"Power to the People" was a great slogan for many of the major movements of the 1960s and 1970s -- and, perhaps prophetically, Power to the People became the worldwide theme of 2011! Starting with the tragic death of a vegetable vendor in Tunis, who set himself on fire to protest abuses by the ruling authorities there, the Arab Spring spread to Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and now (with tragic results) Syria. That trend, aided by social networking, then encouraged the Occupy Movement, protesting the abuses of corporate power in the United States and elsewhere. Yes, We Can became Yes, We Will -- Now!
Here in America, the vast and growing disparity between "the one percent" who seem to own and control nearly everything, and the rest of the population which feels powerless, fueled massive protests. Particularly offensive has been the reality that many of the firms owned by those top income earners were given nearly a trillion Federal bailout dollars so that their boards and executives could become even wealthier via government money.
What, then, can we learn from 2011? Consider two relevant attempted corporate abuses: the new debit card usage fees imposed by many of the nation's largest banks, and the year-end attempt by telephone giant Verizon to impose a two-dollar-a-month charge upon Verizon customers who choose to pay their monthly phone bills on-line. In both cases, a groundswell of public outrage occurred; and in both cases, those new (and unjustified) fees and charges were rescinded, with apologies to the public. But while it took many weeks of effort to get rid of the bank debit card usage fees, the year-end Verizon fee was rescinded speedily and virtually overnight by the telephone giant.
As an economist and the author of Empowerment: Taking Charge of Your Life, I had protested the proposed imposition of a three-dollar-a-month debit card usage fee by my own bank, Wells Fargo. After being told by their Atlanta public relations honcho that they really needed that fee to replace other fees which had been limited by Congress, which was untrue given their near-record profits, I escalated my protest to their chairman. Next, I faxed documented complaints to the entire United States Senate over a November weekend. Within another week, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Sun Trust, and the other gouging banks had rescinded their nasty new fees, thanks to the efforts of so many of us.
Verizon was much quicker to get the point. Once the news media had begun to publicize their proposed new policy of forcing customers to pay a fee for the "privilege" of paying their Verizon bills, they caved in at once and rescinded that fee. Corporations without a conscience will undoubtedly try new forms of abuse of the public trust in the New Year. We therefore need to make 2012 another year of Power to the People. Bob Dylan's song asks: When Will They Ever Learn? My reply: The sooner the better, for 99% of us people.