What You Can Do

Actions to Help Revive Democracy and Revoke Illegitimate Corporate Power

More and more people are saying. “I’m fed up with the status quo and ready to act; what can I do?” In response, we’ve compiled these ideas and resources for both group and individual actions one can take to effect change. Regardless of your skills, you can take effective action to restore citizen authority over corporations and join with the thousands of Americans working for such systemic change.

The ideas presented here progress from individual actions to group educational activities to group results-driven campaigns, with commitment generally increasing from one group to the next. This primer will be continually updated and improved, so please share your suggestions and new ideas with us!

Individual Actions

Don’t underestimate the power of living by example. Your daily actions rub off on others.

Do business with your neighbors — patronize independent community-based businesses. Set specific goals, such as buying half of your seasonal produce from local farms. See our Independent Business page for more.

Get important books and independent media sources into your local library where they can be read by more people. Most libraries rely on patron requests to determine their publication orders.

Write letters to the editor or commentaries for your local publications. For skilled and committed writers, we will work with you on breaking into larger publications. Read our tips for effective letters to the editor.

Become an expert on an issue relating to the larger struggle for democracy, then develop relationships with your government representatives, the editorial board of your local newspaper, and other media outlets to generate public debate. Feel free to request recommendations for resources on specific issues. The links on each topic index page (left side menu) of our site are good starting points.

Give your financial support to organizations that strive for systemic change rather than those focusing solely on damage control. They typically do more with less and have limited grant possibilities. Many organizations listed on our primers are among those worthy of your consideration.

Run for local office or get involved in politics. Whether you choose to help build a minor party or shift the dominant ones, you can raise vital issues ignored in most campaigns.

Volunteer your time and talents. Volunteers are essential to many grassroots organizations that lack the budget for many staff positions — maybe you can provide needed help. See our volunteer opportunities.

Sharpen the focus of organizations to which you belong. Large, well-funded groups, especially those with locally-controlled chapters, can provide a strong base from which to work. The Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, and your county or state political party organizations all constitute opportunities to reach already active neighbors. You can present campaign ideas that more directly challenge power or simply work to re-frame or change the language used in existing campaigns.

Consciously use democratic language. By calling attention to language that marginalizes citizens (e.g. inappropriately referring to us as “consumers”), personifies corporations (e.g. McDonalds said…) or misleads (e.g. using “free trade” where “corporate-controlled commerce” is the accurate language), you can help awaken others to our daily immersion in propaganda. This is especially true if you discuss or write about it publicly.

Give someone you know a sample of our newsletter or any other publication, and consider a gift subscription. We’ll send a free copy at your request. We hear from a lot of people saying “I never really thought about it in this way until my friend sent me your website.” It works!

Group Initiatives: Educational and Movement-building

Effective grassroots education is action. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t yet have a group to organize a targeted campaign; build a base of support through initiatives such as these.

Start a democracy discussion group. A guided group is a great vehicle for bringing together interested people and providing a foundation for local action. Many of our primers are geared toward this purpose. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom also has great material for this purpose.

Present a film series in your community. Presenting issue-oriented films, with post-film discussion, can be a successful outreach tool. In our home base, organizers teamed with the public library to establish a monthly event. Free Speech TV has an extensive resource list.

Organize a local event. Do you have a university or organization in your community that could sponsor a public presentation or a “From Here to Democracy” workshop. See our Presentations page for more information on what Reclaim Democracy can offer.

Sponsor a debate. Political or purely informational,debating the abuse of corporate power can broaden discussion, beyond “the choir” and build a base of support and ideas for more results-oriented action. For information on sponsoring candidate debates, see the League of Women Voters Guide to Candidate Debates.

Propose a local law or resolution rejecting corporate personhood. Such a statement of resistance to corporate power can generate much local engagement. Point Arena, Arcata, and Berkeley in CA are among the communities to do so.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has many examples of relevant local ordinances. In December 2002, a milestone was reached when Porter Township, Pennsylvania, became the first local government in the United States to adopt a binding law eliminating corporate claims to civil and constitutional privileges.

Distribute information by “tabling” at a local event. All you need is good information and a capable spokesperson do local outreach. Distribute literature (our print-ready primers, can be revisedand customized with your local contact information) to generate discussion, raise funds and perhaps organize a local working group. Find an appropriate event or public place and set up an outreach table. We’re happy to send newsletters, brochures, bumper stickers, and a guide to effective tabling to assist you.

Group Initiatives: Results-driven

Most of these actions involve a higher level of commitment. We aim only to introduce the ideas; please see the referenced sources for specific steps toward achieving these goals. Consider issues that can bring together a broad coalition of groups in your community or state.

Reject corporate personhood in a binding local ordinance – See Porter Township Ordinance

Propose a Corporate Accountability Code in your state. Help your state rein in illegitimate corporate privilege. See examples on our Corporate Personhood page.

Prevent corporate subsidies from ripping off your town. Citizens in Gary, Indiana, generated an ordinance mandating that corporations meet all projections for job creation and other promises as a condition for receiving any form of public subsidy. See the Governance page at NewRules.org for more ideas.

Prohibit criminal corporations from doing business in your community or state. This “Corporate Three Strikes” bill to revoke the state charters of recidivist corporations is one example. See CELDF’s web page on local ordinances, especially the Wayne Township Environmental Protection Ordinance.

Preempt corporatization of public services with a local or state initiative. Washington D.C. virtually halted corporatizing of public services simply by requiring solid evidence that such a move would save enough money (10%) to justify the costs. It also gives public employees the chance to bid to do the work themselves.

Stop commercialism of schools. Corporations are invading our public schools via sponsorships, exclusive vending deals, free “educational” materials, and other tactics to market themselves to a captive, lucrative audience – our kids. You can work at the school district level to pass proactive commercialism policies. See our primer, “Branded: Corporations & Our Schools”, for more information and resources.

Work for local or state electoral reform. Many states and localities have enacted spending caps, public financing and other important reforms. For an excellent overview of campaign finance reform and the measure passed by Colorado citizens in 2002, see our 5-page primer “Issues and Legal Precedent in State Campaign Finance Reform” (pdf).

The Local Campaign Finance Reform project of the National Civic League has a book and other valuable information. Also, check out information on the Clean Money campaign reform approach from Public Campaign. Common Cause and League of Women Voters chapters continue to play active roles in reform efforts. They tend to prefer strong but incremental reforms rather than radically challenging the status quo.

Promote legislation to preserve family farms. At least ten townships in Pennsylvania have passed ordinances banning corporate farm ownership.Nine states have done likewise. See information on Anti-Corporate Farming Laws and model Local Ordinances to Build Sustainable Communities from CELDF, including the Southampton Anti-Corporate Farming Ordinance. Contact us for other state legislation references.

Organize to support and prevent corporate chains from undermining your community. Independent businesses of all types are being displaced by corporate chains nationwide, but successful campaigns have emerged to reverse this trend toward centralization of power. Independent Business Alliances unite locally owned businesses to educate, pool resources, and create a culture of support for community-based business. The American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), helps citizens launch such local alliances and serves as a hub for the sharing of resources and ideas.

Support community businesses through local legislation. Communities have taken actions such as banning or limiting the size of “big box” developments, capping the number of chains in their area, or enacting local purchasing preferences. See The New Rules Project “Retail” page for details and models on these and related initiatives.

Pass a platform statement opposing constitutional rights for corporations in your local or state political party. Such platform planks have passed just within the past two years in Washington, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and Maine.

Start a local or state ReclaimDemocracy.org chapter. Contact us for details on how we support local organizing efforts, the benefits and obligations involved in such efforts.

Endorse the campaigns to Amend the Constitution and overrule the Supreme Court’s dreadful Citizens United v FEC ruling. Our website has many additional suggested actions and tools to assist you on this front, as do the websites MoveToAmend.org and FreeSpeechforPeople.org.

More Ideas? Share them with us. Send us your ideas and we’ll try to incorporate those that align with our mission.