Crimes Against Democracy?

As you head out to exercise your constitutional rights at the polls Tuesday, you might consider how your voice compares with that of big business. The struggle to institute any meaningful campaign f

As you head out to exercise your constitutional rights at the polls Tuesday, you might consider how your voice compares with that of big business. The struggle to institute any meaningful campaign finance reform provides only a glimpse of the influence wielded by the deep pockets of corporate America. The booming economy only amplifies such influence and, far from being "a tide which lifts all boats," tends to swamp those small craft in need of repair.

If you spend more time bailing out your dingy than sailing your sloop, you might be unaware of the extent to which your S.O.S. is being jammed. But examples of corporate influence are everywhere. Of course, we can expect to see the Cincinnati Reds chomping on Chiquita bananas this spring, as they train for Opening Day at Cinergy Field. We can count the blessings of unrestrained and unsupervised business practices as we shell out uncounted millions beyond the "guaranteed maximum price" for Paul Brown Stadium or hold our breath in anticipation of which corporate logo might adorn the new baseball park.

We can contemplate the last gasps of bawdy free expression in a society happily goose-stepping toward fascism at the Broadway Series presentation of Cabaret, now playing at the Aronoff's Procter & Gamble Hall. Ironic, isn't it? Apparently, our local arbiters of culture are willing to accept homosexuality as long as it's fictitious and, more importantly, tragic.

And pricey tickets keep the riffraff out.

Sadly, most of our arts and culture are reduced to little more than tools for corporate advertising these days. And the once independent media, the "free press" so clearly identified by the nation's founders as necessary for a healthy democracy, have been swallowed, gulp by unchewed gulp, by voracious predators anxious to manage their own public image.

General Electric brings good things to life through its ownership of NBC, Westinghouse sees through the eye of CBS, Fox spotlights Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and Disney has a whole new Magic Kingdom on ABC. Don't expect any of these networks to bite the hand that feeds them by airing the dirty laundry of their doting corporate parents. Even PBS, now disowned by the government, has to whore itself to make a living.

Feeling inconsequential? Think there's nothing you can do about it? Think again.

Greater Cincinnati's Alliance for Democracy is sponsoring a day-long workshop on "Corporate Power and Democracy" March 18 at Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church, 103 William Howard Taft Road. Participants will learn details on the extent of corporate influence over their lives and communities, the history of how such influence was achieved and practical steps individuals and communities can take to reduce such influence.

"We want to alert people to the domination of corporations in their lives and give them an idea of how this came to be," says Richard Middendorf, the group's secretary.

Middendorf cites an 1886 Supreme Court ruling, the Santa Clara Decision, as the chief obstacle in curbing corporate power and influence. That decision gave "personhood" to corporations and is a mainstay in the current debate that equates corporate campaign contributions to "speech."

"What we want to do is question the 'personhood' of corporations and see if they're violating democracy," he says. "When they control our citizens and our votes in Congress, that's a crime against democracy."

Middendorf is echoed by Jack VanderVen, the Alliance for Democracy's "coordinator-by-default" who describes the dramatic action taken by citizens of Arcata, Calif. In that community, citizens successfully passed a 1998 ballot initiative requiring possible corporate influences and impacts to be considered and discussed before any corporate actions or developments are approved.

"It makes them accountable to the people of the city as a whole, rather than to a small group of political officials," VanderVen says. "They'd have to hold some open forums or town meetings before giving the green light to anything."

The two men also talk about the possibility of revoking the charters granted to corporations by states and localities, including an ongoing effort to revoke the charter of Unocal in the state of California, a process which became stalled when that state's Attorney General determined that activists had insufficient ground. The case is pending.

"The fight continues," VanderVen asserts.

The March 18 workshop sessions, described by VanderVen as "educational and motivational," will feature presentations on the history of corporations by Greg Coleridge, director of the Economic Justice and Empowerment Program for the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee; local activist Marilyn Wall describing the situation in Ohio; and Michael Ferner, communications director of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO, on specific strategies to counteract corporate influence.

Registration is 8-9 a.m., with a fee of $10 ($5 for low-income folks). Participants should either brown-bag their lunch or plan to eat at restaurants nearby, which promises some lively table talk. Parking is available in the church lot behind or on the street.

For more information or to obtain a registration form, call Richard Middendorf at 662-3712 or Jack VanderVen at 542-0958.

You deserve a break today. Feel the difference. Explore the possibilities. You're in good hands.

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