Ninety-Nine Percent Spring and Confronting Corporate Power

Friday, 06 April 2012 13:36

By George Goehl, Truthout | Op-Ed

At this moment, we face an incredible choice. We can fight to win back the economy we had before the financial crisis. Or, we can allow ourselves to reimagine what’s possible.

If we limit our vision because times are grim, we’ve already lost. Now is the time to march toward transforming our economy so it more fully serves the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of all of us and protects the planet for future generations.

For us to truly reorganize our economy, we have to challenge those that most benefit from the current structure – big and abusive corporations that consistently violate values of fairness, human dignity and conservation. To challenge institutions the size of Bank of America, Walmart, Wells Fargo, Verizon, Chevron, Hyatt, and others, we know we can’t do it alone. The good news is we don’t have to.

This spring, service, communication and domestic workers; the unemployed and families fighting foreclosure; environmental activists; immigrants; and family farmers will come together around a shared vision of a new bottom line that includes the health and well-being of workers, communities and the environment. Under the broad banner of 99% Power, thousands of people will engage in mobilizations and nonviolent direct action leading up to and at the shareholder meetings of dozens of corporations.

Many of us will have just come off mass trainings, as part of 99% Spring, designed to prepare us for these actions. There will be more demonstrations at corporate shareholder meetings this spring than at any point in American history.

Everyone generally agrees we have a right to expect more from government and hold government accountable. We seem less certain of our right to expect more from the corporations that have played such a central role in expanding economic and political inequality. Collectively, we must realize that demanding more accountability from these institutions isn’t too much to ask.

Corporations are a creation of the laws of our government. Their legal status is something that we grant them. And this means we have a right to hold them accountable and to expect more from them than the endless expansion of profit.

America is ready for a conversation about the role corporations should play in our economics and politics. According to a 2011 Gallup Poll, 67 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the size and influence of major corporations in the country today, the highest level since Gallup first asked this question in 2001. Goldman Sachs’ executive Greg Smith’s public resignation in a New York Times opinion piece illustrated how corporate greed and abuse of power has eroded trust even within corporate America itself.

Why the focus on shareholder meetings? Corporate shareholder meetings are a rare place where CEOs have to sit face to face with the everyday people whom their practices so directly affect.

Big bank CEOs will have to hear heart-wrenching stories of families fighting to save their homes. Taxpayers can directly challenge corporate boards of directors to stop dodging their tax-paying responsibilities.

Workers organizing to create jobs that are safe and pay a living wage can mike check union-busting CEOs. Communities of color will shine a spotlight on Wall Street executives who finance a private prison industry that is profiting from and perpetuating broken immigration and incarceration systems.

Specifically, on April 24, people will make the trek to San Francisco to the annual meeting of Wells Fargo to demand of CEO John Stumpf that Wells pay its fair share of taxes, reduce principal on hundreds of thousands of underwater mortgages and stops financing a private prison industry that lobbies to prevent immigration reform as a means of boosting their profits.

Shortly afterward, on May 9, busloads of families will travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, to demand Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan reduce principal on hundreds of thousands of mortgages, stop investing in dirty energy and divest from financing predatory payday lenders. Dozens of other corporations will have more guests than usual at their spring shareholder meetings.

We are in a moment that provides the rare opportunity to usher in transformative change. After the worst economic crisis since the Depression, it’s natural that our instincts are to save what we’ve got. But this is no time to play it safe. Opportunities to deliver game-changing justice don’t come along very often. Let’s seize this one. The next move is corporate shareholder meetings this spring. To get prepared, sign up for a training today.

See a clip of Bill Moyers talking with community organizer George Goehl.

This article is a Truthout original.

George Goehl

George Goehl is the executive director of National People’s Action, a network of metropolitan and statewide membership organizations dedicated to advancing economic and racial justice. George has been an organizer and strategist for 17 years, crafting city, state and federal campaigns on issues ranging from foreclosures, outlawing predatory lending and advancing immigration reform. He is a co-founder of The New Bottom Line, a national alignment designed to restructure our relationship with Wall Street and the financial sector and to advance a vision of a more equitable and sustainable economy.

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