5 min Read
November 7, 2017

What’s at stake? Corporate Accountability’s organizational identity

Patti Lynn

“Every once in awhile,” Akili says in his booming voice, “I ask myself: What’s at stake? What would happen if we didn’t do this work?”

My colleague Akili has been asking these questions and doing this work for some time. Since the civil rights movement. Since the dawn of the farm workers movement. And when Donald Trump was elected in November 2016, we, like most in the social justice world, found ourselves wrestling with Akili’s questions in new and urgent ways. This was especially true for work we started in the summer of 2016 to revamp our visual identity and core messaging (what others call “rebranding,” and what we termed as our “organizational identity campaign”).

We faced significantly changed conditions. Our campaigns were needed now more than ever to protect our water, food, health, planet, and democracy from the abuses of transnational corporations and the politicians that act at their behest. And we knew we needed to do even more: activate our members, partner even more deeply with communities explicitly targeted by the Trump regime’s agenda, and help build a powerful resistance. In this new context — with the added demands on our time and resources, not to mention new opportunities to create dramatic social change — we asked ourselves why it was important to take this next step for our organizational identity in this moment. What was at stake?

Re-grounding ourselves in our goals has helped us continue to think big and keep our eye on the long-term, even as we respond to the immediate and changing political landscape.

 Here’s what’s at stake for us:

1. Harnessing people power to create lasting change. 

Corporate Accountability has been curbing corporate abuse for 40 years, and we’ve been powered by our members for all of that time. More than 85 percent of our funding comes from individuals — that helps make us strong, nimble, and bold. We fearlessly take on some of the most powerful corporations in the world, knowing that tens of thousands of people have our back: people across the country who agree that corporations shouldn’t harm people or the environment.

In the wake of Trump’s election, suddenly millions have been moved to act as they had not before. Angry, scared, and determined, people have taken to the streets, given money to organizations that are standing up to Trump’s agenda, and started local political groups.

That’s a lot of power. And we know that to achieve our vision of the world — one where corporations answer to people, not the other way around — and to win the campaign victories to get us there, we need to harness that ever-greater people power. We need to channel even a portion of that energy into our strategic campaigns. We need people taking action and supporting the work financially on a greater level than ever before.

We recognize that better messaging that resonates with more people, and a more recognizable visual identity will help us do that at the scale we needed.

2. Changing the narrative.

The power and influence of corporations is so pervasive that it’s hard to see it. Over the last century, transnational corporations have infiltrated almost all aspects of our lives. Marketing for unnecessary, unhealthy, and environmentally damaging products is ubiquitous. Elections are underwritten by some of the most ruthless corporations and their top beneficiaries. There are jaw-dropping revolving doors between industry and the agencies intended to regulate them.

But with Trump’s election and his Cabinet appointments of CEOs and Wall Street insiders (his promise to “drain the swamp” notwithstanding), the curtain has been drawn back. Corporate power is more visible now than ever — which makes it easier to name, shame, and change it.

In partnership with others advancing social justice, we need to re-write the story of our society and our economic systems. And we know that improving our messaging will help us better paint a vision of a world where communities are empowered to make democratic decisions for the common good. A world where corporations are not allowed to externalize their costs by exploiting communities of color and low-income communities. A world where power, currently usurped by corporations, is put back in the hands of the people.

3. Building the movement. 

Having a clear vision of where we are going is critical to building the corporate accountability movement — really, to building any movement. And if there’s one thing that Trump’s election has shown us, it’s that we need to be stronger and more united to advance the kind of world we want to live in.

In the past few months, organizations and people across the country have risen to the occasion by building inclusive and intersectional movements that not only challenge the latest outrage by the Trump regime, but also acknowledge the structural oppressions that enabled Trump and his racist, crony capitalist government to take power. We’re excited to be part of these movements, to help build them, and to bring our experience running campaigns that challenge and change corporate power and the status quo.

As we set out to change the world, we need to help people see a vision of what’s possible and be inspired to participate and create change with us. What we say, how we say it, and how we visually convey our identity is key to building power that drives the movement for social justice.

At the heart of it, that’s what this organizational identity campaign is. And we take seriously our responsibility to do it well.  

What we’ve discovered is that this process is about letting our light shine through. We’re revealing to the world more clearly who we are so we can make the change that the world needs more quickly and more powerfully.

In short, what’s at stake is nothing less than the world as we know it and the world as we believe it can be. Being able to clearly and powerfully articulate our mission and vision, having a visual identity that inspires confidence and affinity—these will help us be stronger, bring more people on board, and actualize change so we can, all of us together, create a more just, equitable, and sustainable world.

Patti Lynn is the executive director of Corporate Accountability.