Category Archives: Corporate Corruption

Occupy DC Endorsing an Ammendment to end Corporate Personhood; Connecting Reform to Revolution

Those of us who have been part of the Occupy Movement are familiar with the common critique, “what exactly do you want anyways?”

Generally answers like, “justice for the 99%” do not seem to satisfy.

Of course we do not need to satisfy a hostile audience, and the meme of “they don’t stand for anything” is clearly coming from a hostile place.  Still, this meme is exploiting a real gap which exists between the potential of the movement and its current state.  I believe our  long term success depends on closing this gap.

The gap is this: there are a lot of people who believe injustice has been done to the 99%, and they would like to see (and perhaps be involved in) repairing that injustice.  Sympathizers and possible sympathizers far outnumber actual occupiers, and the potential of that broader support is society changing.  But that potential needs something concrete to focus on.  They are waiting to see where Occupy heads.  To be more involved they need to know, what do we see as a pathway for finding the justice we seek?

One such pathway may involve a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood and get corporate money out of politics.  Two weeks ago, at both camps in Occupy DC, the General Assemblies voted in support of such an amendment.  It is concrete.  It is consistent with the issues occupy is addressing and the general point of view of occupiers. It is something other groups have been working on and a lot of people can get behind.

But creating any concrete goal also threatens to magnify the divisions which exist within the movement.  When talking about the constitutional amendment, one person described it as “reformist bullshit.”

I sigh when I hear this.  I consider myself the type of activist more concerned with revolution than reform, yet I also recognize that revolution is a long term struggle, and the reforms we create are not necessarily inconsistent with that process.

I can desire a revolutionary overthrow of our profit-maximizing, humanity exploiting, power consolidating, government corrupting, unsustainable, and ever-obsessed with “more,” economic system; and I can believe that a lesser reform, such as ending corporate personhood, is still a good idea.  In fact, these ideas seem nothing but complementary to me.  Some worry that reform takes energy away from revolution.  But I think, if I really believe in revolution, than achieving a more minor reform is not going to dissuade me from that ultimate goal.  And, if the minor reform does dissuade me, I was never seeking revolution in the first place.

I think those who want revolution are frustrated because the progress is slow; but remember, how long did capitalism take to overthrow feudalism?  How long did it take master-slave hierarchies to overthrow hunter-gatherer equality?  The future which is coming cannot be imagined in the present day; and creating that future is a process which can take hundreds or thousands of years.  If we really wish for revolution we have to ask, do we currently have the conditions which make it possible and, if we don’t, what is the process of cultivating those conditions?

Perhaps reform is actually part of the revolutionary process.  Humanizing political reforms have always been born from a process of people standing up for themselves, and what is more central to revolution than that?  Through reform we practice engaging with opposition.  We develop new ways to look at the world.  We energize ourselves and our neighbors.  We make democracy into more than a platitude.

Besides, if our ideological purity is such that we cannot contemplate anything but revolution, do we oppose voting rights won by the woman’s movement because they engaged the official legislative process?  Do we oppose child labor regulations won by the labor movement because they became backed by government?  Do we oppose the constitutional amendment which freed the slaves because it is in the constitution?

Revolution is the only way to overthrow the broader realities of oppression.  Yet this has to be the right revolution.  It has to be built upon a long process of rehumanizing ourselves, of learning to live together, and of learning to stand up for ourselves -not only against our external exploiter but the exploiter within.  Personally I think, trying to overthrow a system without doing the necessary legwork will only lead to nothing really changing; and maybe certain reforms -such as Occupy helping to win a constitutional amendment which ends corporate personhood- are actually part of that legwork.

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Separation of Institution and State, not Belief and State

Last Monday I listened to prayers for jobs in DC.  Members of the Washington Interfaith Network had gathered together, two thousand strong, as a coalition looking to influence city officials.  I was there as part of my own faith community, the Washington Ethical Society -a nontheistic, humanist-leaning, religion.  Reflecting on the fact that I was with humanists who were attempting to influence politics with religion, I was suddenly struck with a sense of irony about the separation of church and state.

It was always an interesting principle to me.  I understood, we didn’t want theocratic despots and religious oppression.  Yet I had seen the separation of church and state applied in ways that did not make sense.  I remember, in high school, when friends were upset because they couldn’t pray in school.  One friend was a Bahai, who had an obligatory prayer to say at noon.  Also there were Muslims, who are supposed to pray five times a day.  In this example, the separation of church and state, a policy theoretically designed to encourage religious equality, was actually disproportionally burdening already disenfranchised faiths while probably not providing much of a burden to the more dominant Christian faiths.

Plus we said “under God” in the pledge of allegiance.  In other words, individuals were not allowed to privately practice their faith, but the state institution could actually promote the idea that the US was supported by God.  Thus I saw, separation of church and state was a principle like many legal principles, selectively applied when it was convenient to those who had power.

Separation of church and state can be misused.  Personally, I do not think it is the belief element which is the problematic part of the church involving itself in politics.  I really don’t know how I could oppose people’s religious, spiritual, moral, or ethical values influencing their politics.  In fact, the separation of church and state is itself a religious, spiritual, moral, or ethical value.  I also realize, if I did think that such values should be taken out of politics, I would have to oppose the work of Martin Luther King and the SCLC, the American Friends Service Committee, Father Roy Bourgeois and his work to end the SOA, Liberation Theology, and the work of the Washington Interfaith Network.

To me, the separation of church and state is really about separating the institution of the church from the institution of politics.  In other words, I am okay if a Hindu is in office; I am not okay if Hinduism becomes the state religion.  Ultimately this is a principle about undue influence in a pluralistic society, and I think it can be applied to much more than religion.  In the present day, corporations hold the same influence traditionally held by the church.  They spend billions of dollars lobbying to influence public policy, corporate executives move back and forth from political office, and corporations also have strong ties to the media, legal, and educational systems.  This power promotes our race to the bottom in terms of wages, how acceptable it is to give workers’ no say in their work environment, and our lack of any sort of real regulation for environmental, health, or economic security.  This is undue influence coming from the corporate sector, and dominating the broader interests of the plurality.

In general, no single institution should ever have that kind of power.  This idea that individual institutions should not dominate society is, to me, the spirit behind the separation of church and state.  In simpler terms, it is just saying that political officials should not have a conflict of interest.