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Monthly Archives: January 2016



Images (from 2012 protest against GE in Boston) by Chris Faraone

January 28, 2016


Say friend … is a multinational corporation with a terrible reputation, a limitless PR budget, and a penchant for backroom deals with fawning politicians bleeding your state for hundreds of millions of public dollars that would be better spent on virtually anything else? A multinational named General Electric?

Are you afraid of the consequences of such malfeasance for your community and for democracy itself? Want to do something about it? Then look no further. What you need is a corporate campaign. Sourcewatch—a fine resource for journalists and researchers alike—has a concise definition of the term:

Corporate campaigns were developed in the mid twentieth century by activists and organizers such as Saul Alinsky, and honed in recent decades by labor unions and non-governmental organizations in the environmental, social justice and consumer movements. The goal of a corporate campaign is to publicize undesirable behavior or practices by a corporation through various strategies and tactics that can force change upon the company and thus allow the campaigning organization to claim a victory for its cause. At any given time organizations and even individual citizen activists are waging scores of corporate campaigns, some of which last for years, with varying results.

In my own experience, a corporate campaign is a limited strategy. It does not automatically lead to a broader democracy movement in a society, but can be a stepping stone along that path. It is not always a progressive strategy, although progressives probably use it more than any other political current. NIMBY activists in rich towns use it to keep apartment buildings and wind farms out. Right-wing Christians use it to attack companies that publicly support things they oppose—like reproductive rights, gay marriage, and the wheel.

That said, a corporate campaign is still a useful arrow in the proverbial quiver of justice. And here’s how you can run one.

  • First, decide that a campaign is needed. Gather some like-minded friends into a loose organization, and agree to work together towards a common goal.
  • Second, see if there’s already an organization running such a campaign. If there is, check them out. Do they seem to be a real grassroots expression of the needs of some definable community? If they do, then consider joining them or working with them in coalition. Or do they look like what seasoned activists call an “astroturf” group—a fake organization typically set up by some powerful interest or other to help confuse its antagonists and stop them gaining public support. If so, give them a wide berth and spread the word that others should do the same.
  • Third, start researching your target corporation. Talk to librarians, journalists, academics, and experienced campaigners for advice. Find out everything you can about the company —with a focus on their recent activities. Look for proof of bad behavior in their business and political dealings.
  • Fourth, research possible remedies. What have other communities done to reign in the power of your target corporation and corporations like it? Court action, regulation, and legislation are all good avenues to pursue.
  • Fifth, publish your evidence. Papers, articles, broadsides, podcasts, and videos are all good ways to get the word out.
  • Sixth, if you haven’t already, start fundraising. You’ll need money to win a corporate campaign. You might get some small grants from open-minded foundations early on, but your lifeblood will (and should) be donations you raise from your personal network, your new organization’s network, online via crowdfunding using platforms like GoFundMe, and through fundraisers of various types. You’ll never have anything like the money of your opponents. But you’ll have the strength of your convictions, and—if you do your job well—the support of your community. And can therefore overcome any obstacle if you persevere.
  • Seventh, organize your allies. Pull together community organizations, religious groups, non-profits, labor unions, friendly politicians—anyone who is going to aid your campaign and is willing to work with you.
  • Eighth, build a solid social media presence. Make use of widely available free communications technology to make friends and turn them into supporters. Create a page on Facebook, and a central Twitter account—both with your campaign’s name on them. Regularly feed your presence with updates about campaign activities and links to relevant material. Converse directly with your followers as interaction is key on social media.  Keep in mind that you may never have to create a full website for your campaign if you make good use of social media, but it’s usually a good idea to at least launch a blog on one of the many free blogging communities.
  • Ninth, prepare your public relations campaign. Develop contacts in the press. Plan events and actions that will get and hold the public’s attention. Encourage journalists to cover those events and actions.
  • Tenth, hold your events and actions: open forums, lobby days, protests, and boycotts are all good ways to pressure politicians and corporate leaders to change their policies.

Finally, mobilize as many people as you can to support your campaign. Be sure to give them simple things they can do to show their support and attract even more people: like wearing one of your campaign buttons or putting one of your bumpers stickers on their car. If you’ve done your job well, so many people in your community will agree with you that it will become possible to win your campaign goals—whatever they are.

For a useful model, check out the recent successful #NoBoston2024 campaign—which wasn’t a traditional corporate campaign, but that nonetheless had all the elements of one. And it was a slam dunk resulting in a resounding popular victory against putting the City of Boston in hock for decades for a sporting event with a long history of corruption.

Questions? Feel free to contact me at And for those of you who might launch a corporate campaign against GE: let’s be careful out there.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


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Image by Kent Buckley

January 18, 2016


The saga of GE’s flight from Connecticut began with the June 2015 passage of a very much needed package of state tax increases aimed at raising an extra $1.1 billion over the next two years. By extending a temporary 20 percent surcharge on its corporate profits tax and by implementing a more straightforward way of calculating corporate taxes, the Constitution State expects to pull in $700 million of that total from major corporations. The money will be used to fund social programs and improve mass transit. Imagine that.

GE brass immediately flipped out. And followed through on a threat to move their headquarters out of Connecticut. They began publicly courting cities around the US to get the best possible deal. Boston moved to the front of the pack by the fall. Then last week, GE officially announced that they would be moving their HQ to the Hub—specifically the so-called “Innovation District” on our soon-to-be-flooded waterfront.

What followed has been one of the most disgusting spectacles of press release transcription by the Boston mainstream news media in memory. Fulsome praise was lavished on Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and their busy lieutenants like John Barros for literally selling out the people of this city and this Commonwealth. A massive giveaway of $25 million in city “property tax relief” and $120 million in state “grants, tax incentives, infrastructure improvements, and help with real estate acquisition costs” to GE was treated as if it was the product of genius, rather than another nail in the coffin of democracy. The record of one of the most vicious and capricious corporations in world history was soft pedaled by focusing on the supposed benefits of the deal to the people of the Bay State. Which are … what exactly? The 800 predominantly transplanted jobs at the new GE Boston HQ? The up to 600 jobs at the new Marlborough branch of GE Healthcare Life Sciences by 2017? The assertion that the company will “base a new division, focused on lighting and energy, in a to-be-announced location in the Boston area” at some point? Airy claims about GE’s presence attracting other businesses to the state? Blather about “corporate philanthropy to the arts?” And something about “bragging rights?”

Stuff and nonsense. For starters, the vast majority of jobs that will be created locally by GE in the coming years will be professional/managerial level. Worked by the kinds of helicopter yuppies that will then buy some of the expensive condos that are being built all over the region. These few new jobs are not the jobs that are needed. They are not the tens of thousands of regular jobs that are going to help get beleaguered working and middle class families back on their feet after the economic depredations of the last 40-plus years. Depredations that GE pioneered.

The company had 13,000 mostly unionized workers in Pittsfield, MA decades back. Last fall, the Saudi Arabian-owned remnant of the former GE plastics division based there announced that it was leaving for Houston and taking the last significant group of ex-GE jobs, 300 in total, with it. GE had over 12,000 mostly unionized workers in Lynn, MA as recently as the early 1980s. Now there are about 1,400 unionized workers left, and 3,000 workers overall. GE closed its plant in Fitchburg, MA in 1998—taking 600 good jobs with it. GE is closing its Avon, MA plant later this year. Another 300 jobs gone. Cuts that devastated a number of communities, and contaminated the Housatonic River around Pittsfield with PCBs that GE is still fighting to avoid fully cleaning up—an issue capably reviewed by International Business Times last week.

Over the past year, GE leadership has continued such labor “innovations” by cutting medical and life insurance benefits to all non-unionized retirees over 65 on January 1, 2015. And cutting the same benefits to all unionized retirees over 65 at the start of this year. Tossing a mere thousand bucks a year to tens of thousands of GE retirees around the country and telling them to buy their own supplemental medical plans somehow.

Given this disturbing backstory, the claim by feckless pols that property taxes and other taxes that GE will eventually have to pay Boston and Massachusetts will soon outstrip the $145 million being handed to them beggars belief. GE is a vast corporate behemoth that employs hundreds of tax specialists to avoid paying any taxes at all. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, between 2010 and 2014, GE earned $33.5 billion in profits but claimed federal tax refunds of $1.4 billion—an effective tax rate of -4.3 percent. And paid a combined state tax bill of only $530 million—an effective state tax rate of just 1.6 percent for the period.

This is GE. This is the corporate scofflaw that Charlie and Marty and their many business buddies cut a bad deal with. Now what are readers going to do to stop it and #makeGEpay?

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


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Image by Kent Buckley

January 13, 2016


Over 100,000 undocumented immigrants from Central America have entered the US since 2014—seeking to escape what the mainstream media like to vaguely call “violence and political instability.” And they have been living in abject terror since the Obama administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began deportation raids against 121 of their number in December. Raids which come just as right-wing Presidential candidates whip up hysteria against immigrants and refugees. As if these “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” are somehow the cause of our many societal woes.

These latest ICE raids against undocumented immigrants are reprehensible, and anyone who believes in democracy should oppose them. Especially because—as has been pointed out repeatedly by immigrant advocates—many of the people getting deported stand a good chance of being killed by reactionary governments or gangs if they’re forced to “go back where they came from.”

But also because Americans all bear some responsibility for electing governments who have made a series of decisions over the last century that have resulted in the immiseration of the countries that undocumented immigrants have left.

Such immigrants come here largely fleeing poverty—created by US hemispheric policy aimed at increasing profits for American multinational corporations and in maintaining control over the region. Time and time again, in each of the countries at the center of the current crisis—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—and many other countries besides, the US has moved to crush governments that show any sign of pursuing political and economic democracy.

For example, leaders like then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration backed a coup d’etat in Honduras in 2009 against the popular government of President Manuel Zelaya. To the great benefit of the Honduran military, a small number of elite landowning families, and some huge American corporations.

The country is now essentially run by criminals, and has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Similar processes continue in Guatemala. And in El Salvador. Which finally has a progressive government, but which faces a hostile US Congress, truculent local elites, and greedy multinational corporations. Plus, major gangs like MS-13 that owe their existence to US machinations in the region.

It’s worth noting that once here, undocumented immigrants (and refugees) almost universally work hard, pay taxes, and contribute to their communities. So arguments that they are somehow stealing something or “taking jobs” from American citizens and documented immigrants remain ludicrous on their face.

The only way out of this dilemma is to not only institute a humane and just immigration system—a hard enough challenge in the present political moment—but also to enshrine the “right to move” freely between nations in international law. And ultimately the even more democratic “right to the world” that Vassar College professor Joseph Nevins recently explained as follows:

A right to the world complements a “right to the city”—the right to radically remake places and those who inhabit them in ways that are inclusive and socially and environmentally just and sustainable—that many on the political left champion. A right to the world envisions more than a right for those who already inhabit a place, however. It also seeks a right to a just share of the earth’s resources and to a sustainable “home,” and a right to traverse global space, especially for the globally disadvantaged.

In other words, a right to a world where people mired in structural poverty and violence—like the current wave of immigrants from Central America or the even larger wave of refugees from Syria—would have the freedom to move to countries where they have the possibility of building a new life. And the right to have their basic needs met wherever they go. Without being branded “illegal” and treated like criminals for doing what any one of us would do in the same circumstances.

Readers looking to help stop the latest round of ICE raids, and to work on the long-stalled federal immigration reform process, should get in touch with the Mass Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and their network of allied immigrant organizations right away.

Those who want to fight for the right to move and the right to the world are going to have a less straightforward path—as they’ll have to help build a new movement for migrants rights from the ground up.

A good start towards that larger goal would be to join the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in pushing the US to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Steps beyond that will likely take a decades long fight.

For Americans feeling swayed by the anti-immigrant election rhetoric dominating both the news and paid campaign advertisements, I can only say this: take a careful look at the history of US relations with other nations in the Western Hemisphere and around the world. Notice what our political and corporate leaders did to those countries over the last century, and then reflect on where most immigrants and refugees are coming from. And why.

Then you might better understand why I’m saying that Americans owe immigrants and refugees a much better deal than we’ve been giving them of late.

It also wouldn’t hurt to remember that anyone who isn’t Native American is basically descended from immigrants. But please don’t embarrass us all by thinking that every one of your ancestors came here “legally.”  Or that this land wasn’t stolen lock, stock, and barrel from its rightful owners.

If you’re looking for a book to read up on these and related matters, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is still a fine choice.

La lucha continua.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.



January 5, 2016


The #BlackLivesMatter movement is hitting the streets again in a renewed wave of protests for racial justice around Boston and America. Not that it has ever really stopped since Trayvon Martin was gunned down in 2012—as fresh injustices against Black people continue week after week, day after day. The latest being the unconscionable acquittal of the white cop who murdered 12-year-old Tamir Rice in cold blood for playing with a pellet gun in an “open carry” state.

#BLM is an impressive and necessary political phenomenon, led here as elsewhere by young Black activists. Which is as it should be. And there are significant numbers of allies from other communities—including white activists who have learned enough about the profoundly racist history of this country to be inspired to take action as well.

But there aren’t enough white allies. Not by a long shot. Especially in a tremendously segregated region like the Greater Boston area.

So the fact that hundreds of young white college students in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville have marched under the #BLM banner is commendable. Yet not enough of a groundswell to spark a real change in attitude in largely white neighborhoods in the city proper or in the many largely white suburbs.

And that is by design. The segregation of Black people from white people was the result of a series of racist housing policies starting after the Civil War that culminated in Black people being packed into redlined neighborhoods in cities like Boston—and stopped from moving into most suburbs post-WWII until the Civil Rights Movement forced some improvements. The story was much the same for Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans. These policies continue in various forms to this day. Laws or no laws.

People in the predominantly white neighborhoods, cities, and towns are currently free to ignore #BlackLivesMatter. As long as that is the case, there can be no real justice for Black people in America. Because white people who are able to live apart from Black people will likely never confront the monstrous truths that #BLM—the new Civil Rights Movement—is exposing. Including the fact that their relative privilege is built on legal, political, economic, social and cultural systems designed to subjugate Black people. And in not confronting it, they perpetuate those racist systems. Silence, in this case, is truly complicity.

This situation will only change if the #BlackLivesMatter movement comes to them. Directly. In person. Every damned day from now until justice is won. And that cannot happen unless white allies step up in every white enclave. Beacon Hill. Back Bay. Hingham. Needham. Sudbury. Wakefield. Stoneham. Reading. Danvers. Marblehead. Any local can come up with a much longer list in their sleep.

Walk around these white areas and look for a #BlackLivesMatter or a #JusticeforTamir sign. You will see few—and those mainly outside some progressive houses of worship. And a disturbing number of the signs that you’ll see have been vandalized or otherwise messed with over the last year.

So here’s what has to happen to start to make things right. White people living in predominantly white communities have to start getting a lot more #BlackLivesMatter signs up. Then, when you all hear about major #BLM actions, spread the word to your friends and family. Go to the actions. Watch. Listen. Learn. Go back to your community. Find other local allies and call solidarity protests and vigils in public places. Organize community forums on the core #BLM issues. Always invite #BLM organizers to speak. Be respectful. Build political alliances. Figure out where to go from there.

This is how Americans can change a racist power structure that produces white cops who can cut down a Black child in a hail of bullets without so much as a warning. By tearing it up at the roots, one neighborhood at a time.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.