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Corporations Ain't People, So Why Do They Have the Power of Citizens?

Two anti-corporate activists discuss the abuses of corporate personhood and how we can shake their grip of power off of our democratic process.

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Fortunately there are warriors in that battle - folks building open source tools, meshed wireless networks that liberate internet access - folks showing us that the internet is another ground of the commons, an unlimited space we can approach with an outlook of abundance that actually isn’t possible when we look at land and the earth’s resources. If we can maintain access long enough, it’s possible that we can carve out a space beyond the reach of corporations. And there are folks fighting corporate personhood, I support their work even as I dig in deeper here in Detroit trying to see what I can build.

McClain:Our conversations remind me to imagine what I’d like our world to look like, rather than focusing solely on which established victories we can’t afford to see chipped away. That’s where my day-to-day focus is -- not losing ground. So thanks for drawing me back to the big picture. It helps give meaning and context to the small steps.

I’ve been reading a book called "The Warmth of Other Suns," a narrative history of the Great Migration, and in some ways it’s reinforcing this idea that you promote: That people’s experiences are much bigger than what policy dictates, and that true self-determination lies in this awareness.

I’ve often thought of the Civil Rights Act (CRA) and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) as mid-20th century legislation that confirmed and gave teeth to the 14th and 15th amendments. And I’ve thought of the CRA and VRA as providing the necessary path for black Americans to live with dignity and full citizenship. But reading the book has made me realize that even before that landmark legislation passed, black people were determined to find a way to live safely and with as much freedom as possible in their country of origin. And if that meant they needed to leave places where Jim Crow was the law of the land and brave some unknown frontier, they often did so. As early as the period following WWI, they did it. They didn’t wait on civil rights legislation or the movement organizers who made the CRA and VRA possible, they voted with their feet and went north or west.

The connection, for me, is the importance of a do-it-yourself, or DIY, culture. The thread through so much of what I hear you say is that a focus on policy and lobbying -- convincing people who control the levers of power to do the right thing -- is not enough. And that even when those tactics achieve a desired goal, they don’t fundamentally change people’s sense of what’s possible or their ability to think beyond the established terms of debate.

Brown:I feel like this exchange is helping me understand why the work I am doing with food justice, digital justice and birth justice needs to be as creative and communal as possible, strengthening non-corporate networks to be resilient in any possible future. We who don't have resources or run institutions are continuously pit against each other, played against each other, Cains and Ables forgetting we are brothers and equals and our very existence is divine. This  circles me back around to the power of relationship. We have to build relationships to build communities strong enough to evolve past these omnipotent institutions.

* A shout-out to socially responsible corporations, who are, to varying degrees, providing an alternative to the traditional profits-over-people dynamic.

** Full disclosure: both Dani and Adrienne are on the board of Allied Media Projects.

Adrienne Maree Brown is an organizational healer, pleasure activist, facilitator, singer, doula-in-training and artist living in Detroit. She co-facilitates the Detroit Food Justice Task Force .

Dani McClain is a writer living in Oakland. She is on the campaigns team at The opinions expressed here are her own.

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