Declare Your Independence Again

Richard Eskow

It’s easy to fall into despair, to have the dark thoughts come unbidden and unwelcome. You probably know the thoughts I mean: The battle’s over. Democracy lost. The big-money interests always win. There’s no point in even trying anymore.

Why shouldn’t we feel that way? On issue after issue the public’s will is being thwarted, sometimes by leaders of both parties acting in the name of “bipartisanship.”  The message has gone out to the young, to minorities, the poor, to all the troubled and idealistic citizens of the United States: Don’t hope for too much. You’ll get what the Corporate State wants you to get and nothing more.

Americans across the political spectrum, from left to right, want a new relationship with government. They want to rebuild democracy, unimpeded by big-money influence. But how?

It starts with a manifesto, a call to action that can rally a people. Fortunately, we have a very good template to work from.

The Declaration

Have you read the Declaration of Independence lately? It’s a moving experience, especially at a time when big-money corruption has infected all three branches of our government. Today’s assault on our democracy gives its words a surprisingly contemporary resonance.

Those words offer a stirring and inspiring reminder of the long odds and great dangers which confronted the Founders of this country, who chose to face them fearlessly … and won.

The first Declaration rejected the undemocratic tyranny of British colonizers. The next one must affirm our independence, nonviolently and democratically, from the corporations and billionaires bent on hijacking our government and usurping our democracy.

It’s time to withdraw the “consent of the governed” from a system whose laws are written by lobbyists, not legislators; which arrests drug users while ignoring the banks who break dozens of laws – and systemically launder millions in drug cartel money; a system in which corporations are considered “people” while real people lose their most fundamental liberties.

Those Who Went Before Us

We have a working model for the economic independence movement of the future – in the revolution of our past. And we have the first draft for a 21st century statement of principles in the Declaration of Independence.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the Declaration is so relevant to today’s struggles.  The Founders’ rebellion against England was largely a struggle for economic self-determination … and their views on corporations sounded as progressive as the Occupy movement’s.

Thomas Jefferson said: “I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

John Adams, who was to become Jefferson’s adversary in the election of 1800, shared this aversion. Said Adams:   “Banks have done more injury to the religion, morality, tranquility, prosperity, and even wealth of the nation than they can have done or ever will do good.”

Most historians agree that the unpopularity of the intrusive Alien and Sedition Acts played a major part in the incumbent President Adams’ loss to Jefferson. Apologists for today’s repressive measures, whether Republican or Democratic, should take note – especially since so many of today’s security initiatives are profit-driven products of the Corporate State.

Their election battle was a bitter and personal one, but the Federalist Adams and the Democratic-Republican Jefferson shared a revulsion toward corporate tyranny.  That was the bipartisan position back then in Washington.

A Re-Declaration of Independence … From Corporate Tyranny

The Declaration of Independence begins by framing the moral and ethical principles behind the independence movement. Then it indicts the tyrannical power for its misdeeds before declaring this nation’s freedom from its control.

It’s striking to see how easily the structure, tone and even much of the language of the original Declaration can be used as a rallying cry against today’s corporate tyranny. Here’s a glimpse, a rough sketch, of what that document might look like:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the economic bands which have connected them with another, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all human beings are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That to secure these rights, governments and economic relationships are instituted among people – (living, breathing, human people, not corporate pseudo-people [1])  – deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Whenever any political or economic relationships or entities become destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish them and institute new ones, laying their foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. [2]

The history of the present Corporate State is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States …

Let facts be submitted to a candid world.

Corporations have erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. [3]  Corporations have kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies … [4]

Corporations have affected to render the Military and Police independent of and superior to the civil power. [5]  Corporations have combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws [6]

Corporations have plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. [7]  They have excited domestic insurrections amongst us and have encouraged a climate of political violence which is leading to an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. [8]

Corporations have refused to obey laws … [9] have usurped the democratic process … [10] and have used digital technologies and legal subterfuge to deny people fundamental rights of property and due process allowed them since the Magna Carta; [11]

Corporations have restricted human beings from exercising their most fundamental rights – in the workplace, as consumers, as borrowers and as investors. They have prevented Americans from pursuing the careers or educations of their own choice, living where they would prefer, or exercising other such fundamental rights. [12]

Therefore:  We now declare our independence – moral, economic, and political – from the Corporate State and its undemocratic rule. And on this we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Now what? 

A Declaration of Independence from corporate tyranny might look something like that. But then what? A new independence movement would need a clear, just, and coherent set of demands – demands like these:

  • An end to the corrupting influence of big-money campaign contributions, to be replaced by a system of publicly-funded elections;
  • No more “revolving doors” between the halls of government and the corporations which serve that government;
  • An end to the privatization mania that has become a feeding frenzy for corporations, who enrich themselves by assuming government functions – and power – on a for-profit basis;
  • A recognition that basic health care and Social Security are fundamental human rights, and that these programs must be managed as the people’s business and not as profit-making schemes;
  • An understanding that the Earth and its environment have been given to us as a trust for future generations, not as loot for corporate plunder or raw material to be melted down and sold by corporate interests;
  • A reaffirmation of faith in the future and respect and love for the youth of our country, which means an end to the indentured servitude of student debt, expanded primary and secondary education, and a comprehensive program of free higher education;
  • Decent jobs for every American willing to work, with fair pay and proper workplace representation that allows employees to negotiate with their employers on equal terms;
  • And a return to our bedrock values of fair play and equal opportunity for all. That means a return to social mobility; rebuilding an economy of growth, jobs and opportunity; and a system of taxation which asks corporations and the wealthy to contribute their fair share to the nation which has given them so much.

It can be done.

These goals may sound idealistic, even utopian. But we’ve reached even more challenging goals in our country’s short history, and we were making good progress toward many of these ideals until the forces of corporate tyranny were mobilized against them. All are eminently achievable, and each is consistent with our highest and most enduring values.

We can accomplish great things. In fact, we’ve done it over and over. From the founders of this nation to the first leaders of the labor movement, from women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement, this nation has been shaped by people who declared their commitment to ideals which seemed naïve and goals which seemed impossible – ideals which were then realized, and goals which were then achieved.

Now it’s our turn. If you’re tired of being an indentured servant of the corporate state, it’s time to declare independence. There’s no better way to commemorate the Fourth of July than by rededicating ourselves to its living spirit.

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Footnotes

[1] The concept of “corporate personhood” exists nowhere in the Constitution, was not even imagined until the 20th Century, and is a fiction created by corporate-funded legal groups like the Federalist Society. It is also, at least to any person with ordinary common sense, a very silly idea.

[2] The precursors to modern corporations, as defined by everyone from the Founders to Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, were organizations whose charters might periodically be renewed if they proved socially useful and didn’t harm the public’s well-being. People back then did not think of them the way so many do today, as autonomous agents or even semi-sacred entities. They were (and are) licensed to operate, like cab drivers or hot-dog stand vendors. We have every right to, at a minimum, declare our democratic and economic independence from them.

 [3] This includes the abusive and tyrannical use of credit scores, abusive debt collection practices, and usurious bankruptcy laws drafted by corporate lobbyists. The National Security State, itself a creature of corporate interests, is invading the privacy and usurping the rights of our citizens.

[4] Private security guards have assumed many police functions, despite being unaccountable to democratic processes. See Carl Hiaasen’s book Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World, for an extreme example. The profusion of private militias on the Blackwater/Xe model makes this problem even worse.

[5] Corporations have increasingly gained influence over the court system, and have even begun using it as a private debt collection system.

[6] The foreclosure fraud scandal is a classic example of corporations’ ability to unilaterally rewrite contracts without the other party’s consent, and then seize property to enforce their decisions. As the film Hot Coffee illustrates, they are also using a corrupted arbitration process to deprive customers of basic legal rights.

[7] Corporations are rarely held accountable for the massive environmental damage they are causing, nor are they required to stop causing further damage.

[8] The ALEC corporate agenda includes a strong emphasis on guns and Stand Your Ground Laws, and corporate-backed Tea Party rallies and movements prominently feature calls to insurrection and demands for the violent overthrow of the government. But the real frustration behind that movement is economic. Many Tea Party members should support this Declaration. That would be a more productive way to channel their energy and their emotions.

[9] Seen any Wall Street executives indicted lately – or ever – over the widespread fraud that led to the crisis? Me neither.

[10] Corporate contributions had already defiled the democratic process before the Citizens United ruling. Now it’s open season on democracy.

[11] The story of MERS – the mortgage industry’s shell company and digital database – is a case study in this usurpation of law.

[12] See “Goodbye, Liberty!” for more on this subject. The short version: Debt peonage is the new American servitude.

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