02/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Upping Arianna's Ante: Pledge to be Unreasonable

Arianna Huffington is calling for people to step up to Barack Obama's call to service by having each of us make our own personal commitment to working for the public good.

We as Americans got into our current mess because too many of us shirked our basic responsibilities as people living in a "free" country. Eleanor Roosevelt said the price of liberty is constant vigilance. She didn't mean vigilance by proxy.

Vigilance can't be delegated, but that's exactly what we tried to do. We the People left our liberty in the hands of elected officials while we went off to enjoy our personal lives and pursue our individual forms of happiness. Meanwhile, for the price of getting into - and staying in - office, our elected officials chose to compromise our trust.

Our democracy is founded on the premise that "We, the People" are the ultimate check and balance of our three branches of government. But we didn't demand that our government push back when corporate leaders ran wild with greed. Corporations have been given too many privileges under tax laws, protections under bankruptcy and liability laws, and public dollars for research that lead to patents and private profits - and now we are rewarding their greed and mistakes with bailouts from our public treasury.

But corporations pressed for even more power. For the past 120 plus years, the Supreme Court has granted "corporate persons" the rights of natural persons in addition to their rights as businesses. By acquiring both sets of rights, corporations have gained the ability to consolidate fantastic wealth, power, and privilege. Corporations use their power to influence elections by campaign contributions, law-making by lobbying, judicial decisions by junk science and junkets, regulatory behavior through pressure, and public attitudes through massive media campaigns.

This usurpation of rights intended for people by "corporate persons" has led to laws supporting unlimited growth - the sole corporate value of profit - at the expense of quality of life, strong communities, and the future of the planet (from a human perspective) through climate destabilization.

Our current mess can therefore be summed up in two words: democracy crisis. This is what Obama will inherit. Everything else is a derivative. Think we've voted in change? Think again.

I've just spent a couple days visiting congressional staff and elected officials. I shared concerns about the myth of "clean" coal in the wake of now two coal ash spills. I shared concerns about empty promises for environmentally sound oil development in America's coastal seas as I handed out jars of rocks still coated with Exxon Valdez oil nearly 20 years after the spill. I asked for Congress to give the people back the tool of unlimited corporate liability so that we could hold corporations accountable to laws protecting consumers, health, and the environment. The Supreme Court took that tool away in its recent decision in the Exxon Valdez case.

In all of the offices I visited, I was told we had to be "reasonable." Congress can only pass "reasonable legislation." Reasonable to whom, I wondered? Our elected officials are still bowing to pressure from corporate lobbyists who mold lawmakers, judges, law enforcers, and public perception to service their bottomless greed. Nothing has changed: our democracy is still broken.

Nothing can change until we strip corporations of personhood. Luckily, real change starts with us.

George Bernard Shaw said, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." I can identify with everything except the gender.

It is time for each and every one of us to be unreasonable. Real progress depends on it.

I urge us all to take up Obama's challenge and Huffington's call for personal commitment. But let's up the ante: Pledge to be unreasonable.

Pledge to engage - with your neighbors, at your workplace, school, or church. Pledge to put the planet and future generations first when making everyday decisions. Figure out what you need to do differently tomorrow - and do it. And if the elected officials don't listen to us, let's fill our streets with protest and song. Let's teach our children democracy means caring for each other and working together. It means making our officials represent US. We can't stop until they do.

Ed. Note: See Riki's Facebook Group for more: One Million Strong for the Separation of Corporation and State.

This was originally posted on Chelsea Green.

Riki Ott, PhD, is an expert on the effect of oil spills on people, communities, and the environment, and a former fisherwoman. Her forthcoming book, Not One Drop: Promises, Betrayal & Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez (Chelsea Green, 2008), is her personal account of the social, economic, and legal fallout from this spill, ramifications for America, and what we can do to avert disaster.