by Tom Cordaro, Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
It has been more than 230 years since our country’s founders signed the document that declared their break from the British Empire. We call their document the Declaration of Independence. Probably the most quoted part of the document is its expression of unalieable human rights that begins with the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [men] are created equal.”
But just as powerful and important are the words these founders used to conclude their declaration: “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
As law professor Ellen Damin points out in an op-ed she did for Truthout in October 2010, what these words demonstrate is that this hallowed document was not merely a Declaration of Independence. It was also a Declaration of Inter-Dependence.
And this interdependence was not just some wishy-washy sentiment. It was a sacred bond demanding that all who embrace the call for independence, be ready, not just to share their money, but be willing to sacrifice everything they had and ever would have in order to stand together, to support each other and to measure their individual success in terms of how every American was faring.
And as citizens who continue to share in the fruits and benefits of this sacred pledge of solidarity we are also heirs to their pledge: a pledge that our nation’s future rests on each citizen’s willingness to give everything they can to the common enterprise of building a more perfect union.
But there are powerful forces in our country that are bankrolled by even more powerful economic interests that want us to forget this bond we owe to each other. They do this by perpetuating the myth that this country was built by rugged individuals who broke free of the constraints of communal commitments in order to build their own independent good life.
But what they don’t tell us is that by destroying all notions of the common good and by trying to convince us that we would be better off on our own, they would be free to do whatever they please. Complementing this effort to destroy all notions of the common good has been the equally successful effort to get the courts to recognize corporations as people with all the rights of personhood but few of the responsibilities.
It is important for us to remember that Bank of America broke no laws in not paying any taxes this year. They didn’t have to because their lobbyists helped to write the tax laws. It is important to remember that large corporations like Bank of America are incapable of making the kind of pledge our nation’s founders made to each other at the end of their declaration. By law they must put the economic interest of their shareholders above everything else.
They have no sacred honor, they cannot selflessly lay down their lives for others. There were no corporations who fought at Bunker Hill. No corporations gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy. None bled on the sands of Iwo Jima. None marched through the snows of Korea nor the jungles of Vietnam.
No corporation ever faced the night-sticks and dogs of the South in the struggle for civil rights. No corporation ever went on a hunger strike to win the right of women to vote. And no corporation ever gave birth to a child or cradled an elderly parent as they passed on to eternal life.
Corporations like Bank of America have their place in our society but they also must be put in their place. This begins by insisting that if corporations want to be afforded the same rights as citizens, they must take on the same responsibilities of citizens.
It is time for Bank of America to pay its fair share of taxes and to stop purchasing special privileges and entitlements that are not available to flesh-and-blood citizens.
- Tom Cordaro is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace and member of Pax Christi Illinois. He is the author of Be Not Afraid: An Alternative to the War on Terror. This piece was delivered as a speech at a “Make Them Pay” Tax Day Rally in Illinois outside Bank of America in Willowbrook, Illinois.