From Protest to Rebellion

by Jeff Milchen and Jeffrey Kaplan

When Tom Paine published his pamphlet “Common Sense” in January of 1776, six months before the Declaration of Independence was signed, he had a clear objective: to transform protest into rebellion. Though armed clashes began several months earlier in Massachusetts and the South, colonists generally viewed themselves as English subjects fighting a tyrannical king and government. For all of their anger, colonists were protesting the king and Parliament for disregarding rights, not challenging the government's legitimacy. . . .Common Sense” was wildly successful. By the spring of 1776 newspapers were reporting on "innumerable converts to independence,” including “tens of thousands of common farmers and tradesmen.” Though Paine called with burning urgency for the colonies to break away from Britain, he began by persuading readers that the source of the colonists' problems went far beyond corrupt or abusive English government to the very structure of rule by hereditary kings and nobility.

Paine's approach may inform our own strategy as we struggle to halt oppression at the hands of the dominant institution of our time -- the corporation. Today's corporations not only wield immense power over our law and government, they also control many physical conditions of our existence. Agribusiness dominates our food supply; the oil, energy and chemical industries determine what's in the air we breathe; and, to a frightening extent, corporations influence whether we live in peace or in war....



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