Session II — Historical Overview of the Corporate Taking of Our Authority to Govern

Few would argue that corporations today are not only ubiquitous but have enormous power over our lives. Was it always like this? How did it get to be this way? And what are the implications of this situation for democracy? The readings in this session explore the answers to these questions and challenge the concepts of democracy that are commonly accepted today. Indeed, so much power and wealth has been amassed by corporations that they can be said to govern, presenting a mortal threat to our body politic. To use a medical analogy, when a surgeon cuts out a cancer, it’s not to punish the cancer; it’s to save the body. If we wish to prevent the total demise of democracy — rule by the people — then we must return corporations to their subservient role.

A central task in this session is to establish the group’s process of sharing leadership, an opportunity to design and practice democracy as you grapple with the history and ongoing struggle for self-governance.


1 – “Know Thine Enemy,” by Joel Bleifuss (2 pages)

2 – “Can Corporations Be Accountable?” by Richard Grossman (4 pages)

3 – “Human vs. Corporate Rights,” by Mary Zepernick (1 page)

4 – “Rethinking the Corporation,” by Virginia Rasmussen (4 pages)

Discussion Questions:

1. How does this history shed light on the role corporations play on the current scene? In what ways is our democracy affected? Our minds colonized?

2. At the time of the Constitution, who defined what a person is and what property is? How did having the power to define shape the evolution of democracy? Who has the power to define today? Why does the power to define matter?

3. What decisions, laws, and institutions have supported the accumulation of corporate wealth, power, and privilege?

4. Discuss definitions for the following: sovereignty, public interest, common good. How are these concepts incorporated into dominant thinking today and how have they changed over time?

Supplementary Materials:

“Taking Care of Business: Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation,” by Richard L. Grossman and Frank T. Adams. Originally published in 1993; now in its fourth printing. Reviews historical evolution of corporate power. 32-page booklet (approximately 12 standard 8.5x11 pages). Price: $3 (includes postage).

“Who’s in Charge?” by The Programme on Corporations, Law & Democracy, London, England. Reviews the evolution of corporations in Great Britain over the same period of time as the readings in this session. 16-page booklet (equivalent of eight standard 8.5x11 pages). Price: $2 (includes postage).

Toward an American Revolution: Exposing the Constitution and Other Illusions, by Jerry Fresia. South End Press, 1988. Available free online at or for purchase at 800-533-8478.

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