A great fighter against corporate power died on November 22.
His name was Richard Grossman, and he co-founded and led the path-breaking Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy, which went by the acronym POCLAD.
He not only studied how corporations have come to dominate our democracy (Ralph Nader called him the “preeminent historian of corporations”). He set out to do something about it. He was at the forefront of the movement to revoke corporate charters.
Back in 2002, my colleague Ruth Conniff interviewed Grossman for The Progressive.
He talked about “the lack of real democracy” in America from the very beginning. “The law and the Constitution have been used to privilege first a propertied class and then a corporate class,” he said. “What we have now is a system where the coercive force of government and the culture that goes along with it enable a few people through the law and through their institutions called corporations to dominate the governing of this country.”
But he saw the grassroots challenges to corporate power beginning to take hold. In a way, he anticipated the Occupy Wall Street movement. He said that change must come from the culture itself. And he understood that pointing out who has power and who doesn’t is the best way to organize. “If you frame the issue about who’s in charge . . . that’s what arouses people.”
He and everyone at POCLAD advocated against “corporate personhood” long before the Citizens United case.
A year ago, POCLAD published on its website the succinct argument “Why Abolish All Corporate Personhood.”
It said: “illegitimate corporate power didn't begin in 2010. The corporate perversion of rights and the Constitution have resulted in the destruction of our communities, economy, politics and natural world in many ways for a very long time.” That article advocates a comprehensive amendment to the U.S. Constitution that flat-out declares that “ALL corporate constitutional rights should be abolished.”
I knew and admired Grossman’s work, but I didn’t know him personally.
A mutual friend, Paul Alan Smith, knew him quite well. He called Grossman “one of the kindest, smartest humans I have ever come across on our planet. He would underscore time and again the importance of our simply speaking to one another about what was TRULY going down around us, knowing we would all (inevitably) conclude our system of governing has been rigged from the very start.” Smith says it’s “heart-breaking” that Grossman wasn’t able to finish a pamphlet he was working on about how the Occupy movement could seize the moment.
Grossman did much more than his share to bring this moment into being. We all are in his debt for that—and for all his work on the fundamental issue of corporate power.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Barney Frank: Fearless, Fun Progressive."
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