Thursday, February 26, 2009

Secret American Empire - Ch.60

Changing Wall Street Through

Financial Leverage

“The MoveOn family of organizations brings real Americans back into the political process. With over 3.3 million members across America – from carpenters to stay-at-home moms to business leaders – we work together to realize the progressive vision of our country's founders. MoveOn is a service – a way for busy but concerned citizens to find their political voice in a system dominated by big money and big media.” - From the MoveOn Website

Launching a campaign in response to “the ridiculous waste of our nation's focus” over Clinton's impeachment in September 1998, MoveOn founders Joan Blades and Wes Boyd organized an online petition to “Censure President Clinton and move on to pressing issues...” Hundreds of thousands signed the petition in the first few days. Ever since, MoveOn has used the Internet as a free speech forum. Among its campaigns, MoveOn is fighting to:

  • End genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

  • Pass laws requiring paper record at voting machines

  • Institute public financing of political campaigns and end candidates' reliance on corporate donors.

  • Ban torture in US-controlled facilities.

  • Make solar roofs part of Public Utilities Commission's policies.

  • Increase public awareness about the dangers of US threats to use the “nuclear option.”

  • Protect Social Security.

  • Prohibit further concentration of the media among a few corporations.

“People aren't apathetic – they just understand that alone it's hard to make much impact.” MoveOn Executive Director Eli Pariser told me. “That's why MoveOn's about making folks heard in Washington. Together we can even the playing field against the oil and pharmaceutical companies and their allies in Washington – setting policy that serves everyone, not a few corporate bottom lines.”

RAN, Amnesty, and MoveOn generate change through protests, rallies, street theater, banner hangings, newspaper ads, postcards to CEOs, shareholder resolutions, speeches, letters to editors, call-in campaigns to political representatives, massive Internet petitions, and other methods for drawing attention to their causes and for letting the corporatocracy know when its actions are unacceptable. In many respects, they owe their success to the leadership of the African-American community.

More than any other single group, African Americans have led the nonviolent charge. This campaign started long before the Civil War and continued in modern times through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and many other civil rights movements. The story of slavery in the United States and the struggle to end it and gain equal rights and treatment for the descendants of those slaves is vast, haunting, discouraging, and inspirational all at one. While most of us know about the way this movement pioneered “civil disobedience,” not so many are familiar with its leadership in employing Wall Street as a tool for transforming the corporatocracy. African Americans take credit not only for the example they set in using protests and rallies, but also for their role in recognizing the power of financial leverage. They plotted a course that has been followed by other NGOs.

In 1996 charges surfaced that Texaco employees were making racist comments. The Rev. jesse Jackson announced an immediate boycott of Texaco. He called his friend New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall and asked him to join the picket lines. McCall responded: “Jesse, when you own a million shares you don't have to picket.” Because McCall controlled New York's investments, he realized that he was positioned to apply pressure. He fired off a letter to Texaco Chairman Peter Bijur stating his concerns about the company's policies toward minority employees. In the end, Texaco paid a $176 million out-of-court settlement and committed to generous raises to hundreds of African American employees.

The success of that campaign convinced Jackson to found the Wall Street Project, a financial vehicle for using stock ownership in creative, activist ways and also for raising consciousness among African American stockholders. Employing these strategies, Jackson and his associates have convinced Coca-Cola, 7-Eleven, Shoney's, Coors, and other corporate giants to change their policies.

“When you go into a meeting as a shareholder, you now have the right to the floor,” Jackson explained.” … We have gone from share-croppers to shareholders.”

This philosophy has been adopted by other investors. Groups of socially responsible stockholders often pressure pension and mutual funds to take strong stances against corporations that have refused to adopt pro-environment or pro-human rights policies. As I traveled around the United States I frequently encountered resistance on the part of university students to various corporations; on many campuses they were especially incensed about allegations that Coca-Cola mistreats employees in other countries, including accusations that it hired jackals to intimidate and kill union organizers in Columbia. In July 2006, the $8 billion TIAA-CREF Social Choice Account ejected Coca-Cola Company from its fund. Herbert Allison, CEO of TIAA-CREF, a company that provides retirement plans in the academic, medical, and cultural fields, made the announcement at the annual meeting of CREF, the College Retirement Equities Fund. This amounted to a divestment of 1.2 million shares of Coca-Cola. TIAA-CREF's reasons for this move centered on Coca-Cola's shortcomings in protecting worker rights at overseas bottling plants, marketing of soda products to children, and environmental issues around water usage.

A very different approach that also involves financial leverage has been pioneered by a nonprofit organization that works with tribes deep in the Amazon.

- pages 302-305, The Secret History of the American Empire, by John Perkins

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