Above: The Rolling Rebellion for Real Democracy protest in Ohio 2015.
The World Economic Forum ends today in Davos, Switzerland. This is where the richest of the richest corporate executives, politicians and celebrities meet to discuss the future of the world. Since 2010, they’ve been working on a plan, the Global Redesign Initiative, to replace democracy with a corporatocracy. This is the fundamental struggle of our era.
Corporatocracy versus Democracy
What does a corporatocracy look like? Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, says, “the sovereign state is obsolete.” Instead, WEF’s goal is to give a greater role for corporations in global governance through “40 Global Agenda Councils and industry-sector bodies.” In essence, the Global Redesign Initiative of the World Economic Forum seeks to privatize government. We discuss the initiative with two experts from the Center for Governance and Sustainability at the University of Massachusetts in depth on Clearing The FOG Radio.
Do you have any confidence that multinational corporations would have the interests of the people in mind, particularly the people they deem disposable? And, when it comes to the planet will they protect resources or exploit them, will they put climate change ahead of their profits? They certainly haven’t demonstrated concern except in situations where appearing generous works to their advantage.
Paul Bucheit writes that the 0.01% have wealth equal to the bottom 80% of people in the US and that more than half of US corporate foreign profits are held in tax havens. Oxfam’s newest report on wealth inequality finds that just 62 people have the wealth equal to the bottom half of the global population, down from 80 the year before and 388 in 2010.
What does corporatocracy feel like? In the US, almost two-thirds of people cannot handle an unexpected expense of $500 or more, (half don’t have any savings). In 2011, that figure was $1,000. In cities, people of color and of lower income are being forced out from disinvestment in their communities and gentrification.
Plutocracy in the United States is driving two major crises: the looming financial crash and the climate crisis. We hear warnings that another financial bubble is ready to burst that will have global impacts. Debt is high and bonds are over-leveraged. Central banks are running out of solutions to stimulate the economy, but they won’t admit it.
Just like the financial market ‘correction,’ which started with the new year, J.P. Sottile writes in TruthOut that there will be a carbon correction:
“This mother of all market corrections is coming – and it will settle accounts through civilization-halting floods and famines, through population-endangering climate migrations or even through the simple loss of breathable air. This is not just irony. This is Mother Nature’s invisible hand correcting humankind’s foolish, short-term investment in the distorted hydrocarbon economy.”
The most recent example of the out-of-control carbon bubble is the gas disaster near Los Angeles. Professor Tony Ingraffea explains the extent of the disaster telling us that the Aliso Canyon leak is the ‘tip of the iceberg.’ There are thousands of old wells across the US that could fail and spew methane, an extremely potent Greenhouse Gas, into the air. This is one more example of failing US infrastructure and one more reason why the US needs an Apollo Project to transition to a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy.
In contrast, what would solutions that come from the people look like? The Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) recently released its “Agenda to Build Black Futures,” which focuses on repairing the damage done by centuries of systemic oppression including the current crisis of mass incarceration and honoring the rights of workers, especially women. And climate justice and worker groups are collaborating on a ‘just transition‘ to a more democratized and localized economy that incorporates resilience to the climate crisis.
The Struggle for Democracy
This week was the sixth anniversary of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling which allowed unlimited amounts of money to be spent in support of political candidates by PACs (political action committees). This is one manifestation of the plutocracy which extends to the founding of this country through the Constitution, which was written by and for the propertied white elites.
The Citizens United ruling was followed in 2014 by the McCutcheon decision which removed limits on donations to candidates, parties and committees. At the time of the decision we described it as a rallying cry for a democracy movement.
In “The Devastating Cost of Monetized Elections,” Ralph Nader writes that it is up to us, the people, to change this. He describes the money corrupted elections, controlled by corporations as a set back to US democracy. He advises us to take the election system from the corporate media and the corporate debate system:
“Do your homework on the parties and the candidates, form informal groups to demand debates and agendas that you preside over, push for more choices on the ballot, make votes count over money.”
Bill Moyer of the Backbone Campaign, noting there are two strands of populism in the US – negative and positive, urges people to reject the negativity coming out of some of the presidential campaigns. Instead we must come together to build community and “to build power for a positive populism.” And Nancy Price of the Alliance for Democracy encourages us to use legal strategies to build “the commons” to avoid its exploitation for profit by the wealthy. She has been a leading proponent of the movement across the country to create “TPP Free Zones” at the city, county and state levels.
In our rigged electoral system, what can we do? Many progressives are excited by the Bernie Sanders campaign. And while we admire Senator Sanders for his long history of speaking about wealth inequality and many of his domestic politics, such as his support for single payer and labor unions and for confronting Wall Street, we believe that social transformation requires building third parties that are independent of corporate money, among other updates to the US electoral system.
George Lakey reminds us that our power is not in the electoral arena because at this time, elections are dominated by money and corporations. People power is better wielded outside of manipulated elections in resistance campaigns. We hope that if Sanders loses the primary, his supporters will consider Lakey’s words:
“What if the Sanders campaigners maintained their commitment to a progressive analysis and vision and simply acknowledged what so many Americans already know: The system is too rigged to be changed from within.”
If Sanders loses, it will be because the Democratic primary process is rigged by the elite, not because his ideas don’t resonate with the people. Sanders is articulating much of what the movement for economic, racial and environmental justice supports. It is up to his supporters to take the momentum built through the campaign to fight for change, not the change chosen by the campaign, but change chosen by the people. That is democracy.
Building Popular Power
The struggle for democracy is difficult. We see the challenges in countries that are more advanced in the process than the US. They all have something in common: popular movements are essential for creating the political environment that allows the election of candidates that reflect movements, for holding them accountable to the movement once in office and for protecting them from the opposition.
In Ecuador, it was a movement that elected Rafael Correa as president. The movement created its name, the Citizen’s Revolution, and in the past nine years has taken substantial steps to reduce the wealth divide through public investment.
On February 9, an exciting new initiative, the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM), is being launched in Berlin. This open letter from John Malamatinas of Blockupy to Yanis Varoufakis, one of the co-founders of DiEM, and his open letter in reply illustrate the challenges of creating effective democracy movements. We will follow their efforts and hope to learn from them.
There is tremendous popular power in the United States. That is clear everyday from the small portion of it that is covered on Popular Resistance. Just this week, there is a growing movement in Flint, Michigan pushing for the resignation of Governor Snyder. (EPA-whistleblower Marsha Coleman explains why the EPA is also at fault for the Flint water crisis). A coalition of Black-led groups confronted the US Conference of Mayors to demand more investment in their communities and disinvestment in state violence. Students from a dozen high schools in Minneapolis walked out in protest of the rise in ICE raids and deportations. And in ten cities, climate justice advocates protested the Clean Power Plan at regional EPA offices (note that there will be another protest of the Clean Power Plan at the EPA in DC on Tuesday).
Our challenge is to increasingly build relationships across issues and find opportunities to collaborate on issue campaigns and actions so that some infrastructure will be in place for a democracy movement in the United States that is democratic and reflects the values of the current movement.
One critical opportunity that is coming up is the TransPacific Partnership (TPP). There is already a broad movement of movements against the TPP because it impacts so much that we hold dear. The Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD) writes that the TPP is a continuation of the anti-democratic US Constitution. They urge people to make the connection so we understand not to repeat the same mistakes.
President Obama will sign the TPP in New Zealand on February 4. This is the earliest date that he can legally sign it. He is in a hurry to pass the TPP before his presidency ends. The next step after signing is that he must send implementing legislation to Congress for approval under the fast track process. He will wait until he believes he has enough votes to pass it before he does that. Our job is to make sure he doesn’t ever have enough votes.
Previous successful struggles to stop similar agreements have demonstrated that it was a visible culture of resistance, people in the streets, that stopped them. We must do the same now. There will be actions in cities across the US and Canada around the February 4 signing. Check the action map here for one near you. More actions are being planned for President’s week when members of Congress will be home. And join the organizing calls on Wednesday nights. Click here for information.
The TPP is the next battle to stop corporate government on a global scale. Stopping the TPP will be a tremendous victory of popular power over corporate power. We can stop the World Economic Forum’s vision of a global governance redesigned into a corporatocracy and create a world of popular democracy for a livable future for everyone.