History of the Grassroots Institute
We initially brought people together to talk about “corporations and democracy” in 1997 after participating in a Program on Corporations Law and Democracy (POCLAD) workshop entitled Rethinking Corporations, Rethinking Democracy. POCLAD corporate anthropologist Jane Anne Morris introduced the topic by pointing out that, “A corporation, like a toilet, is a thing. You do not consult with a toilet about the decisions you make in your life. Why should our democratic government consult with corporations about public policy?”
In 1998, we enthusiastically started the radio program Corporations and Democracy and soon discovered we could invite anybody we ever wanted to have a conversation with to be our guest. It still carries on now at kzxy.com. Over the years we interviewed Howard Zinn, Ralph Nader, Francis Moore Lappé, and many others.
Early on, we interviewed Texas populist journalist Ronnie Dugger. Two years earlier, he founded the Alliance for Democracy (AfD) after writing a letter to the Nation magazine pointing out, “Corporate money is wrecking popular government in the United States. The big corporations and the centimillionaires and billionaires have taken daily control of our work, our pay, our housing, our health, our pension funds, our bank and saving deposits, our public lands, our airwaves, our elections and our very government. It's as if American democracy has been bombed. Will we be able to recover ourselves and overcome the bombers? Or will they continue to divide us . . . until they have taken the country away from us for good?”
Ronnie energized many of us on the Northern California Coast to jam into our library’s community room and form a local AfD chapter. For ten years we organized regular Town Hall meetings featuring empowering speakers who took on corporate power. Code Pink and Global Exchange Founder Medea Benjamin; Harvard professor, international economic advisor, and author of When Corporations Rule the World David Korten; and many others addressed standing-room-only crowds.
We successfully organized two Green Tortoise busloads of committed citizens to travel to Seattle in 1999 to join 50,000 others to shut down the World Trade Organization, which had set itself up as the vanguard of global corporate rule. Our active citizenship stymied their plan for corporate global tyranny.
After many years of our local educational efforts via print, radio, and public forums, local AfD participants helped promote County Measure F directing our state and federal politicians to “call . . . for an amendment to the United States Constitution to establish that 1) only human beings and not corporations are endowed with constitutional rights and 2) that money does not constitute speech and political contributions can be regulated.” It passed with 75% of the vote.
Carrie Durkee organized a series of study groups on corporate power for the measure F campaign. She and Michael St. John invited Jim Tarbell to conduct a study group based on the AfD’s publication Justice Rising. In the spring of 2015 they filled a classroom at Mendocino College for the first class on Grassroots Solutions and Corporate Power. Margaret Koster joined that class and over the next year taught the course with Jim at MC’s inland campuses while Carrie and Michael presented Citizenship in an Age of Corporate Power on the Coast. In the Fall of 2015 Lillian Cartwright became an advisor for the classes and the group formed the GrassRoots Institute: Progressive Solutions for the Common Good. In the Spring of 2017, Carrie taught a course entitled The Common Good: Strategies and Solutions. Meanwhile, Jim started writing the Study Guide for the Grassroots Solutions and Corporate Power course.
In the Fall of 2017 Carrie joined Jim and Margaret to co-facilitate a year long effort under the banner of Building an Economy for Our Common Good: Mapping the Solidarity Economy of Mendocino County.
In the Spring of 2018, AfD Co-Chair David Delk undertook to put the Grassroots Institute online.