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Cheerleading for corporations in Grand Rapids

June 15, 2011

Within the so-called free market system that we operate it is worth noting the increased role that corporate capitalism plays in our lives.

There are fewer and fewer aspects of the world where corporate capitalism has not inserted itself. More and more of the world is branded and sponsored by corporations and since many of us embrace the role as consumers more than we do as citizens we often welcome the financial contributions that corporate capitalism make to causes or organizations we like.

Towards the end of last year this writer must have received dozens of facebook messages from people encouraging me to support the campaign to “win” $1 million dollars from Wal-Mart. Some of the people who encouraged me to support this campaign have a history of doing social justice work, so I was surprised by their enthusiasm for what was clearly a PR campaign by Wal-Mart.

Last year we also saw hundreds of area people put on a flash mob to try to get Google Fiber to come to Grand Rapids. People gathered at the Calder Plaza to coax one of the most powerful corporations of the digital age to beg them to pick Grand Rapids in the belief that our lives would be vastly improved. Any time a company grows as fast as Google did and has the control of the amount of information they do, we should not be begging them for anything, we should be doing what author Ken Auletta did in his book, Googled: The End of the World As We Know It.

Just yesterday, the local non-profit housing group Dwelling Place invited people via facebook to an event that would “celebrate the arrival of Verizon 4G network in Grand Rapids!” What was in it for Dwelling Place? According to the facebook posting the local non-profit would get $16,000. Therein lies the dilemma.

Non-profit and grassroots groups are constantly struggling to find financial resources to do what they want to do. Sometimes they can raise the money through memberships, other times through grant money and still other times from corporate underwriting & donations.

The problem with corporate donations is three fold. First, when corporations donate money to non-profit groups we are less likely to ask questions about what role they really play in society. Second, these kinds of corporate donations tend to have a censoring affect on the public and particularly on the organization that received the money, which is to say we are less likely to criticize what they do. Lastly, buy taking corporate money we prevent ourselves from ever asking how these companies acquired the wealth they possess in the first place.

Verizon is the one of the largest phone companies in the country and the second largest wireless provider. Verizon has grown tremendously in recent years because of a lack of regulation on media ownership and no real enforcement of anti-trust laws, which have allowed corporations to acquire more and more.

Verizon of course has played an active role in determining the kinds of corporate friendly media policies we have in the US. According to the Center for Responsible Politics, Verizon has contributed over $16 million dollars to political candidates since 1990 and hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying on Tele-Com policies being decided in Congress.

Along with their political influence Verizon also violates the terms of their FCC license. According to a recent Media Release from the national media group Free Press:

“Verizon’s conduct is bad for the public and bad for innovation. It also appears to be illegal under the FCC’s rules that govern Verizon’s LTE network. Users pay through the nose for Verizon’s LTE service, and having done so, they should be able to use their connections as they see fit. Instead, Verizon’s approach is to sell you broadband but then put up roadblocks to control your use of it.”

Free Press has submitted a formal complaint with the FCC over the company’s failure to comply with the terms of Spectrum Licenses.

Verizon, like any individual within corporate capitalism, is committed to greater and greater profits. Giving away small portions of the wealth they have fleeced from the public is a small price to pay for our silence or willingness to ignore the power they wield in public policy.

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