Richard Grossman Awtt Portrait

Richard Grossman

Human Rights Activist, Author : 1943 - 2011

“You want sanity, democracy, community, an intact Earth? We can’t get there obeying Constitutional theory and law crafted by slave masters, imperialists, corporate masters, and Nature destroyers. We can’t get there kneeling before robed lawyers stockpiling class plunder precedent up their venerable sleeves. So isn’t disobedience the challenge of our age? Principled, inventive, escalating disobedience to liberate our souls, to transfigure our work as humans on this Earth.”


How does one person or group enact a change in the law? Through organization, activism and lobbying legislators for change.

Richard Grossman has been doing that since the 1970’s. He has worked for human rights in the workplace as well as for environmental causes such as clean air and safe energy. Grossman was director of Environmentalists For Full Employment, executive director of Greenpeace USA, and is the author of several books and pamphlets regarding both the natural and the work environment. By the mid to late 80’s, however, Grossman began to question what he was doing –- not the causes he espoused, but the execution of his activism. He says, “By the late 1980s I had concluded that my and gazillions of other activists’ efforts were a wash. Despite courageous and persistent organizing by millions of people, collaborating in thousands of citizen groups over decades and decades, things were getting worse.”

In response to this observation, Grossman began researching the legal system, focusing on corporations and the growth of their power and privilege. Webster’s dictionary defines a corporation as, “a body formed and authorized by law to act as a single person although constituted by one or more persons and legally endowed with various rights and duties including the capacity of succession.” In 1886, the Supreme Court granted this legality and personhood to corporations. As such, they are granted the same legal protection and ability to make laws as humans.

Armed with this information, Richard Grossman changed his activist tactics. In 1995, he co-founded the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy. He says, “One of the things that we stress is that corporations don’t have rights. Rights are for people. Corporations only have privileges, and only those that we the people bestow on them. If we abandon our responsibility of defining the corporate entities that we create, if we just let them run rampant and overpower us, it’s incredibly irresponsible.”

In 2003, Grossman co-founded the Daniel Pennock Democracy Schools, and in 2006 became director of education for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. The two programs work together. The Democracy Schools are seminars designed to empower local people by teaching them about the history of American law and the struggles for self-governance. They devise strategies to disrupt corporate power and return the democratic control of health and welfare to communities.

Grossman worked to give activists a better way to achieve their goals, saying, “Out of this work are emerging creative community-based campaigns banning corporate assaults, and challenging hundreds of years of ‘well-bred’ law, legal theory and constitutional doctrines that have made We the People into zombies of the body politic.”


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