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Course Content

Why We Created the Study Guide and Who We Are

We created this course to explore the historic and current causes of our economic, political, environmental and social crises. It focuses on the systemic aspects of our political and economic processes that facilitate the owners of money to create and carry out our public policies. Those public policies cause our worst human problems.


Since the problems are systemic, there is no reason to look at this issue with an “us versus them” perspective. The human actors creating and carrying out our public policy are chosen and driven by our money-laden economic and political systems. As Daniel Tygel of the Brazilian Social Solidarity Economy points out, “We all get our hands dirty,” to survive in the capitalist sea.


Our responsibility as engaged citizens is to understand the systemic problems and develop long-term, sustainable solutions. Many grassroots solutions are explored in this course and tools are provided to help you develop more solutions.


This course focuses on corporations because corporations concentrate money within hierarchical corporate structures that place the bulk of financial power in a few hands that are devoted to an amoral corporate agenda of growth, resource depletion, low wages, and environmental carelessness. Corporations have made beneficial contributions to our world. In their present form, however, they have outlived their usefulness. Initially in this country, laws mandated corporations to amalgamate capital to complete projects for the common good — i.e. to build roads, bridges, and canals. By 1919, however, corporate lawyers had twisted legal thinking to the point that courts decided, “A business corporation is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of the stockholders.” A century later, the largest corporations in the land have invested heavily in campaign finance, lobbying, and public policy think tanks. Their goal has been to make all public policy serve the profits of the stockholders. The value of this corporate form no longer serves our common good and threatens life, as we know it.


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?”


When we brought local groups together to discuss this issue, initial reactions varied from, “What’s wrong with corporations? Without them, who is going to make our cars?” to “How are we going to get rid of corporate power without using bombs?” After a while the reaction morphed into “Shouldn’t it be Corporations or Democracy?” Twenty years later, “corporate power” is a well-understood concept with thousands of people across the country engaged in dealing with its problems.


In 1999, we enthusiastically started a radio program called Corporations and Democracy and soon discovered we could invite anybody we ever wanted to have a conversation with to be our guest. They would invariably respond with, “Corporations and Democracy? Yeah, I would love to talk about that.” Over the years we interviewed Howard Zinn, Ralph Nader, Francis Moore Lappé, and many others.


Early on, we excitedly interviewed Texas populist journalist Ronnie Dugger. Two years earlier, he helped expand awareness of corporate power by 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?”


He joyfully received 6,000 responses and led people from 30 states to gather and form the Alliance for Democracy (AfD). A few weeks after our radio interview, Ronnie energized many of us on the Northern California Coast to jam into our library’s community room and form a local AfD chapter. 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.


Our effort 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 ended their plan for corporate global tyranny.


In 2003, Ronnie Dugger asked me to take over the AfD’s regular newsletter on corporate power. In 2005 we launched the AfD publication Justice Rising, Grassroots Solutions to Corporate Rule, a thematic journal on corporate power that has published the work of many auspicious writers over the years including Bill McKibben, Raj Patel and Chris Hedges.


I first wrote about corporate power in Washington, DC during the Vietnam War. In those years I worked for a Republican Congressman while earning an economics degree from American University. My experience at the Capitol taught me that money is power, and my professors talked about creating an economy that maximized “utils of happiness” rather than dollars of profit, and warned us of the threat to our democracy posed by the growth of corporate power.


I took these new understandings to Latin America where I witnessed the corporate global empire overthrow democracy in Chile and penetrate deep into the Ecuadorian jungle. Back on the Northern California Coast, I wrote I Came Not Alone, a series of short stories on the early impacts of corporate globalization in Latin America, and co-published our bio-regional publication Ridge Review, which looked at the cultural, social, and economic changes in our local communities caused by money power and changing demographics. 


After many years of our local educational efforts via print, radio, and public forums in Mendocino County, local AfD participants helped promote County Measure F directing our state and federal politicians to “enact resolutions calling 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, who has an MA in Education and oversaw much of the groundwork for that initiative, conducted a series of study groups to help people understand the reality of corporate power.


She invited me to address one of her groups about my work with Justice Rising and then suggested that I do a workshop based on Justice Rising. After that effort, Carrie and Michael St. John, who has a PhD. in economics from UC Berkeley, suggested we present the class at our local college campus. In the spring of 2015 we filled a classroom for our first class on Grassroots Solutions and Corporate Power. Margaret Koster, who has an MA in social work, had headed up the inland effort for Measure F and is deeply involved in the national Move to Amend movement, joined that class. Since then, Carrie, Michael, Margaret and I worked to present Grassroots Solutions and Corporate Power courses and their derivative, Citizenship in an Age of Corporate Power at Mendocino College’s Coast and two inland campuses. In addition, Carrie taught a course entitled The Common Good: Strategies and Solutions in the spring of 2017 that included movement, music and more. Here is a link to an overview of that course.


To centralize these classes and efforts in one entity, we created the Grassroots Institute: Progressive Solutions for the Common Good. Lillian Cartwright joined us in establishing the Institute and has functioned as an advisor for our classes, providing a deep knowledge of the academic world to our organization. Lillian graduated summa cum laude from Queens College and received an MA from the University of Illinois and PhD. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley.


We are publishing this study guide for Grassroots Solutions and Corporate Power to help people across the country and around the world offer this course in their local communities. It is presented here as fourteen two-or-three-hour classes. We have also presented it as five four-hour courses. You could also do it as a study group or an online course that you do on your own. If you are working on a related issue locally, you could download the classes on that issue. This could help you educate each other on the history, solutions, and resources to use relevant to that issue. However you do it, we are happy to help. We would also love to get your feedback about what works and what does not work for you with this course and study guide.


This course is designed as an introduction to a many-faceted topic. I often compare talking about corporations and democracy to the way people must have spoken about kings and democracy several centuries ago. “Aren’t kings appointed by God?” people must have asked then, just as they now inquire, “Should we really be biting the hand that feeds us?” If life as we know it is going to survive, we have to take on this issue. Nobody else is going to do it.


Thanks for being involved.


Jim Tarbell 

Caspar, California February 6, 2018

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