Last year in April, I had the unique opportunity of sitting in with a Christian rock band during an all day Tea Party rally held at the Solano County Conference center in Fairfield. What a trip that was for me! I think I was the only person there who saw something fundamentally wrong with a religious rock band playing at a political rally. I can honestly tell you there were exactly three people of color out of hundreds in the entire facility on that day, and I was one of them.
On that day in April of last year I heard a lot of people take the stage. They were running for everything from school superintendent to governor. Of the 19 that talked, 17 identified themselves as Republicans, and two were running as Independents.
All that day I heard talk about how our individual freedoms and liberties are being attacked and eroded by the socialistic Obama regime, how any government you couldn't drown in a bathtub was too big, how taxes should be eliminated, and how there should be no regulations on business or the marketplace. They railed on and on about how no taxes should be paid for anything except military defense and to preserve our borders. They quoted the Constitution about taxes, but I noticed they never mentioned these words that accompany the text in the Constitution about taxation ... “For the General Welfare”.
Here's what the United States Constitution actually says:
“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the general Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”
That is what the Constitution says. It does not say, “don't pay taxes because other people benefit from them”, “don't support public education”, and “don't pay for other people's health care”. Those, and other Ayan Rand nonsense were the messages I heard over and over in again Fairfield on that day. On that day I heard about the Tea Party's core values: fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets. And for anyone who claims I am misrepresenting what I heard, I have the recordings I made that came straight from the mixing board. And I have pictures showing “T” shirts of our President Obama eating watermelon, of a man walking around in an Uncle Sam suit carrying an upside down American flag, and of pins with president Obama in crosshairs. I was there. I know what I saw and I know what I heard.
I can tell you what was not seen that day. I can tell you what was pulling the strings, what is behind the TEA “taxed enough already” movement, and what motivates people to work against their own best self-interests. Before I get to the obvious answer, allow me to digress a second. Let's back up and examine those Tea Party core values, shall we? Fiscal responsibility - most of us American citizens can get behind that. Constitutionally limited government - kind of has a nice, if not well-defined ring to it. Most of us can get behind the notion that government should not infringe on our rights and that it should not be bigger than it needs to be to ensure the “general welfare”. The last value: Free Markets - hum. Well let's see. When was the last time you sat around with your friends talking about how important free markets are to you in your every day life? How many Tea Party conservatives do you hear speaking personally and passionately about that part of their values as they do the other two?
Come on people... let's get real here! Who benefits most from lower taxes, less government regulation, and free markets? It's not me. It's not any of you. It's this monster we created called big corporations. These powerful legal personalities have increasingly gained so many rights that have been traditionally granted to us “natural” persons that they are now virtually indistinguishable from us legally. Did you know that on January 21, 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed that corporations even have the freedom of speech to engage in public debate and political issues? Mark my words... the next election cycle will see the first openly corporate sponsored candidates.
Today we are gathered here to protest to the gathering storm of corporate greed, and corruption. Today we give voice to the great unspoken, but real, fear of unbridled corporate power over our lives.
I am an entrepreneur and businessman myself. I have started 6 different corporations in the past 30 years. In, 1990 I signed a contract with a now disbanded division of Lockheed to have my small company of 12 people develop special software for the Veterans Administration. To make a long story short, Lockheed committed fraud against both my company and the government, they pirated our software, and breached our contract with them. When I found out what had happened and confronted them, the management came clean, then said to me "You can sue us, but we'll bury you so deep in litigation that your company will never survive." You know what? They were right! All the law firms we approached told us we had an ironclad case, but that they were either afraid of taking Lockheed on or would be in conflict of interest. And you know what? That's just not right!
In 2008 my wife and I fell behind on our mortgage. All of our sources of income dried up. So we did the responsible thing. We tried to get the lender to let us pay less per month, but they simply wouldn't. So we tried to refinance, but they simply wouldn't. So then we tried to do a short sale. We found a buyer who actually offered us more money than we asked for. At the last minute the mortgage company pulled out of the deal and forced us into foreclosure. Two years later our house was still empty and it was put up for auction for $60,000 less than what we could have sold it for. You know what? That's just not right!
I could go on... tell you more stories about how big corporations have personally oppressed us, but you all have your own stories. We could talk about exorbitant overdraft fees. You know what? That's just not right! We could talk about trying to change your credit scores because of an injustice done to you by a big corporation. You know what? That's just not right! We could talk about improperly inspected gas pipes blowing up entire neighborhoods. You know what? That's just not right!
Now, I'm not one to talk about problems without offering solutions. I have a few to suggest on this day when we're all gathered here to protest the insanity of granting big corporations personhood, then having them enslave us.
Here's what I think should happen:
1. Corporations should not be able to just register and pay fees to states in order to be incorporated. Corporations should be chartered by the states where they reside for specific business purposes and for a limited amount of time, like say 100 years.
2. Corporations should need to declare how they will produce goods and services that will be good for people, profits, and the planet before they are chartered by a state. And corporations should be required to renew their charters, at the end of their terms, or when they are going to purchase other companies, and when they are found guilty of wrongdoing. The idea that corporations need less regulation in order to thrive is a myth. The only reason corporations don't want regulations is so they can bust unions, so they can do whatever they want to our environment, and to squeeze the last ounce of entrepreneurship they can out of us little guys. Less regulation doesn't mean more jobs... It means more corporate oppression!
3. If corporations have the legal rights of real people they should be held accountable for their actions like real people. If they commit crimes, the people who run them should be forced to make a choice: dissolve the corporation or offending division and disperse its assets to the community where the corporation resides, or have the people responsible serve jail time.
4. Corporations shouldn't enjoy an automatic tax rate 50% lower than yours or mine. They should earn it. They should be required to contribute money to the schools and hospitals, charities, roads, and other infrastructure where they are located before they receive lower tax rates, and those rates should only be granted as long as a corporation is earning them.
5. If a private citizen or small company needs to sue a large corporation and a judge determines a trial is warranted, and the plaintiff is not represented pro bono, the corporation should be forced to make a choice: restrict its defense to no more than 10 times the net worth of the company or individual bringing the lawsuit or pay for all legal fees. Upon winning the suit those fees can be written off as a loss or recuperated.
6. And finally... Corporations should not be allowed to contribute to political parties of any kind. They should not be allowed to make contributions of any kind to lawmakers on any level.
You might say that my proposals to regulate big corporations will kill jobs, but you'd be wrong. You might say my proposals are unfair to corporations, but you'd be wrong. You might say my proposals are socialistic, and you'd be right. My proposals are actually quite simple. I think it's time to change the playing field. Its time to take corporate boots off of our necks. It's time for them to be under control of the people... not the other way around! It's time for our boots to be on their necks! It's time for us to assert control over these monsters and make them accountable to people.
What does this mean in practical terms? It simply means that when corporations are faced with a choice of making profits or serving people, they will serve people in the interest of the general welfare. This way hundreds of thousands of empty foreclosed houses will be occupied by the people who bought them. Our laws should be changed so that the corporations that own the mortgages will find it more attractive to serve people rather than profits!
And this means that when a corporation is faced with the decision to pollute a landfill with toxic chemicals or find another way, they will find another way in the interest of the general welfare!
And this means that when a corporation blows up a neighborhood because of their negligence, that their shareholders will pay the cost of setting things right rather than passing those costs off to the people of the families they killed!
My friends, we are here today to demand fairness and justice and dignity! We cannot ask, we cannot supplicate, and we cannot suggest. We need to be in the streets. We need to demand! We need to throw our weight into a general, powerful effort to throw off the yoke of corporate oppression in the only language they understand! It is simple - boycott corporations that don't serve people or the environment and tell your friends to do the same. There are so many, just take your pick... but start with the ones that aren't located in your state, then work your way down from there!
In closing, I want to have my spiritual father, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak to us. In his speech called "Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence", which he delivered in 1967, he said,
"I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth."
My brothers and sisters, I have nothing more to add than to say, "It's time to march again. It's time to rally again. The fight is not done... Hell, it's just gettin' started"!
Clovice A. Lewis, Jr.
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!