Sunday, May 14, 2006

You are not alone and you are not powerless - Guest Posting by Siun

Introduction:
I regularly get asked "What can I as an American do about what the Bush administration is doing to my country and Iraq?" in this guest article by my regular reader and commenter Siun I hope those who ask this question find some useful suggestions, resources, and some encouragement. (The links in Siun's posting all open in a new window or tab depending on how your browser is set up.)

It's easy as Siun says to fall into despair. Don't, you are not alone, and you are not powerless.


The corrupt and incompetent Bush administration and their corrupt thieving political allies want you to believe that there is nothing you can do. As with so much else they say it's a lie.

You are not alone, and you are not powerless.

markfromireland



It's pretty easy to fall into despair these days - we are all horrified at the apparent Bush plans to attack Iran and at the daily devastation of the war in Iraq. Yesterday's news about NSA spying didn't surprise many of us but once again it made us ask "what can we do to stop them?" While I'm normally an optimistic soul, these days it's hard to find the answer. I know we can't ever do enough to repay the sufferings of the Iraqi people - but we can try to stop the horror from increasing - and along with demonstrations and letters and calls, we have some tools that you may not have realized --

We all know that big money has a big influence on government policies and since we're not the big money folks, we think we're outside that loop. Think again - the really large investors or "institutional investors" often represent us. If you're a taxpayer, part of your taxes are used to fund pension funds for state employers. If you're affiliated with a university, you have an interest in the investment of the endowment. If you're a teacher, your pension is most likely invested through a large fund such as TIAA - CREF (http://www.tiaa-cref.org/) or CalPers (http://www.calpers.ca.gov/) . These funds have a "fiduciary duty" (Tiaa - fiduciary_respons.html) to invest wisely and to avoid unnecessary risk. This is where you come in - for example in the case of the NSA spying, you can call or write your state treasurer (http://www.nast.net/#YourTreasurer) and ask if the state pension funds have any holdings in the telecom companies who handed over your privacy to the Bush regime. Let them know that these companies face massive class action suits due to their illegal actions. Tell them that you are very upset that the portion of your tax dollars invested on behalf of state pensions are being placed in such high risk investments. Do the same with your pension fund. Institutional investors get big notice - and they are big because they invest on behalf of so many people like you. And because they invest for you, they have a fiduciary responsibility to you.

You can do the same thing if you are in a mutual fund - check the companies your fund invests in (they are listed in your prospectus) and ask why they are risking your money. We're just past annual meeting season so it's too late for shareholder resolutions but a wave of calls questioning these investments can have a big impact.

These strategies are being used more and more frequently by environmental activists and human rights activists. Take a look at what's being done to push investment funds and corporations to address the risks of climate change for example through Ceres http://www.ceres.org/investorprograms/ -- or remember the effectiveness of the divestment campaigns which fought apartheid. There's great information in this article about the current campaign directed at companies that benefit from business in the Sudan: "Doing good by voting with your dollars" http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/04/21/yourmoney/mdivest22.php. And we can look for similar ways to influence Bush's forever war - a good start would be to check whether your pension or mutual fund invests in Halliburton or Bechtel or any other of the war profiteers.


If you're an individual investor, you might consider changing your portfolio to reflect your beliefs. Take a look at the socially responsible investment funds - Calvert (http://www.calvert.com/digest.html) or Pax World Funds (http://www.paxworld.com/) are just two examples - but don't stop there. I noticed that Calvert has holdings in some of the telecom companies involved in the NSA spying - and they do listen to their fund members on issues like this. A great source of information on ethical investing and shareholder activism is SocialFunds.com (http://www.socialfunds.com) and the Corporate Watchdog Radio broadcasts (http://www.corporatewatchdogradio.org/).

While the above ideas point to US resources, the ethical investment movement is worldwide. For European information, a good place to start is Eurosif http://www.eurosif.org/ , for Asia, ASRIA http://www.asria.org/ and this article about the 9th International Islamic Finance Forum in Dubai describes growing interest amongst Middle Eastern financial professionals http://www.ameinfo.com/81123.html .

The move to replace the old bottom line with a "triple bottom line" (people, planet, profits) is taking hold in places you would not expect. At the end of April, the UN announced the UN Principles for Responsible Investment http://www.unpri.org/principles/ and by May 1, these principles had been endorsed by holders of $4 Trillion in assets. This is a hopeful sign and one which we can participate in by demanding that our own money is not paying for the crimes we protest against.

Two other ways to participate in making a difference have grown out of blog communities:



First, the Netroots campaign (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/4/21/125817/793) launched by Firedoglake (http://www.firedoglake.com) , Glenn Greenwald (http://glenngreenwald.blogspot.com/) and Crooks and Liars (www.CrooksandLiars.com) is organizing people into state groups who then work together to lobby congress.

To get involved with your state's group, simply email with your state only in the subject line to:

stateproject at gmail dot com

and Pachacutec and the Netroots team will hook you up.



The other is to attend the YearlyKos Convention (http://www.yearlykos.org) - it's not just for 'Kossacks' - and is an independent, all volunteer effort to bring together the blog community to

"amplify your online voice - saying what YOU have to say to these politicians, leaders, thinkers and writers in person …This is an event to help build important, politically active communities that can make a real difference in the public sphere."


Siun



Afterword: Other than to format the article and to add the following links I have left Siun's article completely unchanged.

Firedoglake has a list of articles dealing with the netroots project and citrizen activism. The movement is growing impressively and already people inside the beltway. The smug consultants and the "beltway bandit" are taking alarmed notice:

Citizen Action

Netroots Project

If you have further links or suggestions please leave them in a comment here or at the same article as this at my other blog. I guarantee that Siun and the people beginning to take back America for her citizens will take note.

You are not alone, and you are not powerless.

markfromireland

Update: Second link if Afterword fixed. Thanks Shez.
mfi

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