By What Authority
Reflections on Richard Grossman
By Members of POCLAD
The following reflections are from Richard's POCLAD colleagues. Though he left POCLAD a number of years ago to pursue other interests, his influence on the formation and nurturing of our collective was profound during his tenure. As the reflections suggest, his influence extended to our own thoughts and feelings for the world around us and for our democratic possibilities.
Gladly, we know his influence for thinking and doing for real change with passion and compassion extended far beyond our POCLAD circle. May these reflections spark your own memories of Richard's influence on you and your work if your paths ever crossed. If not, may they stir your commitment to knowing more about him, his ideas and his sense of how to move in the direction of authentic self-governance.
I first met Richard in a group called Communities Concerned about Corporations. (The director was an activist/environmentalist and film producer named Chris Bedford who ironically just died in June of this year).
The group ran from March 1991 to Dec. 1995 when Chris left and Richard and I went on to begin organizing POCLAD. Peter Montague (author, activist, publisher of Rachel's Weekly was an active collaborator. It was a large and loose-knit group -- a five year attempt to form a coalition of communities, workers, injured workers and investors affected by the oil and chemical industries to engage in two party bargaining with the individual corporations in the industry. (I was a member--along with other CIPA workers including David Dembo--of a PACE union local: the Paper, Atomic, Chemical and Electrical workers.)
Richard came to Communities Concerned from a long background of activism, most recently some 20 years in the anti-nuclear movement where he learned hard lessons about head banging against specific corporations. We made common cause as I was learning those same lessons from my then ten-year struggle against the corporate criminals responsible for the Bhopal tragedy.
One of our projects together was a Nov. 1994 letter that Richard, Peter Montague and I wrote to the leaders of the 15 largest environmental organizations --also signed by some 400 environmental activists-- asking these leaders to meet with us to talk about the threat of corporations to the entire environmental movement. Mike Ferner wrote about this letter in his blog and you can see it (well worth reading as part of Richard's legacy) on this link: http://mikeferner.org/activists-should-focus-on-corporations
Richard and I also worked together on the follow-up of the world's worst industrial disaster, in Bhopal, India, held in November 1994 in Charleston, West Virginia (where Union Carbide had a plant). The "merger" of Union Carbide and Dow Chemical brought home to us that this, like other corporate crimes, was far bigger than the guilty corporation(s). Communities Concerned About Corporations and CIPA (Council on International and Public Affairs) co-sponsored this project. From there Richard and I decided to start doing Rethinking the Corporation, Rethinking Democracy retreats under the banner of POCLAD. We held some of our first retreats in Pennsylvania with Tom Lindsey, and in Chicago and California among other places.
Richard became my close friend and close colleague. We visited with each other's families. I once lent him a hand in completing one of his research projects by undertaking the electrical work required to finish the remodeling of his new residence in an old New England farmhouse. We canoed together with his daughter. Our relationship was also nurtured by a mishap in the St. Croix River on the international boundary between Maine and New Brunswick. My canoe buckled in the rapids, trapping me until Richard returned with help.
Others were of course involved in working with Richard in those early days, most notably Mary Zepernick.
We had many discussions together that were rich and exciting. But Richard's patience was not unlimited and he called more than one spade a vehicle for misguided effort. He had his own very strong views. I was, in fact, even when I disagreed with him, greatly influenced by Richard's seminal thinking about building a truly democratic society.
I was deeply saddened when he concluded some years back that POCLAD was no longer the vehicle with which he wanted to do his work in the world. I missed him. Richard was always seeking a better way. Even as he saw the Occupy movement grow shortly before his death, he was offering them his advice for moving forward. He died as he lived, telling us how to change the world in his own way.
My first meeting with Richard Grossman was on a radio show in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he then lived. In subsequent conversations, I was intrigued by Richard's analysis of corporate power, while he was considerably less so by my views on patriarchy. Over the next several years Richard assembled a group of colleagues and protégées from around the country to wrestle with the history and law underpinning the corporate form's accumulated authority to govern. Thus was born the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy. Richard's towering intellect, along with his personal thoughtfulness and sharp wit, informed POCLAD's gatherings and work - and those of other organizations who were inspired by him. My favorite memory of Richard's humanity is the break during a POCLAD retreat when I needed to take my sick cat to the vet. Richard came along because; "No one should go to the hospital alone."
Richard is the most complex person I've known: a mixture of compassion and fierce judgment; visionary ideas and impatience with the slow pace of change in progressives' patterns of thinking and thus acting - POCLAD's sometimes included. I am profoundly grateful to have known, worked with, and been inspired by Richard Grossman and will continue on with his voice in my ear.
For those who knew Richard less well, Richard was a direct and profound inspiration for thousands of activists and people of conscience. Through his writings and the organizations he founded co-founded, including in the mid-1980's the Highlander Center's STP Program ("Stop the Pollution, Save the Planet"), in 1994 the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD), and in 2007 the "Democracy Schools", Richard has helped lead tens of thousands more people to a clearer historical, cultural and legal analysis of the structural causes of -- and potential remedies to -- persistent social and economic disparity in power and wealth between We The People and the political and economic institutions the People are meant to govern.
Richard was one of the true mentors of my life: a close friend for many years, and advisor, and a sparing partner over ideas and methods. In the movement, Richard was an intentional provocateur, an agitator, a relentless critic of everyone's politic and political strategies, and a serious grump. He was also an incredibly soft, sensitive, caring and passionate man. His humor was as quick and sharp as his critique. He deeply loved life and nature. I don't think I've known so well any other more intellectually stimulating and challenging a person.
Richard has repeatedly been one of the major influences on my own life's work. I met Richard in 1985 through Josh Karliner when Richard was an early advisor to EPOCA (the Environmental Project on Central America), where Josh and I worked from 1985 to 1990. Richard was then a primary champion of the next major activist project I took on with two other of my former EPOCA colleagues, Jane McAlevey and Florence Gardner. The project was the "Environment and Democracy Campaign", a joint project of the Highlander Research and Education Center and the National Toxics Campaign. Richard was very involved with both Highlander and NTC, and he helped Jane, Florence and I negotiate this new collaboration, and was one of our key advisors through the EDC's four years of work. Just when a bunch of us were founding Sowing Circle and OAEC in 1994, Richard invited me to one of the first workshops addressing 'corporations and democracy', and then invited me to join the think tank-like collective he was forming, which became POCLAD. He and the extraordinary people in the POCLAD collective have had profound influence on my thinking, and I believe the historical knowledge and political theory of many others of us at Sowing Circle and OAEC. Recall that for OAEC's first 10 years, we organized and hosted several dozen "Rethinking the Corporation, Rethinking Democracy" workshops at OAEC and around N. California. So much of the work we do at OAEC has been in part seeded by Richard's work.
Thank you Richard!
Richard absolutely loved OAEC, and the people and "non-human persons" (he would say) here on the land. We had many wonderful times -- often late into the night -- sampling the local leafy and liquid herbal remedies, telling stories and making great fun. I know that for Richard, during his visits to OAEC, he felt deeply at home.
This past couple months I have been thinking a lot of Richard. I hear the direct and indirect influence of Richard Grossman every day in the "Occupy Movement". I'm sure he had quite a critique of everything "occupy", but I know he must have relished in the increasingly widespread conscious dissent he has helped instigate.
Long Live the Love, Passion and Ideas of Richard Grossman!
Richard was unquestionably the most extraordinary person in my own life and learnings, in how I witnessed the world, understood its history and saw its possibility. The rigor, depth and consistency of his thought, that relentless integrity and steadfast faith in what could be if we held fast, fed the soul as it challenged the mind.
He brought to the work of bettering our human condition a stunning grasp of the ways the few have always defined those conditions for the many. And he set forth strategies, goals and vision for an activism of democratic language and courage, an activism that sought to rewrite law and culture in service to people and all of us "Earthlings."
In whatever community of colleagues Richard worked he remained deeply committed to the truths he came to know, yet open to their reexamination, refinement, renewal and reapplication. And all of this was unfailingly joined with his generous, ready measure of respect, warmth, humor, love and appreciation true to situation and feeling.
There is no doubt that his brilliant, determined labors are shaping, flavoring and giving direction to these times.
Richard was a mentor, a friend, and a gentle and loving human being. In every conversation and communication with me, he insisted that we challenge long-held assumptions about American history, and that we follow the pursuit of truth wherever it took us.
Richard not only helped to lay the intellectual groundwork for much of the cutting-edge democracy work occurring in the United States today, he also gave countless hours to people who were grappling with the implications of his writings.
I was a beneficiary of his wisdom and friendship, and will remain
I love you, Herr Grossman.
A Prophet Dies, A Movement Is Born
Just yesterday, I sat down to try and put into historical context my thoughts of joy, thanks and congratulations for what the "occupy" movement has done; thoughts that might help explain its ancestry, what it shares, what mighty accomplishments appear possible at this shining moment in time.
But first, checking for new email revealed this shocking news: "Richard Grossman died of cancer last night."
If you're unfamiliar with that name you might think it so much cliche to follow that with, "and a bright light was extinguished in our world." But bear with me for a few paragraphs and I believe you'll agree Richard was most surely a bright light and that the occupy movement is a fitting continuation of his vision.
For perhaps the last five years, I've not been able to have a conversation with someone at a demonstration against the war or for health care without hearing someone say something very close to, "Well, you know what's at the bottom of the whole mess -- it's that corporate personhood business!"
That was Richard Grossman's life's work.
By the early '90's, Richard had established a considerable body of work as a writer, researcher, intellectual and activist in various branches of the environmental and economic justice movements: nuclear power, toxic pollution of poverty-stricken districts in the rural south, the employment potential of safe energy industries, exploding the myth that environmental protection caused job loss, explaining why environmentalists should make common cause with union members.
His first article that caught my eye was a one-page essay in some obscure publication, reproduced on a mimeograph machine, in 1976. "Being Right Is Not Enough," was an analysis of the drubbing the electric utility industry and unions gave to a California citizen initiative to restrict nuclear power plants.
Richard showed how the industry and unions had successfully frightened voters with a host of economic nightmares sure to happen if fuzzyheaded environmentalists got their way. To me, the key of it was that if environmentalists were concerned about pollution in the air and water, how much more should we be concerned about pollution inside the workplaces killing workers every day?
He made the obvious political point that an alliance among unions and environmentalists would increase each other's political clout. Then 32 years old, he went on to say much more, explaining how the work of environmentalists wasn't just to preserve the environment and that the work of unionists wasn't just to improve wages and conditions, but how both were somehow working for something more fundamental, something simply described as "a better world."
I lit up and I pledged to meet this person, doing so within the year. With his counsel, I began proselytizing among anti-nuclear activists about the need to join with labor for this better world, which would include the end of nuclear power among its benefits. Over the years, that strategy waxed and waned in popularity but never disappeared, reaching perhaps its most colorful and powerful manifestation in the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle, in late 1999, when "Teamsters and Turtles" became a popular image.
By then, the collective that Grossman gathered in 1994, the Program On Corporations, Law and Democracy, was holding hundreds of weekend-long "Rethinking Corporations/Rethinking Democracy" retreats with activists across the country, exploring much hidden history Richard unearthed, including "corporate personhood" -- bestowing on legal fictions called corporations the same constitutional rights as human beings.
Simultaneously, the struggle against what we now call globalization grew rapidly, with teamsters, turtles, autoworkers, human rights campaigners and many others joining forces under new, youthful leadership in a most promising way. The battle was joined in several countries at meetings of the WTO, World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Something was happening.
And then came September 11, 2001.
I believe it is fair to say that the self-serving hysteria and repression that quickly emanated from Washington halted the forward progress movements were making on many fronts. We went on the defensive, doing our best to stop wars and invasions, but failing. People from several movements put aside their work to re-create yet another generation's antiwar movement.
Full of a real sense of purpose -- to stop the massive suffering and death unleashed by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan -- the movement grew in great strides. Throughout it, however, I kept thinking of Chris Hedges' book, "War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning." I couldn't get out of my mind the question, "Was anti-war also a force that gave us meaning?"
Grossman specialized in vexing his friends with provocative, critical questions; such as this one I rhetorically asked and answered at the 2009 convention of Veterans For Peace.
No, what we need is a peace movement that is true to our chant in the streets: "No justice, no peace!" Peace with justice means stopping the few from making policy for the many; from robbing us blind; denying our right to health care; destroying Earth's life support systems as well as sending us to war.
Peace with justice needs a foundation. That foundation is democracy... Imagine a peace movement that is part of a larger democracy movementÉwhat would be that movement's vision? Stopping the F-22 fighter or trading an aircraft carrier for a housing program? It has to be more than that! What we need is to govern ourselves so we can create the kind of life we have an indisputable, inalienable right to...
We need to get our minds right so we can see ourselves not as mere workers and consumers but as human beings with an absolute right to define what kind of life we need -- and then take it!
There is a hunger for self-governance and democracy in America and that hunger is the fundamental link between the peace movement and every other movement working to address human needs.
That's why many old hearts leapt with joy when Occupy Wall Street activists in New York and Occupy Washington activists in Freedom Plaza steadfastly refused to answer reporters' old-paradigm questions of "What's your issue?" and "Shouldn't you have a focus?" with traditional responses that would inevitably allow their movement to be pigeon-holed by single issues!
To our collective amazement, even some reporters and newscasters began to get the point, recognizing the wisdom of keeping the focus broadly on the whole system.
Two articles in Rolling Stone, one by Jeff Sharlet, the other by Matt Taibbi, sum it up well.
"The question of demands, in all their variety, is a peculiar one in that it's at the heart of national occupation debate and yet mostly irrelevant to the occupiers. Their demand is simply for a better world, which as far as they're concerned, they've already started building.
Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It's about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but of everything. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society.
They don't care what we think they're about, or should be about. They just want something different. We're all born wanting the freedom to imagine a better and more beautiful future. But modern America has become a place that chokes the life out of that built-in desire."
One bit of Richard's advice I heeded was to learn more about the Populists of the late 19th Century. Sure enough, theirs was an astonishing movement, able to grasp the most fundamental questions of American society in a way that only the civil rights movement of the 20th Century has come close to equaling -- until this very moment in the 21st Century.
Lawrence Goodwyn, author of "The Populist Moment," the seminal book on that era, explains with brief eloquence that they "...created the psychological space to dare to aspire grandly."
Many people, including prophets like my dear friend, Richard Grossman, worked a very long time, hoping once more to see Americans dare to aspire grandly for a better life. I'm glad he stayed around long enough to catch Act One. And Bravo! to all who are making it happen.
Richard was a visionary, a teacher, a mentor, an insightful writer, an inspiring speaker, a truth teller, a grappler, and a sharp critic with high standards. Although he sometimes posed as a curmudgeon, he was in actuality a sensitive, warm-hearted person with a generous spirit. I have learned so much from him about popular democracy, constitutional law, and the use of corporate "personhood" to dominate the 99%. His leadership in founding POCLAD established a think tank for educating "We the People" about our collective oppressed situation and what we can do about it. He was truly a prophet who will be missed.
The movement we know today to end never-intended constitutional rights for corporations as a step toward real self-governance was birthed, grew and developed to a great extent by Richard Grossman -- a remarkable, complex human being with a deep passion and love for nature, humanity and justice. He influenced and inspired thousands directly, an incalculable number more indirectly.
Richard and Ward Morehouse started the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD) in 1994, a combined think tank and breeding ground for activist experimentation to challenge corporate rule.
His work in this field originated with the publication of Taking Care of Business: Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation, which he co-authored with Frank Adams in 1993.
Richard reveled in reading, thinking, writing and discussing on what had been for more than a century buried history and analysis on how corporations (creations of the state) came to acquire power and rights that were presented by the culture as inevitable and irreversible. POCLAD semi-annual retreats among the dozen collective "principles" were serious extended weekends in "grappling" and "rethinking" the relationship between people and our own legal creations Ñ conveying that the ultimate inhibitor to self-governance weren't corporations but us Ñ what we've come to accept and what we're willing to do. He dug deep in history, law and scholars that most people in the present had never heard of and/or who seemed quaint or arcane.
Richard was rigorous and demanded the same from everyone who took ending corporate rights seriously. He challenged as well as supported. He demanded as well as suggested. He knocked our ideas and conceptions down as well as worked collaboratively to build up others. He was uncompromising on core concepts but engaged in genuine give and take that helped him evolve from primarily advocating revoking individual corporate charters, to ending corporate constitutional rights (personhood) at the national level, to asserting democratic "right to decide" control over corporations through municipal ordinances, to criminalizing chartered incorporated business entities. You didn't always agree with Richard but you were always mentally stretched and challenged to defend your unconsciously accepted doctrines.
I first ran into Richard when he and fellow "POCLADista" Jane Anne Morris came to Ohio to lead a weekend "Rethinking Corporations, Rethinking Democracy" in 1995 Ñ one of scores of intentional in-depth retreats to unlearn our "myths and lore" regarding governance that he helped facilitate. It was a personal awakening. Though I had gone to what was considered a pretty radical college (Oberlin) and grew up with a father who was involved in the formation of the labor movement (United Rubber Workers in Akron), I had learned nothing in either venue about what Richard and Jane Anne had "unearthed."
At the end of the "Rethink," Richard challenged us to do our own "unearthing," to dig into Ohio history and law Ñ since corporations historically received their charter from states. The result was Citizens Over Corporations, our booklet that provided "A Brief History of Democracy in Ohio and Challenges to Organizing in the Future" (the subtitle, per Richard's suggestion). He was an invaluable asset in the writing, framing and tone. The booklet led to our documentary, CorpOrNation, the Story of Citizens and Corporations in Ohio. As Richard said time and again, the issue isn't about corporations. It's about democracy. It's about us. I was forever in awe once I became involved with POCLAD by his overall intellect, discernment and focus.
On a very personal note, after my wife suddenly passed away in 2000, Richard's hand written letter and subsequent notes, Buddhist calendar and phone calls were among the most cherished communications I received from anyone Ñ always inquiring about my welfare and my daughter's. Beneath his exterior crustiness was a deeply caring soul.
Richard was a planter. All his seeds did not sprout in quite the democratic ways he completely approved. Yet time will tell how far and deep the current anti corporate personhood movement extends. Transcending it to envelop real self-governance with compassion for all living things is where I believe Richard would want it to travel.
So should we. For the real barriers to this are not chartered incorporated business entities.