A Winning Strategy for the Left
Jacobin, Michael Schwartz & Kevin Young
The Occupy Wall Street movement highlighted a rising tide of protest directly targeting corporate America. Since then, even the major media has covered housing rights activism aimed at exploitative lenders, strikes and other work actions against fast-food chains and low-wage retailers like Walmart, and boycott-and-divestment movements targeting the fossil fuels industry and companies linked to the Israeli occupation.
Activists’ decision to target corporations reflects a growing conviction that the government is unresponsive to popular demands because it is unwilling or unable to stop the abuses of the corporate world (this view is supported by recent statistical findings that “the public has little or no influence” on policy). While these movements can change corporate behavior, we believe that they can also influence government policy in ways that direct pressure on politicians cannot.
In the modern United States, few progressive reforms have been enacted and implemented without the consent and/or support of substantial sectors of the corporate elite. Inflicting pain on corporations through disruptive mass activism has historically been the best way to reduce corporate opposition to progressive changes, and in turn, the resistance of the politicians who represent them.
So while it is usually assumed that the best way to change government policies is to pressure politicians or elect different ones, movements are actually more effective when they target the corporate and institutional interests that control public policy behind the scenes.