Activists frustrated with the global one percent’s ownership of our democracy, the nation’s income inequality, skyrocketing executive compensation, and corporate America’s race to the bottom fought back Wednesday at General Electric’s annual shareholders meeting. Thousands of people from coast to coast rallied outside while proxy shareholders shared their discontent inside. All with the same message: business as usual is no longer acceptable.
“I wanted to voice my heart, voice my opinion that I’ve been very upset with the system and the way things are going for quite a while,” said Deborah Robinson of Chicago. “A drop of water can crack a rock. So if enough of us participate, I believe we can crack the rock.”
Organizations from Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Boston, Chicago comprised the majority of activists coming from out of town and joined Good Jobs Now Detroit and local occupiers. Police swarmed the marchers early on as they approached the General Motors building along the riverfront. Protesters chanted, “Hey GE, pay your fair share” and “tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.”
Building security wrapped the doors with chains and padlocked them shut. More than three dozen police officers were on the scene, leading a local pastor to question the city’s allocation of resources. The Motor City struggles financially, as evidenced by service cuts and layoffs that the local AFSCME union protested against the day before. A city quickly becoming famous for ruin porn rather than the mighty fist of the automobile industry.
“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.”
The wealthiest in our nation though see their homes well protected and their investment portfolios benefiting from the decisions made by the very people who typically attend these meetings. General Electric allotted an hour for normal business, obviously not wanting a ruckus from tough questions.
Anticipating this, pastors launched into their message on behalf of the 99 percent for the company to “pay their fair share.”
Dave Johnson sat inside and noted:
After they were “escorted” out of the meeting (large protests continued in front of the building) GE’s Chairman Jeff Immelt proceeded to grant the shareholders in attendance the legally required pro-forma, everything-already-decided, dismissive hour of pretend transparency. It was a remarkably pro-forma, non-democratic event when you consider the size of this company and its importance to our economy and country.
Then there was a brief financial overview presented by Vice Chair and CFO Keith Sherrin. Sherring explained that GE is “fully compliant with all tax laws.”
Once again technically true and allows the company to escape liability in the eyes of people using low-effort thinking. Dig deeper and it becomes apparent the 99 percent’s message rings true. GE spent more on lobbyists than they did on their tax bills from 2008-2010. In addition they paid their top five executives three times more than that – totaling more than $230 million.
It is not just GE. One in five of the Fortune 500 companies received an average of a two percent tax rebate. GE is a symbol of American ingenuity and strength but the reality today rests closer to the tax dodging corporation the protesters claim.
“People are angry, tired and enough is enough,” said Kelly Albrecht of Burlington, WI and shareholder that attended the meeting. “It is time for GE and corporations that are not carrying their own tax burden to stop forcing the people who do pay taxes to carry the burden for them. Our families are hurting.”
Albrecht, a mother of three boys, worries that one bad break will ruin her family financially. They go without health insurance because Albrecht lost her job. Meanwhile, Governor Scott Walker attacks public programs like BadgerCare. Police escorted her out of the meeting and did not find GE’s response surprising.
“They continue to ignore us and refuse to hear our cries,” concluded Albrecht.
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