Protest Inc.: The Corporatization of Activism by Peter Dauvegne and Genevieve LeBaron

Peter Dauvegne and Genevieve LeBaron
Protest Inc: The Corporatization of Activism
Cambridge, UK
Polity Books
206 pages
ISBN-13: 9780745669496
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Protest Inc: The Corporatization of Activism offers a sober and dedicated look at the problems with activism in the modern world, delving deeply into principle and actuality alike. The writers unabashedly expose the hypocrisy and selfish interests of seemingly benign activist organizations, with the central thesis that corporations are sinking their claws into the very groups who once resisted them. These corporations, ranging from the oil and gas companies, to big pharma, to IKEA, are teaming up with seemingly innocent and altruistic causes—the Sierra Club, Alzheimer's Disease International, and WWF—and changing their agendas one step at a time to support the interests of big money.

Funded by huge corporations and directing their profit toward expansion and marketing, most NGOs are rigged: They support brainwashing and profit as opposed to their proclaimed altruistic agendas. Most people see nonprofit organizations as an opposition to the capitalistic market, but at times, they're really part of the same system.

Corporations deceive us by exploiting the sensitivities of human nature to advertise a world where “everyone is equal,” “every individual is important,” and “diversity matters.” People buy into the corporate machine to validate these sentiments. Corporate-funded activist campaigns “end up selling the suffering of others and marketing feelings of empathy rather than necessarily doing good in any broad sense." This cult of sentimentality ends up distracting people from real action, and instead has them rallying to the source of its creation—namely, the cold and heartless capitalist machine. When corporations create the illusion of feeling and justice becomes mercy, where do we go?

For instance, buying a product that is “ethical and responsibly sourced” is merely another way to jump on the current bandwagon, purchasing goods that are overcharged and pouring personal discontent into the market economy instead of using it to band with similarly outraged individuals to enact an uprising.

A common cause today is helping “underprivileged” and “minority” groups. However, “strategic philanthropy aims to stimulate demand for consumer goods within poor communities […] investing in the poor isn't a social issue; it's smart economics.” In other words, billionaire philanthropists create the image of being invested in the welfare of those less fortunate than themselves while in reality merely directing the flow of capital to themselves and other members of the so-called power elite.

In this age, we are concerned with image over substance. This psychological inclination makes branding hugely successful. Greenpeace, once founded on high ideals of environmental conservations, has become a multinational enterprise with a global brand. Polls of public opinion indicate that NGOs are the most trusted institution in the world, and such favor allows for their success. In 2008, corporations gave $14.5 billion to NGOs in the US alone; since most people trust these organizations, they're rarely subject to reproach. The authors tell us that “branding products with a 'cause' helps firms to project a caring and conscientious image.” And it couldn't be more true. “By marketing a cause—cancer, HIV/AIDS, endangered species—nonprofits look to gain a competitive fundraising advantage by reaching people's desires for social justice and environmental sustainability.”

As false activism spreads like wildfire, real activism has become increasingly marginalized. “All states are hiding this suppression of activism behind a veil of anti-terrorism rhetoric and laws and inside a labyrinth of top-secret security agencies,” the authors suggest. Markets are increasingly structuring citizens' social lives and relationships. Because unification is the only possible solution to the fragmentation and decay of the world, people have been programmed to "internalize societal failings as personal failings" so that they won't form bonds of solidarity in protest.

The authors declare that true protest has become nearly impossible, as anyone who takes measures to actually promote the causes that everyone else advocates in language are readily killed or sentenced by the government for committing “acts of terrorism.” Cities are setting up free speech and protest zones to contain demonstrators. Security agencies, counter-terrorism units, and police departments are tracking and spying on activism groups. For instance, prosecuting true animal rights advocates is one of the main goals of the FBI: Those who free animals from their confines are severely punished or put to death.

How, though, should we escape from these evils? For all the emphasis the writers place on exploring the shortcomings of activism, they hesitate to offer solutions. They insinuate that collective action is necessary, unobstructed by any hopes for personal or financial gain, but fail to elaborate on any concrete plans whereby such a renegade style of activism could be successfully implemented. They cite the passion of the mid-twentieth century social justice warriors and their true investment in their cause to contrast it with the seemingly plastic and two-faced involvement characteristic of today, but don't tell us how we should attempt to reinvigorate that vital passion in citizens of today.

When dissent from the system has been funneled back into the system and hijacking this order means prison or death, how do we speak out against the wrongs of the world? Must the ideals of truth and justice be surrendered, or is there another way?

Shelby Keizer
Nomadic Press
Keizer is an iconoclastic and avant-garde goddess of tea. She is concerned with the pursuit of truth and the creation of beauty and muses on the meaning behind Dostoevsky's assertion that “beauty will save the world,” including how beauty can arise in a mathematical universe.