David Cobb, a former lawyer and activist, discussed the relation between the public and the government Thursday at a lecture titled “Creating Democracy and Challenging Corporate Rule.”
Cobb is the outreach director of Move to Amend, a national organization dedicated to the belief that corporations should not be treated like or have the same rights as people. He is also one of the authors of the We the People Amendment, which was drafted by Move to Amend to counteract the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ruling.
Cobb began his lecture by expressing his lack of confidence in the current judicial system.
“I quit the practice of law in disgust,” he said. “At the end of the decade, I realized the whole legal system was corrupt. It is designed to perpetuate the current system. It’s not personal; it’s just how it is.”
Following his time as a trial lawyer, Cobb educated himself more on the concept that facts matter less than controlling how a story is told when it comes to persuasion. He said a compelling story can change the mind of any person when put up against facts, unless the facts are science related.
For this reason, he formatted his lecture as a story, framing his path to challenging corporate rule.
“We the people get to choose between Coke and Pepsi,” he said. “But do not mistake consumer choices with political power. Political power is the ability to participate in a meaningful way for how our society is organized.”
He emphasized the need for a genuine participatory democracy. Cobb broke down four concepts to support his challenge of modern “corporate rule:” democracy, sovereignty, legal personhood and corporation.
With democracy, he asked the audience if anyone believed people rule the U.S. No one raised a hand. Cobb acknowledged how, at the moment, people are beginning to realize their lack of control, but it’s still a problem in need of correction.
Next was sovereignty: the authority to rule. He invited the people in the crowd to close their eyes and say, “David Cobb is my king.” Only a few said it with a few laughs. Then he asked everyone to say, “David Cobb is my king; I will do anything he says.” No one did it. Following this, he questioned the strict social convention of current laws and social rules, and he contemplated why reform is looked down upon, even if it could better the system.
“We are all individually participating in creating our shared realities,” he said. “If we all act like something is true and say it is true then it is true; however, hard science doesn’t change but cultural narrative does.”
The next concept, legal personhood, is the ability to assert rights under law. Cobb said this was a very powerful concept and referred to a few movements like the American Revolution and the women’s rights movement.
Finally, he dissected corporation. He defined it from Latin as “to have or create by body.” In law school, according to Cobb, corporation is a legal fiction. He explained that legal fiction meant it was a false legal body so it does not exist in the material world the same way a person exists.
“A corporation under law is only what we say it is, nothing more, nothing less,” he said. “We have the power and authority to say what a corporation can and cannot do. It is our right and our responsibility to do it.”
He said he is not anti-corporation because corporations were initially made to benefit the public and its needs. His upset stems from the people controlling the corporations, who he said no longer work for the public or in the best interests and needs of the public. He said the Founding Fathers’ intentions were for corporations to be political acts with strict rules and regulations.
“Government doesn’t have rights,” Cobb said. “People have rights; government has duties.”
He then asked people in the audience to raise their hands if the government feared the people. A few hands were raised; however, the upper one percent was the group who fears the people the most.
Cobb emphasized building relationships, trust and collaboration because he said those were the only ways in today’s society for an individual to gain power. He also claimed that an individual has the right to be proactive in government, and he promoted educating others.
“At the end of the day, we’re all in this together,” Athens city councilman Patrick McGee said. “I think we’ve got to make sure we don’t separate on different lines, whether it’s age lines, whether it’s sex lines, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, the real thing is a lot of us have common interests.”
The lecture was sponsored by the Center for Law, Justice and Culture, the Wealth and Poverty theme, Political Science Department and the Sociology & Anthropology Department. The Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics and Democracy Over Corporations also contributed to the event.