Thank you to our elders for bringing us perspective!
He started by telling us about the organic food movement, how it started with activists in the 1970s who were “too small to matter” and is now the only growth sector in the food industry. He explained how the movement sewed the seeds for their own destruction by not keeping control of who is in charge. Now, corporations get to define the story.
Paul’s points are that: 1) we don’t take ourselves (in social movements) seriously enough, and understand the intersections with corporate capitalism, and 2) we don’t know our history.
On the first note, Paul pointed out that many of us think that we are on the fringe, hopeless in reaching the “apathetic Americans”. Many activists feel like our candidates don’t get on ballots, our letters don’t get heard, our input is not heard. He explains that these feelings are rational because the system is broken.
But, people care deeply about what they have basic authority over.
That’s where the “Rights of Corporations” comes in: corporate personhood. Paul asserts that if we understood the significance of corporate personhood, than our strategies and tactics for change would be different. He pointed out that in doing things like:
--writing a letter to a corporate leader
--going to a public hearing
--demonstrating at stores
--buying stock and going to stockholders meetings
are all assuming that corporations have legitimate power and are NOT the subordinate legal entity that they were first intended to be! If we take for granted that corporations have personhood power, than we will not understand what we can reverse.
Paul went into the fascinating history of the slow and steady gain of corporate power through building their “rights” over people and the government. That is why logging companies write forest management acts and weapons corporations write foreign policy.
Paul points out that we must dismantle their rights. In his home county, they have removed the personhood rights of corporations and do not allow chains or donations by corporations. And it’s catching on: two hundred townships in Pennsylvania have passed similar laws, and Nebraska and South Dakota have similar state constitutional amendments.
So, what’s stopping us? Paul says: we’re acting like we’re radicals, on the fringe, while most Americans want healthy environments, social systems, peace, etc. He thinks that we’re so used to being activists and rebels that we don’t see ourselves as the majority. What if we acted like we are the majority?!?!
Paul’s speech gave me, and the other 250 people in the room, chills. He got a spirited standing O. ;-)
What rang most for me about Star’s talk was her illumination about the sheer difficulty of getting along with each other in our non-hierarchical, non-patriarchal groups. We don’t have many models of collectives, and she offered us some insight about this using the four cardinal directions.
She spoke about POWER: power over, power within and power with. She noted that unearned power is privilege. The “power with” part is tricky: people gain power in many forms, and in a group of equals this power determines how much you get listened to and therefore directs the path of the group. Vision can guide a group but must be invested in with love and trust.
Trust in each other and accountability mechanisms are essential. We need sound and safe ways for giving each other feedback and constructive critique. It’s a sign of respect, she pointed out, that your work gets critiqued because it reveals its value and the intention to improve it. She explained that critique must be specific, thoughtful and timely.
Star ended by reminding us that we must invite in the help of our allies; asking for help keeps us humble. And, when we open up to the wisdom of “invisible allies” like algae or fungus (and faeries—she’s a witch, you know!), we become witness to transformation of something ordinary into something miraculous! Now, that’s inspiration!!
Again, thank you to our elders for sharing insights with us!