Cobb speaks about keeping corporations under government control


Photo: Shiyao Liu/Iowa State Dai

David Cobb, 2004 Green Party presidential candidate, discusses efforts to end corporate personhood Mondayin the Sun Room of the Memorial Union.

Paige Godden

“I am proud, I am patriotic, and these days I am a pissed off American citizen.”

David Cobb, Green Party nominee for president in 2004, shared his concerns about separating corporations from government during a speech in the Memorial Union on Monday night.

“I think much of what fuels the anger of the tea party is that the corporation fat cats, bankers and Wall Street has destroyed the economy in this country,” Cobb said. “I am going to tell you the truth as I see it.”

Cobb said the U.S. is not now, was not designed as, nor has ever been a functioning democracy.

“I … think the truth is that large transnational corporations are not showing power today, they are ruling us,” Cobb said. “As surely as masters used to rule their slaves, corporations and CEOs are ruling us.”

Cobb said corporations are acting as if they are sovereign, in control and as if they have legitimate control.

“I think a fundamental principle we should be asking is if we the people are in control or if it’s the corporations,” Cobb said.

He said democracy in Greek means “people rule.”

Cobb asked if anyone in the audience genuinely believed people are ruling society, and the audience unanimously agreed that wasn’t happening.

“I give this presentation across the country. Five years ago or 10 years ago, someone would have given the argument we do. So many people know the truth and can see it today,” Cobb said.

Cobb then gave examples of why he thinks corporations are ruling the public.

He said everyone is eating genetically modified foods and said U.S. citizens can’t help it because it’s in the public food supply.

He said the genetically modified foods were put in the public food supply by corporations such as Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., and the decisions on what goes into the public food supply is made behind corporations’ closed doors.

“I’m here to tell you something like our public food supply decisions should be made in a public process,” Cobb said. “In this country, the reality is we’ve been bedazzled by gizmos that distract us from creating the society we want to live in.”

He said the country is lacking democracy because of the lack of public discourse and debate.

“We’re not doing that one bit. We’re being told what to do. That is not a functioning democracy,” Cobb said.

Cobb defined corporation as a Latin word meaning “state of having or being a body.”

He said the Roman Republic was the first to create a corporation and the empire used it to build hospitals, roads and aqueducts. Everything it built had one thing in common: They were public infrastructures.

Cobb said the idea was genius, not demanding a tax, but asking individuals for private donations for public infrastructures.

“I’m not anti-corporation … I believe there is an appropriate use of corporations,” Cobb said.

He said modern transnational corporations get their roots from 14th-century Europe.

“What needed [to be] discovered? Asia, Africa and eventually South America. News flash: There were people there. They weren’t lost, and they didn’t need discovering,” Cobb said.

He said this era became the era of rape, pillage, plunder and murder. The transnational corporation was built to facilitate an empire, to take resources and bring them back.

Cobb said one of the first corporations was the Africa Trading Company.

“Trading people. The word slaves somehow abstracts it. They traded people, specifically from Africa. People at the genetic level are just like me. I know my pigment is light,” Cobb said. “I think this is another truth that needs to be told. Any scientist will tell you, race does not exist. No scientist would elevate skin color to taxonomy. Race doesn’t exist, but racism does. Why? Because we act like race exists and we act in such a way that we have literally created a reality.”

He said people who say we can’t have a different world are wrong.

“This is the way it has been, it is now, and will always be. I am so sick and tired of people who believe we can’t make a fundamental change because profound change has been the hallmark of human beings today,” Cobb said. “If you’re like me, you don’t like the existing reality. Let’s get to work and change it.”

Cobb said the idea of race was created in order to justify, for the first time, the idea that it was legally and morally justifiable to enslave a group of people for nothing more than pigment

“It’s a perverse, obscene, but profound way of thinking,” Cobb said.

Cobb said in the 17th century, the country was a colony of England and the king claimed he had a God-given right to rule the people.

“If I can argue to you and you thought I was God, you can’t argue with that,” Cobb said.

Cobb asked if anyone would believe he is a representation of God on Earth, and the audience said no.

“People 500 years ago believed it or were smart enough to keep their mouths shut. Another example of human construct. As outrageous as it is for us to think about kings having divine rights, only 500 years ago it wasn’t just foolish to question that, but blasphemy,” Cobb said.

He said when he says he wants to recreate society, he’s not joking.

“With our history and the human condition we have the ability to literally recreate the world. I want to recreate the world anew because I don’t like the fact that I live in a racist, sexist society where corporations are ruling,” Cobb said.

He said the American revolution wasn’t just fought to deny the divine rights of kings, but to deny the Virginia Company.

“The Boston Tea Party was the most profound and disobedient act this country has ever seen. Now we applaud it,” Cobb said. “So today maybe we should call for a more socially responsible corporation instead, raise our expectations a bit.”

Cobb said he is interested in what kind of conversations the revolutionaries were having and what inspired the people to get off their knees and fight back.

He said there are two important principles in the Constitution. The first is the actor, “we the people,” and the second is what the people can create, “government.”

“We the people are described as being free and sovereign, the government is described as being subordinate and accountable,” Cobb said.

He said the government is described as having collective duties and rights and duties are the very crux of law.

“If I have the right to do something, I can do it, period. If I have a duty to someone I have to do it, even if I don’t want to. The difference between rights and duties is profound,” Cobb said.

He said there is also a difference between public and private spheres.

“There are certain things I can do privately that I can simply do, but it doesn’t end there because there is an understanding there is a public component to our actions,” Cobb said. “I look at this and think, ‘My God, that’s genius, we should try that in our country.’ We have never actually tried to implement this framework at a national level.”

Cobb then went back to when the only people considered “people” in the Constitution were white men with property.

“It’s important to take a moment and realize only white men with property were legally under this framework. This founding is a violence; a violence against the indigenous people who were here first and it ended in an intentional, deliberate genocide,” Cobb said. “Unless we are able to tell the truth, we can’t get out of this mess. The country was built on slave labor and that’s the truth.”

He said it wasn’t just that women couldn’t vote, but that women couldn’t enter into contracts.

“They were like children. Women couldn’t own property; legally speaking, they were property. Their legal identity was formed in relationship to the men in their lives.”

Cobb said originally only 5 to 7 percent of people were legally persons.

“Another way of saying this is 95 percent of people were not legally persons,” Cobb said. “The entire history of the United States can be understood as human beings attempting to be defined as people under the Constitution.”

He said in 1789, corporations were only created after a bill was introduced then passed by the lower and upper levels of the state house, the equivalent of becoming law.

“You had to assert that a public need was not being met by other corporations or government and your corporation would fill that need. The charter was revoked if you didn’t act for the people, and it dissolved after 10 to 20 years,” Cobb said. “The reality is this. The only thing stopping us from creating control over corporations is public will.”

He said the Constitution needs to be amended because corporations are out of control.

Cobb said the movement starts at a local level.

“It’s going to start in kitchens, dorm rooms and by talking with friends and family members. We need to start by telling the truth to one another about the state of the world,” Cobb said. “We need people to be willing to run for office and lobby existing representatives. Someone in this crowd needs to run for office. We need to use all the tools in the box to create a social justice.”