A Different Kind of Democracy

05/25/2011 12:35 pm ET
  • David Sirota Newspaper columnist, radio host (AM760), bestselling author

A big theme in my upcoming book, The Uprising (due out this coming Tuesday), is our culture's inability to see anything other than elections - and specifically federal elections - as a major instrument of social change or democracy. This myopic view expresses itself in all different ways - the media coverage of presidential campaigns, the blogosphere's narrow focus on Democratic Party prospects in election cycles, to name just two. But as I write in my newspaper column this week, there are many other arenas of democratic expression - some far more important for social change than any election.

In the next week,there is a huge example of what I'm talking about: ExxonMobil's annual shareholder meeting. In reporting my book, I sneaked into this meeting last year with a group of shareholder activists who are using shareholder democracy as a means of pressuring and jaw-boning the largest and most powerful energy company on the planet. Their efforts, and the efforts of other shareholder activists pressuring other companies, could be as important - and maybe more important - than any given congressional or presidential election.

Like last year, shareholder activists are promoting shareholder resolutions to force management to invest more of the company's record-breaking profits into alternative and renewable energy. When you understand that Friends of the Earth estimates that ExxonMobil's operations and products are responsible for 5 percent of all human-generated carbon emissions since the late 1800s, you understand that if these activists even minimally change ExxonMobil, they will make a planet-wide impact.

Shareholder activism is a very intricate and esoteric corner of the populist uprising I describe in my book. This column summarizes how it works and why it is so important. But make no mistake about it - shareholder activism is but one example of powerful direct action that we tend to forget about in our obsession with elections, campaign gossip, and glam politics. As a progressive movement, we forget these instruments of influence at our peril. The more we ignore these tools, the more power we allow to lay idle - and the less effective our movement will be.

You can read the whole column at the San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, Ft. Collins Coloradoan, In These Times, TruthDig, Credo Action, or Creators. If you like this column, I hope you consider picking up a copy of The Uprising.

Pre-order The Uprising at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Tattered Cover, Powells or your local independent bookstore.


The Uprising