Bringing Corporations to the Table

Arcata, California — a small town not far from the redwoods and wild rivers of northern California — made news in 1996 when an elected majority of its City Council were members of the Green Party. Three years later, the town is about to find itself in the news again. Arcata is pioneering Measure F (“the Arcata Advisory Measure on Democracy and Corporations”), a piece of legislation that hopes to rescind corporate rule in California.

Measure F calls on the Arcata city council to:

  1. Cosponsor (in cooperation with the drafters of this initiative) two town hall meetings in the five months following passage of this ballot measure on the topic “Can we have democracy when large corporations wield so much power and wealth under law?”;

  2. immediately act to establish, through the creation of an official committee, policies and programs that ensure democratic control over corporations conducting business within the city, in whatever ways are necessary to ensure the health and well-being of our community and its environment;

  3. immediately forward copies of this ballot measure to all of our elected representatives at the county, state, and federal levels, and to members of the press.

Before cynics laugh at such local presumption, we must remember that major political reform movements in our country’s history have often begun in rural areas. While it is the first such initiative in the nation, discussion of Measure F occurred across the country in local gatherings inspired by Richard Grossman and his associates (Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy).

Grossman and other proponents of Measure F — Paul Cienfuegos, Gary House, and Linda Mirelez — are asking Americans to examine 19th-century American history and the evolution of corporate privilege and immunity in this modern era.

The citizens of Arcata want to create an enlightened debate about the public’s ability to reassert itself. They want to remind us that in the 19th century, states often revoked the charter of companies that broke the law. They want us to know that since all corporations are created by the state, it is within the public’s power to modify and even revoke corporate charters.

In a pamphlet titled “Why Do Corporations Have More Rights Than You?,” Democracy Unlimited of Arcata argues that “this country’s founders never intended for corporations to dominate our society and overwhelm our democracy.”

There are more than 50 giant corporations currently doing business in Arcata, among them the Bank of America, Exxon, General Electric, Louisiana-Pacific, Maxxam, McDonald’s, Media News Group, PepsiCo, Safeway, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., and RiteAid. Measure F will ensure that these companies and its officials engage in a robust civic dialogue.

For more information contact Democracy Unlimited at P.O. Box 27, Arcata, CA 95518 or visit its Web site, www.monitor.net/democracyunlimited.

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