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Protest, Inc.

Book Review of: Protest, Inc.

The Corporatization of Activism

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Review of Protest, Inc., by Peter Dauvergne and Genevieve LeBaron (Softcover, 2014)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


This is an insightful book that brings attention to a serious problem. I disagree with some of the authors' views and arguments, and will explain why momentarily. Overall, I think this book is a valuable addition to the literature.

One of the things I especially like about the authors' approach is they use real-life incidents and situations to illustrate their points. Often in books that deal with social topics, you get a lot of theory and supposition but not much hard data and not much connection to the real world. Those academic books are fine for stimulating academic thought, but they don't help you see what's really going on.

As an example, an academic book might be based on studies and interviews to see what people think about how Coca-Cola values the environment. This book looks at the actual efforts of that corporation and actual programs it has implemented.

Now, understand that the main product line of this corporation is "osteoporosis in a can" (or plastic bottle). So while the corporation does make some effort to make people feel better about what they do with the cans and bottles, the fact remains that this company hugely adds to waste disposal problems by peddling its poison in those containers. An honest solution would be for Coca Cola to exit that market entirely, and devote its resources to products that add value rather than destroy the bone health of its customers.

Think about that for a moment. Do you see the conflict, there? This "doing good at the margins" while "engaging in destructive behavior generally" is the hypocrisy the authors are talking about in this book. Increasingly, people go along with token efforts and/or marketing hype in place of real reform. Most people just don't think about it very much, and thus just don't get it.

Often, people don't see that the math just doesn't work the way they are led to believe it does. I like to explain to "liberals" (their mislabeling of their views, not mine) that when the organized crime cartel known as (much of the) "the federal government" takes $100 from you and gives back a dollar, you are not a dollar richer. You are ninety-nine dollars poorer. This same math applies to the corporatization of activism. It really amounts to a marketing effort that deflects any meaningful change in the status quo. In the case of the federal crime cartel (that occupies or runs much of the federal government), trillions of dollars flow to a few corporations while leaving the American people with staggering debt.

Where the authors err is their equating of corporatism to capitalism. These are not at all the same thing. Capitalism is, by its very nature, a meritocracy. In a capitalist system, if you make a product that people want and sell it at a reasonable price, they will reward you for your efforts and competence by paying you for your product. Or, if you are incompetent you don't get those rewards; you have to adapt or die.

The problem that people of low ability and/or character have with capitalism is it's a meritocracy. This is why they expend so much effort to subvert it.

If you're "stuck" in a capitalist system and you're not particularly competent or industrious but are particularly greedy, you need to find a way to cheat. A level playing field is your enemy, so you to skew things in your favor. Enter, big government (aka, force). In the United States, we do not have a representative democracy or a democratic republic. We have a corporate oligarchy. And it uses military force against citizens to get its way. We have seen this in countless examples, including those the authors mention in this book. That is not capitalism.

This oligarchy is why we see the same family dynasties over and over in our fake federal "elections" (choose between gangster A or gangster B, both working for the same criminal employers). And not just in the fake elections. Look up the name "Biddle." It appears in the bank battles fought by Andrew Jackson and, surprise surprise, the 2008 banking crime spree.

This oligarchy is also why, for example, nobody went to jail for the egregious financial crime committed in 2008. The "too big to fail" lie was actually "too big to jail." Do a Bing or Yahoo search (please don't use Google, which violates its own guidelines and is more ad spam server than search engine) for the video where Senator Elizabeth Warren asked a simple question in a hearing. The employees of the Injustice Department gave her non-answers that are almost comical in their idiocy.

So to demonize capitalism does not help. It is the solution, not the problem.

Capitalism cannot exist without a legal structure that greatly dampens cheating. We do not have that legal structure, because the cheats simply ignore the law and nothing happens to them for doing so. We get what the analyst Jerome St Cyr calls "unbridled capitalism," by which he means an "anything goes" environment that is toxic to ethical companies.

The solution to that error in this book is to just add "unbridled" before the word "capitalism" wherever you see it appear. This unbridled capitalism has largely displaced honest dealings and real capitalism while falsely calling itself capitalism.

Another area in which I have some disagreement with the authors is their view that playing nice with the evil-doers is selling out. In many ways it is, and they give real examples that prove this point. But as the saying goes, you can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.

A corporate take-over of America followed the war between the states. It was briefly interrupted by Teddy Roosevelt, who was shot in the chest while giving a speech about this very problem--ask yourself why schoolchildren aren't taught this and you get a keen insight into the reality in which we live.

Since that take-over, it has become very difficult to get anything done by simply opposing the criminals. The authors themselves gave several examples of how this just didn't work. One example was the anti-bankster protest in Philadelphia. The police there egregiously violated the First Amendment rights of the protestors.

Of course, First Amendment rights are just a fantasy in the United States. Speak up too much, and the Institute of Reprobates and Sociopaths will be on your back or some other group of "government" psychopaths will get their jollies silencing you. And that is why out and out protest are usually too dangerous and too ineffective to work in this country.

In some rare cases, they do work. The civil rights movement that began after Wilson's second world war gained momentum in the 1950s and led to important legislative and judicial victories under President Eisenhower. The 1960s were more famous in this regard, most notably for Dr. King's stirring speeches, the bus boycott, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968. But that was a highly organized, effort sustained over decades. And at root was the fact that the Constitution does not protect the civil liberties of some people while denying the civil liberties of other people. In other words, the basic tenet of that movement was a priori in the supreme law of the land.

A movement to, for example, stop the externalizing of costs by corporations that dump toxic waste into a pit next to a school (real case) has much less going for it and isn't going to succeed. Even boycotts, once a powerful weapon for change, are fairly ineffective. First of all, even if it caused a particular brand to get no customers it would have little effect on a large conglomerate. Secondly the sheer number of zombies ready to ignore criminal misconduct means the brand won't suffer more than maybe a 1% drop. To verify this, just drive by any BP station or Wal-Mart.

Those who want change will need to work from within to get it. The danger of working from within is the very ideals of those wanting change are prone to compromise. While incremental change of the offender is better than no change at all, change works both ways.

And there's the other issue of being satisfied that you're doing something. But what are you really doing? I am very impressed with how the authors delve into this issue. As an example, they talk about how consumers can buy products that have some sort of eco payback. In one case, they looked at how Bono (rock star from the band U2) urges people to consume more of a particular item because every dollar they spend on it is helping. But the math simply does not work.

Another aspect is when companies push an "eco" product and consumers buy it under the mistaken notion they are spending their dollars on better products so they are doing their part. An example (not given by the authors) of such a product is a dishwasher liquid made by Palmolive. It's their Eco brand, and the "Eco" features prominently on the container. It's phosphate-free so it won't contribute to the algaeal bloom problem.

However, it contains chlorine bleach--totally lethal to fish and a powerful carcinogen to humans. Calling this an eco product is a lie. Yet, consumers buy this product because they think they are helping the environment. Worse, it forms a hard scale inside the dishwasher, causing premature failure of the appliance. So the consumer replaces the appliance with another one manufactured with environmentally damaging methods.

BTW, Seventh Generation makes a dishwashing gel that is actually eco-friendly and is easy on your dishwasher.

You don't have to be a raving lunatic to be an activist. But you don't have to "sleep with the enemy" to be an effective activist, either. There is a middle ground. I was thinking of this throughout my reading, and discovered much to my delight that the authors made this very point at the end of the book. You aren't "doing your part" by engaging in the PR stunt kind of activism that Bono helps promote.

Nor by the way, are you doing your part by going along with environment-damaging, energy-wasting scams like installing CFLs in your home. Many environmental activists have been pushing CFLs, but they are badly disinformed about this particular technology.  It's better to shut lights off, use high-efficiency incandescent lamps ("bulbs"), and use controls such as timers and dimmers.

The solution to the common problem of "being led down the garden path" is really think about your decisions and become informed rather than disinformed. What can you do to actually reduce your own negative effects, and why are those reduced? Look at all of your options, rather than just jump onto something that sounds good and doesn't take much thought or effort.

What about political activism? Since we don't have a political system in the USA (at least not in the federal realm), you again have to think outside the "low effort" box. Choosing between Criminal A and Criminal B on the rigged ballot is not a choice; you are merely sending a message that you approve of the crime and nothing changes except the rhetoric.

If you want to have any sort of actual influence, you need to join a group that is putting pressure on our mis-legislators to do something right for a change. For example, repeal16.org seeks to end the long reign of terror inflicted by a particular group of psychopaths. That long-overdue change is not going to happen by dint of non-choices made in a fake election.

Similarly, low-effort "contributions" such as buying more of a bad product because the manufacturer tosses a few pennies at a charity aren't really helping. Boycotting those products altogether might not make a real difference, but you are doing your part and setting an example.

If you drive a fuel-efficient car and combine your trips, you personally aren't going to end the pollution crisis or the energy crisis. But you are doing your part and setting an example. That's important. And sometimes, this kind of effort pays off. Look at the demise of Circuit City, a welcome change in the retail space due to consumer activism; people began following the examples set by activists who were incensed over the racism, age-ism, and other morally bankrupt practices of this company.

You don't get an actual vote at the "election" polls, but you do get one at the cash register. Sometimes, enough people vote intelligently that way and we get change. And, of course, there are many other decisions you can make to help bring about positive change.

I don't totally decry the making of bedfellows in activism. However, the authors correctly point out that it is hugely watering down the forces for positive change. I think if people are aware of this danger, they can make adjustments that help bring about the desired results. This book raises that awareness, and it does so in a way that is well beyond the superficial.

If you're a corporate "insider," thinking about the issues raised in this book will help you be alert to "whitewashing" and other such efforts arising from the corporatization of activism. You will know to ask some tough questions and help steer thinking along positive lines.

Maybe you can help your corporation work with activists rather than absorb them into nullification. There are many examples of corporations that have done this and are still doing it. Even some federal government agencies have embraced and enhanced activist goals to produce very positive outcomes. A good sequel to this book would be a book about those success stories.


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