Rogue actors known as corporations have hijacked our democracy, but the environmental NGO industrial complex stays in Washington D.C. without a rudder or a clue
by Scott Parkin
Scott Parkin is a Senior Organizer with Rainforest Action Network and organizes with Rising Tide North America. He has worked on a variety of campaigns around climate change, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mountaintop removal, labor issues and anti-corporate globalization. Originally from Texas, he now lives in San Francisco. This article appeared on It’s Getting Hot in Here.
What the hell is going on here?
Rogue actors known as corporations have hijacked our democracy. They regularly pollute and poison our communities. They own our elected officials and use police and military forces as their own private armies. They control much of the major media outlets. They’ve even convinced our legal system that they exist as actual “persons.”
If it were on television, it would a conspiracy worthy of Fox Mulder. But you know what? This Truth Isn’t Out There. It’s Right Here in Our Faces.
But despite all their power and influence, opinion polls STILL tell us that Americans are skeptical about capitalism and big business.
Yet, environmental and climate movements seem to have their heads buried in a compromising rear extremity and are unable to build power, mobilize their masses or tell a narrative with an anti-corporate (let alone anti-capitalist) theme.
The case made against Corporate America destroying the environment, the climate and our democracy is made every hour of every day.
Just a few examples:
- Outlaw coal mining companies operating in Appalachia have destroyed over 500 mountains with little or no consequence.
- Oil company British Petroleum spilled over 205 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and have suffered limited consequences.
- In 2004, U.S. coal-fired power plants produced more carbon than was emitted by all sources in all of Africa, South America, and Central America combined.
- 70% of those coal plants are operated by 24 corporations and the quasi-private Tennessee Valley Authority.
- In 2010, Big Oil put $19,588,091into the U.S. political process. Big Coal put in $10,423,347.
- Oil and gas companies spent $121 million to dispatch 745 lobbyists to Congress in 2009 to influence the climate bill.
A year ago, a right wing Supreme Court handed us Citizen’s United and gave corporations, right wing front groups and the greedy billionaires even more power. Subsequently, Corporate America threw an additional $296 million into the 2010 elections. Now the newly invigorated right wing wants to roll back essential protections like the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agencies. Yet, the climate movement can’t even decide that corporate power is root of the problem.
Corporate influence is insidious and has its tentacles in all aspects of Beltway life. A former professor of mine describes the revolving door between government, large non-profits and the private sector as “The Association State.” And a well paid association it is with sophisticated social, business and political relationships stemming from Upper West Side and Georgetown cocktail parties.
- Politicians often leave government to become industry lobbyists. According to the Center for Responsive Politics in 2009, 321 former members of Congress and staff made their living as lobbyists for industry.
- Industry leaders often leave business to work in the upper echelons of government. JPMorgan Chase VP Bill Daley recently left the coal and oil investing Wall Street giant to be Obama’s chief of staff. General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt recently joined Obama’s team as a top economic advisor.
- Corporate leaders and billionaires donate to the big environmental groups and sit on their boards. Environmental Defense board member, donor and billionaire hedge fund manager, Stanley Druckenmiller, is a major investor (over $200 million) in arch coal criminal Massey Energy.
With this quagmire of conflicted interests governing the White House, K Street Lobbying Firms and the boards of large environmental groups, how are we ever going to see real change come out of Washington D.C.?
To say, “we need to fight back” is the understatement of understatements. I think last time we needed to be fighting back this hard, John Brown led an armed raid on Harper’s Ferry. Instead of looking for leadership from corporate shills like Barak Obama and the Democratic Party, environmental and climate movements should be kicking the SHIT out of Corporate America with the uncompromising guerilla fervor of a Che Guevara or a Geronimo.
Over ten years ago, a powerful anti-capitalist movement captured the imagination of the world’s social movements by shutting down the World Trade Organization in Seattle and putting forth a critique of the corporate dominated political economy and the elite that controls it. And the spirit of Seattle still persists.
Groups like National People’s Action, various unions and a slew of post-ACORN networks have it figured out. Economic justice groups continue to target corporate criminals on Wall Street and in the foreclosure business. Last year, they put thousands on the street protesting big banks. Furthermore, these groups have organized foreclosed-upon grandmothers into occupying bank branches and led communities to stop evictions. Howard Zinn would be proud.
Grassroots non-Beltway environmental groups like the anti-mountaintop removal movement have also incorporated anti-corporate frames into their narratives. Likewise, more radical direct action oriented groups like Rising Tide, Earth First! Mountain Justice, Peaceful Uprising, Mobilization for Climate Justice-West and dozens of frontline and community groups openly resist corporate capitalism. But these groups lack the resources and capacity of the multi-billion dollar environmental industrial complex.
In contrast, the dominant strategic frame from large environmental and climate non-profit organizations is Beltway-centric and narrowly focuses on legislation and enhancing regulatory power. The rest of the country is diversifying economic and political power throughout the country while the environmental NGO industrial complex stays in Washington D.C. without a rudder or a clue.
And one last thing to put this in context: the friggin’ Tea Party has it even figured out! (And I don’t put them in the “rocket scientist” category.) While their main organizing strategy revolves around tapping into working and middle class resentment against big government and liberal elites, one of their main gripes is Obama’s bailing out of the auto and banking industries. As far as they are concerned there is a corrupt connection between big government and big business. In their eyes corporations are a big part of the problem.
One of the Tea Party’s heroes is Network’s Howard Beale, a leftist anti-corporate figure if there ever was one, who cried out “I’m Mad as Hell and I’m NOT Going to Take This Anymore!” An anti-establishment environmental and climate movement should reclaim Beale as a symbol of our outrage with the existing corporate status quo. Challenging the root causes of climate change should be the role of our movement, and that root cause is corporate power.