THE ONE-DAY SUSPENSION last week of Mike Cameron from Greenbrier High School in Evans, Ga., for wearing a Pepsi shirt on "Coke in Education Day" points to a problem that looms ever larger on the socio-political scene - the corporate takeover of America.
Greenbrier High School Principal Gloria Hamilton is quoted in an Associated Press story, March 26, as giving her rationale for the suspension: "We had the (Coca-Cola) regional president here and people flew in from Atlanta to do us the honor of being resource speakers."Therefore, no dissenting voices allowed.
The Coca-Cola Co. is a corporate sponsor of Hamilton's school. And the school is competing for a national Coke prize of $10,000. That, apparently, is enough to shut off any independent suggestion about soft drink preferences at Greenbrier High.
Cameron, a senior, shed an outer shirt to flash the Pepsi shirt right at the moment he and his classmates were lined up to spell out "Coke" for a company photo.
Unforgivable, according to school officials. But, apparently, it's perfectly OK to use students in a publicity stunt for a soft drink company.
If Cameron couldn't even flash a Pepsi shirt on Coke Day, how can a student in that corporate-sponsored public school ask hard questions about the health hazards of drinking sodas loaded with sugar and caffeine?
How can students in any corporate-sponsored school ask about greed that gives chief executive officers $50 million bonuses while companies "downsize" and lay off thousands of workers?
Will students be allowed to ask about the "I have mine, you get yours" greed that offers CEOs $100 million golden parachutes when they retire but raids the pension funds of the employees who worked to make the products that made the company rich? Or ask about corporate greed that reduces health insurance coverage for its workers while hiking the salaries of executives?
Will corporate-sponsored schools ban all discussions concerning the negative aspects of a free market economy? Will students in such schools be allowed to even question the basic assumptions of a free market economy?
We already have a corporate-sponsored Congress. Every year millions of corporate dollars pour into the campaign coffers of our elected representatives. And it's effective. Our congressional leaders invite industry lobbyists into their offices to write industry-friendly legislation.
The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C., has already documented how corporate campaign contributions sway votes on key issues. Those who voted to favor the timber industry's position on riders to appropriations bills in 1996 and 1997 averaged four to 10 times the PAC contributions from that industry than those who voted the other way. The timber industry won.
In the first six months of 1997, according to CRP figures, top construction and road building companies gave more than $500,000 to our folks in Congress for their re-election campaigns. We saw the results last week, when the House Transportation Committee unanimously approved a record breaking $217 billion highway package. If this budget buster is passed, other programs will suffer.
No wonder Congress doesn't want campaign finance reform. It likes being on the receiving end of corporate dole. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who filibustered successfully against the reform, received more than $5 million in campaign contributions from 1991 to 1996.
Is it any wonder then that Congress has been shoving union busting legislation through for the past decade?
Any wonder that Congress has deregulated various industries like the airlines, telephone and television? The cry has been efficiency and competition which would bring prices down. Instead prices have climbed and service has diminished - across the board.
Unfortunately, the major news organizations won't help much in a public debate about the corporatization of our nation. Most of them are already owned by the top 10 mega-media corporations - Time Warner Inc., Disney, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., Sony, TCI, Seagram, Westinghouse, Gannett and General Electric.
And don't expect General Electric's network, NBC, to question the free market or golden parachutes. Don't expect Westinghouse Electric's network, CBS, to investigate the dangers of nuclear waste dumps. Don't expect either to explore anything that might jeopardize their corporate interests.
The corporate takeover of America goes right down to the state level - for instance, those state self-audit laws that shield industry polluters from civil and criminal liability after they report their environmental violations.
Now, according to Ralph Nader, insurance companies, hospitals and HMOs are seeking a similar self-reporting law in Tennessee to protect them from civil, criminal or administrative proceedings brought by injured or defrauded consumers.
And if that isn't enough, the March 25 Oklahoma Observer reports that a corporate-funded group calling itself Citizens for Judicial Review is polling Oklahoma attorneys about judges. One of the questions, according to the news story, asks whether judges are "pro-individual" or "pro-employer."
The questionnaire rates judges according to whether they are pro-business or not. The idea is to oust judges who are impartial. If the Citizens for Judicial Review are successful in Oklahoma, they plan to take their action on the road.
The numerous tentacles of corporate power are stretching into every level of social and political structures to grapple and clasp and bring them within the fold, within control.
We have seen the gradual privatization of governmental functions at state and federal level - companies that keep the documents for state government, privately owned and run prisons, and private bus companies serving public schools.
The lesson at Greenbrier High is that the scent of corporate money is more important than any individual.
Welcome to America Inc., where everything is bent to free market excess, where poverty is a crime, laborers are pawns, and those with wealth rule - for they are morally superior.