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The following is mirrored from and reproduced here to expand it's visibility. See the latest publication from the Ohio Committee on Corporations, Law and Democracy, Democracy For Sale -- How Ohioans Kept Corporations out of Politics; How and When They Re-entered.
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Citizens Over Corporations
A Brief History of Democracy in Ohio and Challenges to Organizing in the Future
by the Ohio Committee on Corporations

Citizens over Corporations: A Brief History of Democracy in Ohio and Challenges to Organizing in the Future is a 56-page booklet produced by the Ohio Committee on Corporations, Law and Democracy, an ad-hoc group of activists and individuals across the state concerned with the growing power of corporations to govern and harms this poses to democracy in our state, nation and world. Single copies are $3 plus $1 postage. Bulk rates available. Order from the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), 513 W. Exchange St., Akron, OH 44302

The booklet looks at the history of the corporate form in Ohio. It details how corporations were closely controlled by citizens and their elected representatives in the early decades of the state's history (including examples of strict controls contained in early corporate charters -- NOTE: most corporations, even today, are chartered at the state level), what legal tools people used in the legislature and courts to control corporations, how corporations began to gain legal "rights" and "privileges" that our ancestors never intended, what resistance came from working and other people, how Corporations are, in many ways, equal or superior to human beings today, and what we can do to "rethink" the current relationship between "we the people" and corporations.

What follows is the Forward from the booklet:

In 1996, twenty-five Ohioans came together at the Procter House (former summer estate of William Procter of Procter and Gamble Corporation fame) south of Columbus to participate in a workshop titled "Rethinking the Corporation, Rethinking Democracy." These environmental, labor, peace, and justice activists were drawn to the gathering because each was struggling against or concerned about repeated corporate assaults upon their communities in particular, and upon democracy in general.

Stirred by presentations about corporate histories and people's struggles for democracy, we discussed our own organizing experiences. We began to grapple with the idea that our efforts at opposing corporate violations of laws and harms one at a time, over and over again, have been tiring, erratic, and not particularly effective.

It struck us that we had a lot to learn about and from corporate history. Among other things, while we were educating on single issues, researching areas of science and technology, and organizing mostly around local, state and federal regulatory agencies, corporations were focusing in constitutional arenas. There, they lobbied for the property and civil rights of human persons.

While we were writing drafts of health, environmental, consumer and labor laws that would curb corporate behaviors, corporations were writing state corporation codes and amending state constitutions to define giant business corporation as private -- essentially beyond the authority of "We the People".

While we were considering creative ways to boycott corporate sweatshops; stop the next corporate toxic/radioactive factory/dump; persuade corporate executives to sign voluntary codes of conduct and act responsibly; and prevent factory closings or employee layoffs, corporations were getting state and federal courts to deny people basic constitutional rights.

And while we were bringing our causes to regulatory agencies (having been taught that state and federal regulators were our allies), corporations were too often using these same regulatory laws and agencies as barriers to justice.

Since that gathering, a number of us continued meeting and rethinking. We concluded there was a need for iscussions across the state about the proper role of corporations in our society, and for citizen groups to craft new goals and strategies. To encourage such discussions and reorientation, we have produced this brief history of citizens and corporations in Ohio.

Readers will quickly see that since revolutionary days people were well aware that property owners could use the corporate form equipped with special privileges to operate as private governments, causing sustained harms to people, places, liberty and democracy. So we Buckeyes, like people in all states, used our constitution, corporate charters and state corporation codes to define corporations as subordinate, and to restrain legislators from favoring property over people.

But as land, railroad, banking, insurance and other corporations began to acquire wealth, they crafted a different agenda. Investing some of their huge profits from the Civil War, they lobbied for legal doctrines and laws which privileged private over public interests, and favored property rights over human rights. As they increased their influence over local, state, and federal governments, they kept rewriting Ohio's (and all states') constitutions and corporations laws as they shaped the culture to legitimize corporate dominance. By the end of the World War II, giant corporations routinely called upon our governments to deny people's rights -- for example, by declaring that workers have no free speech or assembly rights on corporate property, or that regulated industrial corporate poisons are legalized industrial corporate poisons.

At the same time, people's protests and political activism were increasingly channeled into administrative and regulatory agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, and scores more. In fact, corporations helped design many of these agencies, starting with the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887, so that the most which We the People can accomplish via such agencies is to get corporate property owners to cause a little less harm.

Today, global corporations define us as shareholders, consumers, or workers. They exert tremendous power over our legislatures, courts, executive branches, press, information -- all the essentials of democratic self-governance.

Corporations possess, in many respect, greater rights than human beings. Unlike people, corporations can live forever, operate even after breaking laws, and write-off fines and penalties. Corporate leaders are immune from liability and are free from public recall. Corporations want to be collective but want people to remain individualistic -- unable to act collectively or live in community.

One important thing we learned from our research is that our problems go way back to the nation's founding: a minority in the original 13 states had been organized enough to gain power and rights. Opposed to democratic self-rule, this minority defined the majority of people as non-persons, denying them fundamental rights, including the right to self-governance. From the beginning, this country has been shaped by sustained contests between propertied minorities using corporations as their political vehicles and whole classes of people struggling for basic human and constitutional rights. But given the dominance by a corporate system over the past century, it is logical that the stories of the African American, Native People, women, the propertyless, workers, immigrants, gays and lesbians who peopled these struggles are still generally unknown.

We also realized that the Populist Movement was the last American movement that drew upon the people's rights and sovereignty to challenge the very essence of corporate rule. And contrary to what most of us had been taught, the Progressives of the early 20th Century took a step backward when they gave up on rights and settled for regulating corporate behaviors.

Like the Populist farmers, mechanics, small business people and intellectuals of the 1870s-1890s, we too can call upon the nation's founding ideals as we redesign our organizations to challenge the legitimacy of corporate rule. For such action, we need to know our histories. We need to understand how corporations turned us into workers and consumers, stripped our rights, and often led our activist organizations into regulatory dead ends.

We hope this publication will provoke curiosity and debate about corporations and democracy. But it is only a first step: others will need to look closely at past struggles by workers, women and people of color, and others to gain their rights. More people will need to examine how a few owners of vast property used the corporate form to capture the Bill of Rights. We offer our assistance to any person or group who desire to learn their history as a beginning step to rethink, reassess and reassert control over corporations.

The more we know about the origins of today's corporate rule, and about corporations' persistent insurgencies against democracy, the more easily we can reorient our civic organizations to undo what corporations have done to our minds, constitutions, laws, culture, air, water and governance.

Ohio Committee on Corporations, Law and Democracy
c/o Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee
513 W. Exchange St.
Akron, OH 44302
Phone: 330-253-7151

Copyright © 2000 Ohio Committee on Corporations, Law and Democracy
Reprinted for fair use only

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