Return to Personhood Index

Challenging Corporate Power,
Asserting the People's Rights


( All sessions available in .pdf files at )



The first session of the study group provides an opportunity for the group members to meet each other, find out about the design and content of the course, agree upon discussion and facilitation guidelines, work out logistical details, and conduct an initial discussion. The objectives of the study groups are:

(1) to frame learning and discussion in ways that focus on the root causes of corporate and state oppression

(2) to direct efforts for change in law and culture toward those public officials and public bodies that must take the authority to place economic institutions and all corporate entities under the control of a self-governing people

Begin the session by allowing everyone to introduce themselves and tell why they are interested in this particular study group. Then the convenor of the meeting can lead the group through the following material.

Structure: Before every meeting each person receives a set of materials (a cover sheet and readings) to read and reflect on before the discussion (reading will take 1-2 hours per session). The study packet includes suggested questions for the discussion, but groups are free to create their own questions in addition to, or instead of, the ones in the packet.

The reading materials have not been selected to provide a balanced view of corporate power and and its impacts on countries and people in all parts of the world. In modern society we are inundated with the corporate perspective on almost every issue. These materials are intended to provide pieces of the largely untold story of how corporations have come to dominate our lives in the name of profit and at the expense of people and the planet. The study groups represent an opportunity to create intentional laboratories to experience and practice democracy. This initial session focuses on the process the group chooses to use in its discussions.

Democracy is a word we use daily in the United States, but many of us have not had the opportunity or motivation to think deeply about what it means to be a self-governing people. The study groups provide us with an opportunity to challenge ourselves to notice and explore both content and process during discussions.

Discussion Guidelines: Allow each person in the group to describe how much experience she or he has with group discussion. Review Reading 1, "Study Group Guidelines - Process and Facilitation," as needed. For some groups this material may already be familiar territory, but for others, it should help the group structure itself. Remember: this is your study group! Design processes that work for you.


The date, time, frequency, place, and duration of each session are up to the group. Most groups find two hours per discussion to be about right. We recommend that the group meet weekly or every other week to maintain continuity with the material and to develop the cohesiveness of the group. (If an already-intact group is using these materials, monthly meetings may be ok.) At this initial session, the group will need to:

  • develop its own set of discussion guidelines (use Reading 1, if needed)
  • determine when and where it will meet next
  • establish a process for obtaining the readings (who needs photocopies, who can get material off the WILPF website)

  • distribute the readings for the next session (as needed)
  • select a facilitator for the next session (we strongly recommend the democratic approach of rotating facilitation responsibilities among the members of the group)

We suggest that each person obtain a three-ring notebook to keep all their materials in one place. We also recommend that you use recycled paper and use both sides when making photocopies.

The people in each group represent a range of experience and knowledge about the subjects for discussion and other related topics. A few of the readings are somewhat academic and intellectually challenging; others are more easily accessible. In the evaluation forms that WILPF has been receiving from around the country, some people find a particular reading stimulating and provocative while others find it confusing or even useless. This diversity of experience and response to the readings fuels each group's discussions.

Optimal group size is 6-10 people to ensure enough viewpoints for lively discussion and adequate opportunity for everyone to participate. An evaluation form is included with the materials in this session. We ask that each person in the group, or the group as a whole, please provide us with this feedback. It has been extremely helpful to us to improve the study materials and find out what works and what doesn't. You may wish to fill in the form as you go, especially comments about which readings you found particularly useful or useless, which is why the form is provided now.


In addition to the readings for each session, there is a list of additional material that groups may use in a variety of ways. The primary purpose for this is to provide any individual or the entire group with an opportunity to dive deeper into the topic if they wish. Here are some possible ways the group might use these materials:

  • One person might review one or more of the items and then provide a synopsis for the group.
  • The group may be so intrigued with a particular topic that they want to spend more time on it before going on to the following sessions.
  • After completing all ten sessions, the group may wish to continue meeting and can select from any of these supplementary materials for further discussions.

When a reading has been taken from a book, we provide the title, author, and publishing information so anyone interested can obtain it (note: we urge you to use the library and purchase books from independent bookstores whenever possible). Some of the materials are available on the internet. Some of them are pamphlets or videotapes, for which we provide the publishing organization. If there is no publishing information, the material is available from WILPF - contact Mary Zepernick at 314 Wood Road, S. Yarmouth, MA 02661; 508.398.1023;

Please let us know about any supplementary materials that you recommend adding to the list. Also let us know if we need to make any corrections regarding where to obtain materials.

Discussion: After reviewing the course and working out whatever logistical needs the group has, use the remaining time in this initial session for the first discussion. Distribute the materials for this session and allow everyone five minutes to read the campaign proposal remarks by Virginia Rasmussen (Reading 3) and then discuss your reactions, concerns, and ideas. (In addition, or alternatively, you may wish to use the first three questions from the Q&A document, Reading 2.)


Supplementary Materials: The Constitution of the United States of America.
All members of the group may wish to have a copy of the Constitution; at a minimum, we suggest that at least one person have it handy so that the group can refer to it, if desired, during discussions. The Constitution can be obtained on the internet at or at a variety of other websites by searching on "U. S. Constitution".

"Challenging Corporate Power, Asserting the People's Rights"

by Virginia Rasmussen
WILPF National Congress, June 23-27, 1999
St. Louis, Missouri

There have been four pervasive patriarchal institutions in the history of Western Civilization. These are the classical empires, the ecclesiastical institutions, the nation state and the modern corporation. But the WORST of these is the modern corporation.

It holds this distinction because it exerts the functions and powers of all those other institutions AND more.

Like the classical empires, the giant corporations have become global empire. Like the ecclesiastical institutions, they preach a faith and pronounce what is of value. Like the nation states, they are now our government, and determined to bring us our future.

In addition, the modern corporation increasingly determines the nature, content and our personal roles within the economy, the world of work and the educational system. They steadily shape the nature of our communities, of our very planet, and our relationship with both.

The biggest of these giant multinationals are larger in income and budget than most nation-states and growing.

Along with this relentless growth, the world has been experiencing "ever deepening environmental degradation, widespread unemployment and economic insecurity, displacement of peoples and cultures, violence against and trafficking in women and girls, pandemic poverty, an unraveling of the social fabric, and an assault on democratic institutions and spiritual values."

This proposal, "Challenging Corporate Power, Asserting the People's Rights," recognizes and responds to the need for a new kind of struggle to wrest power over life, law and culture from these corporate bodies.

The proposal focuses WILPF's efforts to do this work in three major realms:

  • our preparation and that of others in our communities for a campaign against locally-felt corporate takings of OUR power,
  • the carrying out of that campaign, and
  • the merging of that work in a way that allows us to conduct some sort of national event or action that asserts the people's rights OVER corporations.

Such campaigns might center around

  1. the struggle to prevent a megastore's assaultive entry into a local economy;
  2. holding public meetings on the question of why your community SHOULD and how it MIGHT establish democratic control OVER the corporations in its midst;
  3. exploring the possibilities behind a municipal ordinance that defines the basis on which corporations can set up shop in that community; or
  4. working on ways to remove encroaching, co-opting corporations from the local public school system.

    The IMPORTANT question is HOW we do this work? …….. RADICALLY. This proposal acknowledges that we are NOT succeeding in stopping the damage corporations impose by doing what we've been doing - trying to regulate, reform, make more responsible or better behaving these institutions we created to serve us, institutions that have become pathologies in the body politic.

    The proposal responds to the need for a NEW understanding of history, one that reveals the corporate usurpations of governing authority occurring in this country over the last 150 years.

    It addresses our need to grasp more deeply the toxic impact of these corporate entities on our capacities to BE democratic, on the trust, process, skills, even the time we the people need to DO democracy, to carry out the rights and responsibilities necessary for our own governance.

    This proposal operates out of a framework for learning and language, for strategies and action that seeks a change in the NATURE of economic institutions to one that puts them in appropriate relationship to the people, that of subservience.

    There are several key truths that anchor this framework. They relate to what corporations are and what they are not:

    • The corporation is NOT a person ... it is a THING, a legal construct. Yet it was declared a person by a Supreme Court under corporate control in 1886.
    • The corporation is NOT private property. Created by the public to serve the public, it does not become a private entity upon that creation but should remain under public DEFINING, not regulating, powers.
    • The corporation does NOT have rights. It has only privileges which we the people gave it and we the people can take away. PEOPLE have rights, and it is WE who are responsible to one another for the performance of our corporate creations.

    While this is a large and long task, it is NOT undoable. Rule by corporations is neither inevitable nor irreversible, but we must, as WILPF so well knows, work to pull out the ROOTS of this pathological engine driving the corporate-capitalist economy.

    WILPF is well placed to help kick such a people's movement into gear through its branches at the grassroots.


    The following are common terms in a discussion of corporations and democracy, with definitions you won't find in Webster. We welcome dissenting and alternative definitions you may develop and/or additional terms you identify as important in your study group discussions. This is a work in progress.

    CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM - as currently pursued, about limits rather than about basic change to electoral policies that we the people define.

    CAPITALISM - an economic/political system in which the major means of production and distribution are privately held and operated for profits; characterized by the concentration of wealth, power and property, with labor and nature seen as resources.

    CHARTER - issued by states, the provisions and permission by which corporations operate; though no longer enforced, let alone revoked, charters are still under state authority and little known or used laws continue to exist around them.

    COMMERCE CLAUSE OF THE CONSTITUTION (Article 1, Sec. 8[ 3]) - prohibits states from passing tariffs that "hinder" the flow of goods between states, thus favoring big commercial interests over small local enterprises; recently referred to as "the first NAFTA."

    CONTRACTS CLAUSE OF THE CONSTITUTION (Article 1, Sec. 10[ 1]) - in effect makes contracts private laws between individuals, protected from state interference; thus was much labor legislation ruled unconstitutional prior to 1937, when the National Labor Relations Act was ruled constitutional (though largely negated by Taft-Hartley ten years later.)

    CORPORATIONS - in the U. S., a legal entity established as subordinate to the people's representatives, to serve specific purposes in limited ways; in a 19th century judicial counter-revolution, this corporate entity gained the illegitimate authority on which it has built the limited liability and virtually limitless rights and power it holds today.

    DEMOCRACY - a process or society in which the people define their lives, arrangements and institutions; rule by the ruled, which is incompatible with capitalism and with corporate power and wealth as they exist today.

    FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS - "Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble." The negative wording offers protection from public law but not private; e. g., the Constitution does not prohibit employers from denying workers free speech and assembly.

    FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT - "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any PERSON of life, liberty or property without due process of law." (emphasis added) This was added to the Constitution in 1868 to protect freed slaves; however, the 1886 Santa Clara decision made corporations persons with constitutional protections under the Fourteenth Amendment. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black pointed out that "Of the cases in this court in which the Fourteenth Amendment was applied during the first fifty years after its adoption, less than one-half of one percent invoked it in protection of the Negro race, and more than fifty percent asked that its benefits be extended to corporations."

    FREE MARKET - an economic theory in which investment and production for profit operate without government restrictions but in practice are publicly subsidized in a variety of ways.

    FREE SPEECH - denied to workers on company property; equated with campaign spending in a 1976 Supreme Court decision; corporate rights to advertise, as defended by the ACLU!

    PATRIARCHY - a hierarchical system of organizing institutions and relationships, historically but not exclusively male-designed and operated; characterized by dominant and subordinate values assigned to human differences, with power exercised over others based on these rankings. Corporate capitalism on a global scale is a particularly virulent form of patriarchy.

    PERSONHOOD - the legal status of human beings granted to the corporate entity by the Supreme Court in Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific R. R., 1886; from "personhood" flows much of the illegitimate power and authority to govern accumulated by corporations since then.

    POPULIST MOVEMENT - late 19th century efforts by Knights of Labor, Granges and others who established a mass education process, advocating a society in which the people defined their own institutions; Populists offered the most radical and widespread, though ultimately unsuccessful, resistance and alternatives to date to what they understood was a corporate usurpation of the authority to govern.

    PRIVATE PROPERTY - property that deprives or excludes the public from use or entry. PROGRESSIVES - early 20th century reformers who conceded power to corporations, ushering in the regulatory system and era aimed at moderating the behavior of corporations, as distinct from we the people defining and controlling our relationship to them.

    SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY - a behavior and capability within the nature of people, not in the nature of artificial entities; it is we people who are responsible for the creation and impact of institutions intended to serve us.

    INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS/ AGREEMENTS: BRETTON WOODS - post–World War II treaty that created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, supposedly to help particular states out of financial difficulties; eventually the WB turned from the reconstruction of Europe to the development of former colonies, while the IMF became the enforcement arm of the northern-controlled international monetary system. As some nations' debts have ballooned, "structural adjustment programs" have been imposed on them, designed to reduce the cost of government services and orient the economy to export in order to feed the global trading dominated by the U. S. and its industrialized allies.

    ORGANIZATION OF ECONOMIC COOPERATION & DEVELOPMENT (OECD) - an organization headquartered in Paris and composed of the 29 most industrialized nations, a "rich man's club" that meets periodically to pursue policies to ensure their continued dominance of the global economy.

    G-7 NATIONS - the elite of the elite, who meet biannually to ensure that global trade and monetary policies continue to serve the status quo: U. S., Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada.

    NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT (NAFTA) - a treaty linking the economies of Canada, Mexico and the U. S., removing trade barriers in order to open each country's resources and labor force to exploitation by the others without restrictions; negotiations underway to include other Western hemisphere states.

    GENERAL AGREEMENT ON TARIFFS & TRADE (GATT) - formed in 1947 as part of Bretton Woods agreement, a series of negotiating rounds aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating quotas, duties and tariffs; the Uruguay Round, from 1986 to 1992, redefined "trade" to include not only products but services and intellectual property rights.

    WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION (WTO) - a profoundly un-and anti-democratic body created in January 1995 by governments involved in the Uruguay Round; all WTO members are represented in the Ministerial Conference and in the General Council, which has authority to make rules and implement decisions regarding agreements signed under the GATT. WTO dispute resolution proceedings are secret, binding on member states, and provide no outside appeal or review. The Wall Street Journal approvingly called it "another stake in the heart of the idea that governments can direct economies."

    MULTILATERAL AGREEMENT ON INVESTMENT (MAI) - originating in the WTO, this proposal was transferred to the smaller and more elite OECD and secretly negotiated; it would give corporations legal standing equivalent to that of nation states, prohibiting any performance requirements for transnational investors that governments might impose on behalf of their citizens. Governments can be sued by corporations for actions resulting in loss of profits, considered expropriation. When the proposal was circulated among the 29 OECD members it was leaked to the global public and led to massive protest. It was not passed intact as the MAI, but many of its provisions are in force and more are to come through the WTO.

    FAST TRACK - legislation requested by President Clinton to give him authority to ratify global trade and investment agreements with no congressional discussion, simply an up or down vote; defeated twice, with labor unions playing a major role in mobilizing public protest.

    SIDE AGREEMENTS - the name says it all: in the face of massive pressure, an inadequate and unenforced add-on to trade and investment treaties, supposedly providing protections for labor and the environment.

    STRUCTURAL ADJUSTMENT POLICIES - imposed by creditor nations on debtor nations through the World Bank and International Monetary Fund:

    • PRIVATIZATION - transferring a variety of public functions and services (from health care and education to social services, prisons and even the military) from governments to for-profit corporations, thus eliminating public involvement in allocating public resources.

    • DE-REGULATION - the national and global dismantling of policies and laws placing limits on corporate production and trade; the rollback of admittedly pallid environmental, social and labor advances, seen as restraint of trade.

    • INDUSTRIALIZATION - the process of pressuring debtor nations to abandon subsistence policies for export crops and products that fill corporate coffers, further transferring resources from the poor to the rich within and among societies.

    • END OF WELFARE STATE - the systematic destruction of values and policies that promote collective well-being through the public arena, turning social service functions into profit-making ventures by corporations.

    • CONSOLIDATIONS/MERGERS/MONOPOLIES - with industry-wide consolidations, international markets are controlled by fewer firms with a net worth greater than many countries. Some 500 corporations control 70% of global trade.

    October 1999


Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

United States Section

1213 Race Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107-1691
(215) 563-7110

  • Fax (215) 563-5527

    Website: _______________________________________________________________________________

    Jane Addams Nobel Peace Prize 1931

    Emily Greene Batch Nobel Peace Prize 1946

    U. S. SECTION CHAIR Phyllis S. Yingling
    Mary Day Kent
    International Office Centre International
    1 rue de Varembé 1211 Geneva 20
    Switzerland 41-22-733-61-75
    41-22-740-10-63 (FAX)
    Paula Tasso

    SPONSORS Dr. Maya Angelou
    Dennis Banks
    Elise Boulding
    Anne Braden
    Vinie Burrows
    Helen Caldicott
    Ramsey Clark
    Rep. John Conyers, Jr.
    Ossie Davis
    Ruby Dee Rep.
    Ron V. Dellums
    Olympia Dukakis
    Frances Farenthold
    Rev. William H. Gray, III
    Dolores Huerta
    Coretta Scott King
    Yolanda King
    Barbara Kingsolver
    Elizabeth McAlister
    Kate Millett
    Holly Near
    Grace Paley
    Suzanne Pharr
    John Randolph
    Betty Reardon
    Sonia Sanchez
    Gloria Steinem
    Ethel Taylor
    Carmen Vazquez
    Alice Walker
    Joanne Woodward

    Founded in 1915, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) is the oldest and largest international women's peace and justice organization in the world.

    • Since World War I, WILPF has taken action to oppose the root causes of war, and to promote peace, social justice, racial equality and women's empowerment.

    • WILPF has an international office located in Geneva, Switzerland; a United Nations office in New York City; a national office in Philadelphia; and a legislative office in Washington, D. C.

    • WILPF members have included five Nobel Peace Prize laureates: founders Jane Addams and Emily Greene Balch (the only two American women to win the peace prize prior to Jody Williams), Linus Pauling, Alva Myrdal, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    • There are WILPF sections in more than 40 countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Korea, Lebanon, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palestine, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, French Polynesia, Portugal, Russia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela, and the United States.

    • Recent W1LPF projects include: Peace train to Beijing for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women; Women Insist on Nuclear Disarmament; effort to halt the Cassini plutonium-powered space probe; Women's Budget Project; Symposium at New York University Law School on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation model to address racism in the United States; Children's Letter to President Clinton about Iraq; delegation to the International Women's Solidarity Conference in Havana, Cuba; examination of U. S. Drug Policy's impact on women and communities in the U. S. and Colombia; ImPEACE the Congress 2000.

    WILPF Legislative Office, 110 Maryland Avenue,
    NE Suite. 102, Washington, D. C. 20002
    Phone: (202) 546-6727 Fax: (202) 544-9613
    Email: Web:

  • The Way Home

    Goals | Play | Study | News | FAQ | Contact | Help | Archives