By What Authority
Statement in support of Rainforest Action Network
Delivered at protest at Boise-Cascade Corp.'s office July 25, 2001
By Mike Ferner
Two industry front groups, the Frontiers of Freedom, and the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, are working with the Boise-Cascade Corp. in an effort to strip the Rainforest Action Network of its 501c3 tax exempt status, in retaliation for RAN's effective use of civil disobedience tactics.
Rainforest Action Network has correctly identified this as an attack on free speech rights, and asked activists groups to show support by protesting at Boise-Cascade Corp.'s office products headquarters in suburban Chicago, July 25.
Mike Ferner represented the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy at the civil disobedience action and was arrested along with 19 other protesters. At a rally prior to the arrests, he read the following statement on behalf of POCLAD.
Boise-Cascade Corporation's repugnant attempt to strip Rainforest Action Network of its tax-exempt status brings us to Chicago today. We come to protest this latest corporate attempt to use the law and the very mechanisms of our government to deny us our fundamental freedoms of speech and association. But let us be clear that we come here today to do much more than resist this latest corporate offense.
- We come to Chicago to proclaim there is a difference when groups like RAN assert fundamental freedoms of speech and association, and when corporations and their front groups claim those same freedoms.
- We come to Chicago to remember how and why the law gave corporations free speech rights intended only for real, flesh-and-blood persons.
- We come to Chicago to declare that we support free speech rights for real people and their organizations, not for corporate persons and their organizations like the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise—and to warn that we can not have both. For when corporations wield the Bill of Rights, their sheer size and economic power assures they will crowd out the legitimate voices of people until only corporate images and corporate values define what life is all about and the "company line" occupies every waking moment of our lives.
- And we come to Chicago to assert our inalienable right to engage in the essence of self-governance: to use our freedom of speech to articulate, and our freedom of association to bring about, a different vision of how we will relate to each other and the Earth.
For most of our nation's history, the law has increasingly swaddled corporations in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. As a result, companies like Boise-Cascade Corp. can now use illegitimate free speech "rights" to maintain shill organizations like the Frontiers of Freedom Institute to distort truth, twist language, and blanket the media with intellectual dishonesty and cleverly worded lies.
Corporations create these attack-dog front groups and masquerade them as educational organizations, endangering not only individual organizations like RAN, but democracy itself.
There was a period in our history when democratic people's movements forced officials across the nation to put corporations in their proper place. One such example was the NY state supreme court's unanimous decision in 1890 to revoke the charter of, and thereby abolish the North River Sugar Co. for monopolistic practices, stating that "... the life of a corporation is indeed, less than that of the humblest citizen."
And we say here today that officials responding to the people are again moving to put corporations in their proper place.
Witness, for example, that the NY State Attorney General set in motion a successful effort to dissolve two industry front groups, the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research when he argued: "These organizations were ostensibly founded for benign and non-pecuniary purposes independent of the interests of their progenitors, the tobacco companies. But neither have performed their stated functions nor was it ever intended that they should perform them. Indeed, far from seeking to further the proper purposes of an 'Institute' or a 'Research Center', the goal of these organizations and of their incorporators was to serve as industry shills to promote the pecuniary interests of the tobacco industry."
The philosopher Alexander Meiklejohn noted that the first amendment "does not intend to guarantee men freedom to say what some private interest pays them to say for its own advantage. It intends only to make men free to say what, as citizens, they think." To that we would simply add: so that we can govern ourselves.
The Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy is proud to join with Rainforest Action Network and millions of people around the globe who intend to be free, to say what we think and to govern ourselves.