Why Amend the Constitution to Eliminate Corporate Personhood?

by Ken Krayeske

Amending the U.S. Constitution to eliminate corporate personhood will open up the creative space in the American democracy, according to David Cobb, the Green Party 's presidential candidate in 2004.

Cobb, who is now the spokesman for MovetoAmend.org addressed 35 people at the University of Connecticut's Dodd Center on Tuesday, October 25. It was the first stop on his Connecticut grassroots organizing tour.

"The problem is not with the idea of a corporation," Cobb said, "The problem is what we are doing with it. It is stupid that we are embedding a corporation with human rights."

He will speak tonite, October 26, 2011 at McCook Auditorium at Trinity College in Hartford at 7 p.m. On Thursday, October 27, at 12:30 he will be at Southern Connecticut State University, and at 7 p.m., he will speak at the Clinton Library.

On Friday, he will be in New London, and on Saturday Cobb will speak at Wesleyan University in Middletown at 3 p.m. and at the Kent Town Hall in Kent at 7 p.m. His complete schedule can be found at movetoamend.org

On Sunday, he said he hopes to address the general assembly at Occupy Wall Street.

"Democracy means conversations in public places," Cobb said. "Democracy means that I have the opportunity to participate in power."

Cobb has been on the road barnstorming about the for six weeks, and every time he speaks to a crowd, he asks if they think that the American people run their government. No one ever raises their hands.

"I think it is a good thing that no one ever raises their hands," Cobb said. "People are disabusing themselves of the notion that we rule the government."

The most important thing we can do is be honest and tell the truth, Cobb said.

He took the audience on a historical tour of the corporate framework that we know today. Corporations were first created during the Roman Republic as a means to build roads, aqueducts, hospitals and universities.

"The genius of a corporation is to take private goods and put them to public use, voluntarily," Cobb said.  Taxes, on the other hand, appropriate private goods for public use involuntarily.

"We are not anti-corporate," Cobb said. Agglomerations of capital are necessary to accomplish certain tasks. "It is valid to say corporations work for good things," Cobb said.

In fact, Cobb supposed that 99 percent of corporations are fine.  But, the one percent of corporations that have become the modern transnational corporation are now predatory instruments of oppression.  

Cobb did not cite this, but a study released by Swiss researchers last week explained that 147 corporations seem to control more than 50 percent of the global economy.

The modern corporation began during the European Age of Discovery, which, as a truth teller, Cobb said was an age of empire and colonialism and rape and theft of resources.  

Corporations like the British East India Company existed to exploit people, lands and resources. "It was designed to legalize the destruction of Indian institutions and replace them with British institutions," Cobb said.

The divine right of kings - which most of us cannot discuss without laughing now - created these companies to benefit the king and the members of parliament, who were all shareholders.

Of the 13 original American colonies, 10 were joint stock corporations.  One, Georgia, was a penal colony, and the original slaves there were white, Cobb noted.

The original charter of the Massachusetts Bay Trading Company stated its purpose was to plant and rule and govern on the king's behalf and on behalf of the shareholders, ie, parliament.

The king appointed governors to run the colonies.  The colonists did not like this. The American revolution, then, is a story about a people's uprising against unaccountable corporate CEO's, Cobb said.

"We cannot merely call for socially responsible corporations," Cobb said.

It makes no sense to ask corporations "Would you please not cause so much cancer? Would you please not cause so much asthma? Would you please not destroy the Gulf of Mexico? Is a little less death all we want?" Cobb asked.

In a word, no.  The Move to Amend the constitution is about people regaining the sovereign power over corporations. The beauty of the American constitution is that it vests all authority to govern in the people, who delegate that to the government.

People are sovereign, government is subordinate. People have rights, government has duties.

"In discharging those duties, government is not allowed to violate the sovereign rights of people," Cobb said. "Government cannot infringe on human rights."

In 1789, the US Constitution became the supreme law of the land, yet it applied to only five percent of the people who lived here - the landholding, white males. Women, blacks, Native Americans, indentured servants - none of them had legal personhood under the Constitution.

Historian Howard Zinn considered American history to be a struggle of people to be defined as persons with rights under the U.S. Constitution.  

At the formation of the American Republic, corporations had to be created by acts of the legislature, Cobb said.  They had to be for the public good, were time delimited, and were dissolved when they served their functions.

Today, corporations can be formed for any legal purpose, go on forever, and be created with the stroke of a pen.  And they have the rights of legal personhood. This needs to change, Cobb said.

The real world ramifications of amending the Constitution to eliminate corporate personhood are vast, Cobb said. For example, if a corporation had to open its books to the public like at the start of the American republic, the Enron disaster never would have happened.

The move to amend the constitution will hopefully result in a conversation that involves securing the affirmative rights to food, health care, housing, education, clean air, clean water, and meaningful employment.

Cobb closed by asking "What is our social contract? We have not renegotiated the social contract in America in a long time.  The current social contract in the Constitution protects property rights."

Getting metaphysical, he said that if enough people believe something, it can be true. Just as the divine right of kings was eliminated, so can corporate personhood be eliminated, and a new world be created in its wake.

Ken Krayeske is a former Congressional candidate and co-chair of the Green Party of Connecticut

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