A new front of activism seems to have taken hold in recent weeks as grassroots organizations have started aiming their frustrations at corporate shareholder meetings. Community organizations typically stage protests, push for legislative change and rally their members around specific issues. This new arena brings the fight straight to the ears of corporate executives.
Faith leaders took the frontline at General Electric and a couple other meetings that I had the opportunity to witness.
Pastor Kevin Johnson highlighted Detroit’s hypocrisy when it came to its decision to utilize the police force.
“Because millionaires and billionaires come to town, look at the great show of police presence we have today,” said Pastor Kevin Johnson, who was escorted out of the meeting despite being a shareholder. “It’s not fair to the individuals that live in the city of Detroit.”
One homeowner told me that the wealthy refuse to hear our cries. All the while they push elected officials to do their bidding instead of doing what is in the interest of the people. Pastor Dan Schultz notes the creation story and a lesson for humanity.
It often goes unnoticed that in this telling of the creation story, God puts Adam on earth in order to work: he is hand-made, literally, to be the steward of the Garden of Eden.* Work is more than something that gives us dignity or a sense of purpose, in other words. Taken at face value, it’s what we were made to do. According to Genesis, it might be the failure to do the assigned task, rather than hubris in itself, that gets Adam and Eve kicked out of the garden. There is no scriptural record of the Lord God off-shoring the tilling and keeping duties after the First Couple’s departure.
In the paragraph above, Pastor Dan articulates a beautiful message that “God gives work as a positive good for humanity.” Think about it for a moment. By getting our hands dirty in the soil, in the arts, in the laboratory, etc., humanity has made wonderful advancements and provided the ability to feed ourselves.
Yet, Wall Street’s game of trading shares of companies creates nothing but an immense wealth for a tiny few. All at the expense of the rest. Pastor Dan does not believe this is part of God’s plan for the people.
This is why it is so important for faith leaders to take an active role in the shareholder’s meetings. Pastor Charles Williams II of King Solomon Baptist Church planned to ask GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt some direct questions.
“My faith tells me about a Jesus that is in action,” said Williams. “We need to tell truth to power, speak up for the naked and the hungry.”
Williams wanted to press Immelt on GE’s tax record and why they do not do more to invest in America. GE would probably point out that they recently started operations that created nearly 100 jobs. Yet, since 2004 the company cut nearly a quarter of its American workforce and paid their top five executives $230 million over a three year span.
Unfortunately, these questions did not find their way to Immelt in the pro forma meeting. Security escorted activists out of the shareholders meeting when they started a disruption during the opening remarks. Immelt limited the question and answer time period and dodged anything resembling difficulty.
These types of actions will continue with more shareholder meetings coming up in the next few weeks. Progressive faith leaders will undoubtedly show their solidarity in the movement but all the people involved need a more organized plan of attack. Playing by the corporate rules and then shaming them in subtle means could make a world of difference. More to come as this form of activism evolves.
Photo by Aaron Krager