Image courtesy of Robert Shetterly and AmericansWhoTellTheTruth.org
An activist ahead of his time, Richard L. Grossman, a community organizer who galvanized work on a variety of progressive causes during his four-decade career, died on November 22 at a hospital in New York City, the city in which he was born sixty-eight years ago.
Grossman attended Columbia University, graduating in 1965. He then served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. In the 1970s, while living in the Washington, DC area, Grossman founded Environmentalists for Full Employment, a group that sought to unite environmental activists and unions years before the critical importance of this alliance was clear to grassroots activists of all stripes.
In the 1980s, he worked at the Highlander Research and Education Center, a social justice organization in Tennessee, and was executive director of Greenpeace USA.
In the 1990s, Grossman co-founded the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy, a group of activists that continues to pursue historical and legal research to “contest the authority of corporations to govern,” as the mission is described on the organization’s Web site, another prescient response to the growth of the corporate sector pre-Citizens United.
“There’s a corporate class that has enormous wealth, and the power of law behind it,” he told the Progressive in a 2001 interview with Ruth Conniff. “Is it really true that the majority of the American people over the last twenty-five years didn’t want a major transition in energy to move to efficiency and solar, didn’t want universal health care, but wanted pig genes in fish?”
In hundreds of community meetings and workshops, and in his speeches and writings, Grossman sought to highlight what he considered corporations’ excessive power and corrosive effects on society.
Weeks before his death, Grossman proposed a law criminalizing corporations. In his view, their power had led them to become inherently irresponsible. “If people want to go into business, fine,” Grossman told the Corporate Crime Reporter. “But this law would strip away 500 years of Constitutional protections and privileges. No more limited liability for shareholders. No more perpetual life. No more Constitutional protections. There’s no shortage of corruption and greed going all around,” he said. “But corruption and greed are not the problem. They are diversions."
"For those of us who knew Richard less well," activist Paul Cienfuegos summed up, "Richard was a direct and profound inspiration for thousands of activists and people of conscience. Through his writings and the organizations he founded and co-founded, Richard has helped lead tens of thousands more people to a clearer historical, cultural and legal analysis of the structural causes of – and potential remedies to – persistent social and economic disparity in power and wealth between We The People and the political and economic institutions the People are meant to govern."