2013 – Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca of Pennsylvania’s Washington County Court of Common Pleas rules that corporations are not persons
Judge O’Dell-Seneca declared, “In the absence of state law, business entities are nothing.” If corporations could claim rights independent from people, she asserted, then “the chattel would become the co-equal to its owners, the servant on par with its masters, the agent the peer of its principals, and the legal fabrication superior to the law that created and sustains it…the constitution vests in business entities no special rights that the laws of this Commonwealth cannot extinguish. In sum, [corporations] cannot assert [constitutional privacy] protections because they are not mentioned in its text.”
1877 – National Farmers Alliance established – populists challenge corporate power
Commonly known as the “Northern Alliance,” farmers collectively organized against unfair railroad practices and advocated for tax reforms and legalization of insurance companies sponsored by the Grange. Southern farmers organized several years earlier, calling themselves the “Southern Alliance,” in support of abolishing national banks and monopolies, issuing Greenback or Fiat paper money, a national monetary system (called the “Sub-Treasury” plan), progressive taxes, and more.
The Farmers Alliances’ were involved in extensive political and economic education (much of it focused on the power of banks and railroads and the need for public ownership of certain public services), formed cooperatives to sell their produce and goods, published newspapers, and, through the creation of the Populist Party, ran candidates for public office — winning numerous U.S. Senate and House seats. As the largest national social movement in the history of the country, it was a major threat to the political and economic power structures. Internal political and strategic divisions and lack of acceptance of people of color limited its effectiveness, which along with opposition from corporations and the super wealthy, contributed to its demise.
2000 – Letter to Jerome Groopman, Harvard Medical School by Richard L. Grossman
“I heard you interviewed recently on radio. I am writing to say how refreshing it was indeed to hear a physician talk with passion against the “corporatization” — the literal factoryization—of disease care and health care.
But it’s only logical, no? The rest of our society has been/is being transformed into assembly lines—of work, of art, of the mind and of the soul. Listening to you, I thought of Martin Niemöller, the German Protestant pastor who told how he sat by when the Nazis came for people by category…But the corporate assembly lines came for the workers, and the doctors were silent…
They came for the educators, and then the legislators, and the judges, and the mayors—and the doctors could not be heard. The corporate assembly lines came for the free press, they came for our elections . . . Now, they’re coming for our genes, for food, for the basic biological building blocks of life . . . and where are the doctors? It’s all been of a piece. The corporate assembly lines have come for and gone away with our Constitution, our liberty, our Declaration of Independence. So who should be surprised that now they’ve come for you? Why should anyone care?
But the fact is, plenty of people care … all the people across generations and vocations who have been resisting the corporate assembly-lining of life and death and work and thought and of the natural world.
So it’s not too late for you, for your colleagues, for your students, for your patients, for your spleens and livers. It’s not too late to sew the histories together; to make solidarity connections.
To speak out. To resist. To join with others. To design new designs…The few are coming for the many. As in Nazi Germany, they target people category by category—in the process making each category of people a little less human. They are coming with the protection of the law—of the police, of our learned judges—with the assistance of our own government.
It’s a pisser, Jerry, isn’t it?”
1888 – Death of Morrison Waite, chief justice of the US Supreme Court, when corporations are first granted unalienable constitutional rights.
Morrison was chief justice at the time of the Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co (118 US 394) decision. The Court ruling focused exclusively on a tax issue. However, the court reporter (and former banker), J.C. Bancroft, added his own summary in the headnotes for the case and nowhere else — granting the railroad equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment. After the fact, Waite said this about the headnotes question: “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids any state to deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are of the opinion that it does.” Thus, the onslaught of anointing corporations with never intended constitutional rights began in earnest.
1971 – Proposed 26th Amendment reducing the right to vote from 21 to 18 years of age passes Congress
Both the House and Senate passed the proposed amendment and sent to the states for ratification. It was ratified by the states in just 3 months, 8 days — the quickest time for any amendment. The 26th Amendment became part of the Constitution on July 1, 1971.
2010 – Posting by Mary Zepernick: “On the History of Corporate Personhood and a Broad Amendment strategy for Overturning It,” on the Alliance for Democracy website.
“At the outset, legal persons were white propertied men, 55 of whom gathered in Philadelphia in 1787, closed their doors and replaced the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution – sealing their records for half a century. The historian James Beard referred to them as the ‘well bred, well fed, well read, and well wed!
“Cape Cod’s revolutionary pamphleteer and playwright Mercy Otis Warren when the new document was unveiled: ‘the Senate is too oligarchical; the country is too big to be governed by a strong federal system, and where are the rights of the people?
Why is the “Campaign to Legalize Democracy” (www.movetoamend.org) using a broad amendment strategy? In effect, we are seizing the opportunity to exercise active control over our Constitution – not a document belonging to the Courts, nor to the Congress nor to the Chief Executive, but to us, the people’s Constitution. At this stage, no one knows the “right” path to take. This is a long term, multi-layered challenge. It’s not a contest but a collaboration between two approaches (and probably more to come).”
1934 – Birth of Gloria Steinem, feminist, journalist, and social and political activist
“A movement is only composed of people moving. To feel its warmth and motion around us is the end as well as the means.”
2000 – Publication this month of article, “Corporate Social Responsibility: Kick the Habit” by Jane Anne Morris, POCLAD principal and corporate anthropologist
“While we huddled in coffeehouses and church basements debating strategy, corporate managers plotted in boardrooms. Their diagnosis unfolded into a plan. From their perspective, a Great Danger threatened: government action spurred by public demands. A tried-and-true strategy beckoned: make a show of voluntarily Doing Something and publicize it shamelessly.
“This was a strategy with a thousand faces: corporations as socially responsible, corporations as “citizens” with civic duties, corporations as “good neighbors,” corporate executives as “trustees” for the public interest, “business leaders” offering voluntary codes of conduct, and so on.
“There were three pillars to the corporate plan. (1) placate; (2) co-opt; (3) reframe issues so that in the future, people would “demand” something that corporate managers want to ‘give.’
“Corporate donations and other forms of “corporate social responsibility” pacified portions of the community by softening the edges of some of the most egregious and most visible corporate harms. In a quasi-behaviorist twist, they rewarded “good” behavior and disadvantaged “bad” behavior on the part of showcased community and charitable organizations. But most of all they enabled corporate managers to reshape public “questions” so that the “answers” were to come not from a self-governing people but from “corporate good citizens…
“The options were clear: either institute the three-point plan, or the country will succumb to…(I hope you’re sitting down)…a people’s democracy….we have another opportunity to firmly reject the “corporate social responsibility” ruse. A small but growing core of people is demanding not goodies or favors or good deeds but real self-governance. They know that receiving goodies from worried corporate managers is the real “dole,” while a self-governing people controlling their community’s resources in the interest of society as a whole — that is democracy.”
1790 — Naturalization Act passed by Congress
Immigrants are allowed to become citizens, but only if White. Without citizenship, non-whites cannot vote, own property, file lawsuits, or testify in court.
1929 – Birth of Ward Morehouse, co-founder of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD)
“As men of property had wrapped the Constitution around themselves in 1787, men of the Gilded Age enlisted judges and legislators to wrap the nation’s sacred text around their new financial and industrial conglomerates. By the end of the 19th Century, corporations had been baptized in the contract, commerce, property and personhood pools the Revolutionary elite had dammed into the Constitution one hundred years before. ”
From the “Forward” by Richard Grossman and Ward, Co-founders, Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy to “The Elite Consensus: When Corporations Wield the Constitution,” by George Draffan
1930 – Birth of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Reagan appointee
Her comment following the Citizens United v FEC Supreme Court decision expanding the rights of individuals and corporate entities to make political campaign contributions: “Citizens United has signaled that the problem of campaign contributions in judicial elections might get considerably worse and quite soon.”