COLERIDGE: The Biology of Oil and the Sociology of Democracy

May 19, 2010
Greg Coleridge

A few weeks ago I met Riki Ott at the Move to Amend/Campaign to Legalize Democracy national gathering in Denver. We were among two dozen people who came together to begin to develop plans to end corporate rule and abolish corporate personhood.

Ott is a marine biologist and toxicologist from Alaska who became socially and politically active following the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster which spilled millions of gallons of oil in Prince William Sound. Ott documented the environmental disaster of the spill and its impact on people and communities. She began speaking out. She wrote books. She was widely interviewed. She was involved in litigation.

When the BP Gulf Coast disaster hit, Ott was once again in the news. Her presence at our weekend retreat was interrupted by radio and TV interviews, including one on CNN where she mentioned that the oil we saw on the surface was like a tip of an iceberg. Oil forms a huge cloud or plume when spilled in water well beneath the surface. This cloud or plume extinguishes all oxygen, suffocating all plant and animal life in its path.

In other words, the biology of oil when in water is much like the sociology of democracy when drowned out by money and corporate rights.

There are many elements of our democracy that on the surface are easy to see: political campaigns, voting, issue forums, letter writing, phone calling, meeting with legislators, testifying before public officials, developing and publicizing voting records, organizing citizen initiatives, among others. These elements are often extraordinarily difficult for ordinary citizens to navigate to create a positive impact.
But what we see on the surface of our so-called democracy is only a small part of the truth. Below the surface are huge destructive forces that infects everything on the surface, suffocating the voice and breath of people without money or corporate status -- making true self-governance virtually impossible.

The plume of unchecked private money and corporate constitutional rights giving corporations the "right" to influence issue campaigns and political elections are toxic to democracy. The amount of oil spilled in the Gulf will have some proportion no doubt to the amount of lobbying and campaign donations/investments dumped by BP and other involved corporations into political campaigns to ensure their "rights" to make future profits are protected, just as in the past they were used to escape regulation, restriction, oversight and enforcement.

Oil and democracy don't mix.

Neither do banks and democracy.

The current Senate banking bill doesn't punish those responsible for the Great Recession/financial crisis. Nor does it rectify the problems associated with unregulated financial markets. A few suggestions to address the issue are at click here

Nineteen of the 22 members of the Senate Banking Committee in 2009 received political donations/investments from Wall Street corporations. Senators up for reelection this year are receiving at least $180,000. Wall Street financial corporations gave/invested nearly $15 million to Obama's election campaign, a record amount. Goldman Sachs alone gave/invested $1 million.

If the Senate banking bill passes as is, the investments will provide favorable returns to financial corporations and their shielded and well-compensated CEOs.

The legal fictions of "money is speech" and "corporations are people" cloud our view of how our democracy actually works. What we see on the surface is bad enough. The below the surface plume is the death to whatever is left of democracy.

Move to Amend ( seeks to dissolve the deadly toxins to our democracy by abolishing corporate personhood, ending corporate rule and reversing laws equating money with speech. It brings to the surface what has for too long been ignored.

Call it a clean-up plan for democracy.

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Greg Coleridge is the Director of the Economic Justice & Empowerment Program of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker social action organization (; Steering Committee member of Move to Amend ( a member of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD), a collective which instigates democratic conversations and actions that contest the authority of corporations to govern (