the portland indymedia newswire.
"So now we need to up our defense budget because the world is so well-armed", was the poignant summary offered by Karen at this point. Then she pointed out something I was unaware of, that when our military leaves a country that we invade, paramilitaries often pick up the arms we leave. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was National Security Advisor to the Carter Administration, made clear in his book written in 1997, that U.S. dominance in Central Asia was event then a "U.S. geo-strategic imperative"-- he named Central Asia as the next center of conflict for world domination and called the area around the Caspian Sea "infinitely more important as a potential economic prize: and enormous concentration of natural gas and oil reserves...dwarf(ing) those of Kuwait, the Gulf of Mexico or the North Sea... in addition to important minerals, including gold." To illustrate the above connections, Karen read a quote from Smedley Butler, Major General of the U.S. Marine Corp, written shortly before his death in 1940, characterizing his history with the U.S. military:
"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico safe and especially Tampico safe for American Oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the national City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested...I had...a swell racket. I was rewarded with honors, medals, promotions... I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate a racket in three cities... The Marines operated on three continents..." (I don't have the source for this quote yet)
Anyway, I just hope some of you reading this come and listen to what Karen and Mary have to say during this POCLAD tour of the west coast, or listen to the KBOO show 7:30 - 9 a.m. Thursday april 11th, because there are real tangible ways we can approach this seemingly monolithic monstrous corporate version of globalization. There are reasons for hope, and I think that POCLAD is working to illustrate some of these.