Richard L. Grossman, a community organizer who sought to curtail big business by raising public awareness about what he regarded as corporate abuse of power, died Nov. 22 at a hospital in New York City.
He was 68 and had metastatic melanoma, said his daughter, Alyssa Grossman.
Mr. Grossman worked on a variety of progressive causes during his four-decade career. In the 1970s, while living in the Washington area, he founded Environmentalists for Full Employment, a group that sought to unite environmental activists and unions. 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.
Through those organizing efforts, Mr. Grossman reached a troubling conclusion.
“The activist work of so many good and able people around the country for so many decades had not brought about the kinds of changes that people had been hoping for,” he said in an interview with the publication the Progressive.
The problem, Mr. Grossman said, was that too much public influence was concentrated in corporate boardrooms.
Much of Mr. Grossman’s work was in response to a legal concept known as “corporate personhood.” The term has its roots in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1800s that said corporations could be treated as persons under the 14th Amendment.
Mr. Grossman and other activists found the concept, and its ramifications, repugnant and destructive.
“There’s a corporate class that has enormous wealth, and the power of law behind it,” he told the Progressive. “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 the 1990s, he 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.
In hundreds of community meetings and workshops, and in his speeches and writings, Mr. Grossman sought to highlight what he considered corporations’ excessive power and corrosive effects on society.
Consumer rights activist and public speaker Ralph Nader said in an interview Monday that he never received questions from his audiences about corporate charters and similar legal matters before Mr. Grossman’s advocacy work.
Weeks before his death, Mr. 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,” Mr. Grossman said in an interview with 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.”
Richard Lee Grossman was born Aug. 10, 1943, in Brooklyn, one of three sons. His brother Lawrence K. Grossman is a former president of PBS and NBC News.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English from Columbia University in 1965, Mr. Grossman served in the Peace Corps in the Philippines.
Survivors include his wife of 43 years, Mary L. MacArthur of West Hurley, N.Y.; his daughter, Alyssa Grossman of Gothenburg, Sweden; two brothers; and one grandson.
Referring to the Occupy movement, Mr. Grossman advised protesters to consider the structural reasons that power is “arrayed against the 99 percent.”
“There’s no shortage of corruption and greed going all around,” he told the Corporate Crime Reporter. “But corruption and greed are not the problem. They are diversions.”