Nov. 25, 2014 – Are We the People the Unconscious Oppressed?

Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos.

There is a tremendous amount of economic privilege and white privilege in our community here in Portland. This privilege sometimes makes it really hard to remember that we are all living in a corporate state, where it’s difficult to figure out where our government ends and our large corporations begin. For example, the US Department of Agriculture is run by an executive from Monsanto Corporation.

Paolo Freire, the great Brazilian educator, long ago coined the term the “unconscious oppressed” to describe privileged people like us, who forget how oppressed we really are. Today, the oppressive vehicle of choice is the global corporation. And we are the oppressed people.

In my early years of work to dismantle corporate rule, my primary mentor was an amazing guy named Richard Grossman, who died a number of years ago. In a speech he gave, he talked about how you and I act like oppressed people. Here is the list of examples he cited:

We adopt corporate values.
We aspire to be like the most respectable of the corporate leaders.
We model our civic, educational, and other institutions after the corporation.
We accept the dominance and authority of the corporation as just and appropriate, or as inevitable.

We concede to corporations basic legal and cultural authority to define production, investment, and work; and to define basic values and concepts such as progress, sustainability, efficiency, productivity, justice, freedom, liberty, human rights, nature, property, peace, prosperity, public and private, and personhood.

We pursue our grievances within institutions crafted by corporations. We allow corporations to educate and entertain our children.
We fear governing ourselves, and defining our own societies.
We do not know our own history.

We think and talk and strategize in the language of the corporate culture. We confuse freedom with the maintenance of the status quo.

Paolo Friere refers to these characteristics as “the unconscious oppressed”. Were you surprised by your reactions to this list?

Let’s take a look at one item from this list:
“We model our civic….institutions after the corporation.”

For example, when we set up non-profit social change organizations, we replicate the business corporation structure – almost without exception. In fact, if you want to create a non-profit organization in this country, you are required to choose a president, secretary and treasurer, which starts you on the path towards hierarchical decision-making.

And if you want to raise lots of money for your group, you have to file for tax-exempt status. Major non- profits have to raise tons of money from corporations simply to survive, and what happens next is inevitable. Just look at the Sierra Club, whose board of directors took millions of dollars from the so-called “natural” gas industry to launch its campaign against coal, and then lied to its members about having taken the money.

This is the inevitable outcome of non-profit organizations choosing to suckle on the corporate teat. Which is why, after the American Revolution, it was a felony crime if a corporation was found to have donated money or services to a civic or charitable organization. Because when We The People become financially dependent on donations from our business institutions, we lose our capacity to function as the sovereign people.

Let’s take another example from the list I just read:
“We pursue our grievances within institutions crafted by corporations.”

Did you know that when we pursue our grievances through a regulatory agency or regulatory hearing, we are standing on a corporate playing field, following corporate rules? The entire regulatory system of law was designed by the railroad industry in cahoots with the US attorney general, way back in the 1880’s, for the purpose of insulating corporate activities from citizen opposition. No wonder we all feel so powerless when we’re told to sit down and shut up after we get our three minutes to testify at a regulatory hearing. It is our activism itself that is now being regulated.

Let’s review one last example from the list I just read:
“We accept the dominance and authority of the corporation….as inevitable.”

Why else would we work our asses off trying to raise enough money to counteract the corporate money flooding into our elections each year, rather than understanding that corporate money in our elections is neither legitimate nor inevitable, and striving to get corporations entirely out of our elections, something that very very few of us are working on?

Why else would we focus on trying to stop just one corporate harm at a time – one new big box store at a time, one new clearcut at a time, one new GMO product at a time, one new corporate stadium naming right at a time, one new coal export terminal at a time – rather than understanding that social and economic policymaking by corporate boards is neither legitimate nor inevitable, and striving to get corporations entirely out of policymaking, something that very very few of us are working on?

The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini once said:

Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power .
It’s pretty hard to argue with Mussolini on this one. We now live in a corporate state, where government and corporations have merged. And things are going to continue to get worse and worse until We The People start hacking at the roots of this growing crisis – corporate constitutional so-called “rights”. I urge you to get involved by bringing this conversation to the groups you work with.

You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News. I welcome your feedback.

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