Commentary

Plutocracy and Corporate Personhood

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By Blair Jackson
Editor
It’s important to remember Occupy Wall Street is a protest movement, not a political organization or even a task force.

What is happening in America right now is a very raw, emotional expression from middle- and lower-class Americans who feel like they’ve gotten a bum deal. There are also, of course, marginalized sympathizers in the upper-middle classes, possibly even from the Baby Boomer generation, but most people are of the younger generations who feel trapped in a class where they don’t belong.

During the next few weeks, I will be opening up a public discourse about select solutions and ideologies of the Occupy Wall Street movement. My goal is to engage all members of the community, especially those who have ideas in opposition to my own.

Based on my conversations with OccupyNWA, here’s the gist of the complaint: We live in a society ruled by a plutocracy under the guise of a bipartisan political system. Benefiting from corporate personhood, corporations use freedom of speech to contribute to political campaigns, which essentially sets the implicit or explicit expectation that the politician must create and support policies in favor of the company’s interests.

Some people say that by eliminating corporate personhood — or, more specifically, by revoking a corporation’s right to free speech — the stream of corporate-funded campaign revenue could be eliminated. It’s important, however, to return to the 1957 Supreme Court ruling that identifies personhood with unions as well as “manufacturers, retail and wholesale trade groups, consumers’ leagues, farmers’ unions, religious groups and every other association representing a segment of American life and taking an active part in our political campaigns and discussions,” according to Justice William O. Douglas.

Boiled down, this means the court decided that to revoke free speech from one organization would make it necessary to eliminate it among all groups. And for some groups, free speech isn’t just a loophole for campaign contributions.

Now, let’s consider corporate contributions not as bribes, but as resources. Even as legitimate resources, the vast amount of money in play creates a political environment in which it is virtually impossible for an independent candidate to compete with the two largest parties. Thus, the system is, at the very least, supported by corporate money.

In order to level the playing field, some are calling for all campaigns to be completely funded by the public. This would mean money and subsidies would come from the government, which, at this juncture, I don’t see as a viable option, considering the federal government is always looking for the next program to slash. Plus, having the government involved in its own election process seems about as corruption-proof as corporate funded campaigns.

What must change, and more importantly, what can change, is our consumer behavior. In last week’s Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Walmart announced it would expand its price-match guarantee throughout the Christmas season. Duncan Mac Naughton, Walmart’s chief merchandising officer, said the expanded price guarantee is aimed at reducing customers’ stress because they “know they’re going to get the lowest price.”’

Is shopping at Walmart a bad thing? Not necessarily, but how can we expect corporations to conduct business in the interest of humanity if our only bottom line as consumers is money?
In the question of corporate power, greed and even environmental awareness, the change begins with an individual. The Occupy movement isn’t about a single political agenda; it’s about awareness. And a group of individuals are suddenly asking, “How much do you know about the practices of the companies to whom you give your money?”

Companies react to consumer behavior. How, where and why we spend our money is a science corporations use to build successful businesses and marketing practices. If we alter our spending habits to support a sustainable environment and if our bottom line is in human interest, companies will be forced to change direction.

It doesn’t take a political revolution to change the world if the world is run by money.

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