Challenging the Transnational Corporations
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"Every age and generation is and must be (as a matter of right) as free to act for itself in all cases, as the age and generation that preceded it."
Thomas Paine, Dissertation on the First Principles of Government
With government agencies, the mainstream media, and public spaces controlled by the transnational corporations (TNCs) what can concerned citizens do to influence events? Even the current discourse on the three global megatrends that will affect every living person on earth and the generations to come (expanding neoliberal globalization with its consequent trends of increasing inequality and climate change) is pushed into the background or obscured by TNC spin. Political smart mobs and flying squads provide the means to challenge the TNCs and their political agents and reclaim democracy in America.
The Information Environment
The information environment is the aggregate of individuals, organizations, and systems that collect, process, or disseminate information, and entities that control the information environment usually obtain their objectives without effective opposition or prohibitive interference. The TNC initiative to control the information environment in the USA has been remarkably successful.
- TNCs, through financing the campaigns of politicians, relentless lobbying, and outright bribing of public officials, have penetrated all levels of government and influence public policy from the local to the national level. It is no surprise that the interests of the TNCs are now portrayed as national interests.
- TNCs control the content of the mass media through political pressure, colossal advertizing budgets and, in some cases, outright ownership.
- Through massive education grants, corporate sponsorship of specific programs, and lucrative franchises, TNCs have expanded their presence and influence on college and university campuses, traditional forums for public debate.
- Most recently, TNCs have been closing public spaces. Shopping malls and access roads to big-box stores and production points are now designated as private property and patrolled by private security forces. Many formerly public spaces have become, in effect, occupied zones.
- The principle of net neutrality on the internet, the final frontier of open and free public discourse, is currently under attack by the TNCs.
Political smart mobs and flying squads offer citizens the means of breaking the information blockade erected by the TNCs.
Political Smart Mobs
Political smart mobs -- a seeming contradiction in terms -- have become the vanguards of democracy in the modern world. A political smart mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public space to perform a political act or deliver a political message. By breaking the information blockades imposed by the TNCs and their government agents, they facilitate the expression of the will of the people in the increasingly repressive societies of the modern world. Informed and coordinated by communication and computing technology, smart mobs are altering the political landscape worldwide. i
In the US, smart mobs have openly challenged the power of big banks, and are targeting other TNCs that maintain a stranglehold on the American economy.
Political Flying Squads ii
Political flying squads are a logical extension of smart mobs. They are rapid response teams established and maintained to meet political emergencies, usually within a local area. Flying squads are highly-mobile autonomous groups of dedicated individuals who understand the interrelationships between political issues and are ready to mobilize on short notice to engage in direct political action, e.g. to establish informational picket lines or sit-ins, support local demonstrations, reinforce self-organized communities, etc. The primary virtue of flying squads is speed and mobility -- because they do not attempt to occupy, they can penetrate a closed area, accomplish their mission, and withdraw before the authorities can respond. For example, a flying squad can execute a drive-by informational picket in the parking lot of a big-box store or blitz-leaflet a crowd in a mall before security personnel can react.
The potential of flying squads was illustrated in 2001 when local Canadian squads decided to challenge neoliberal globalization by blockading the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, a major link in the IH-35 NAFTA superhighway. Stopping traffic on the bridge, even for a short period of time, would have cost the TNCs millions of dollars because they rely heavily on just-in-time delivery of cheap parts from the global South for production. Though the plan was uncovered and derailed, it exposed the vulnerability of even the largest TNCs to local direct action.
The Battle Line
The influence of political smart mobs and flying squads is determined by the reputation that they establish, primarily through the messages that they deliver. For example, the motto "No new taxes!" delivers a conservative message because it reinforces the status quo. "Support the working families of America -- Source the USA" is progressive because it offers a concrete alternative to the neoliberal practice of offshoring jobs that drives the trends of growing unemployment and inequality in the USA.
Every cogent message and action of a smart mob or flying squad reflects one of these two political tendencies in the USA. The current economic crisis in America and the past three decades of neoliberal rule under both Republican and Democratic administrations expose the bankruptcy of the conservative agenda iii for America. Only progressive political action offers the prospect of a sustainable future.
"Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect and that will be one step toward obtaining it."
Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
i Information communication technology (ICT) is the most efficient force multiplier available to ordinary citizens. Recorded images, combined with simple, fluid narratives, can shape both local and global perceptions.
iiHistorically, the term "flying squad" has referred to small, mobile bands of insurgents operating spontaneously and autonomously as auxiliary forces of larger organizations, such as labor unions. The concept of political flying squads presented here refers to totally independent groups of individuals who share political beliefs and act on them using their own human and material resources.
iiiThe conservative agenda for America was presented to the nation in two public documents. The Republican Contract with America outlined the conservative domestic agenda, and theProject for a New American Century advocated US foreign policy based on military might, a policy that is still in force and virtually guarantees a future of endless wars.