This past week I was in San Francisco at a business conference and I want to tell you a bit about it. The conference is one I attend most years – BSR – Business for Social Responsibility. Now BSR like any conference has it’s high points and low points, but what strikes me each time I go is how the conversation amongst this slice of the business community is often so far advanced, so far beyond any conversation that seems to happen in Washington or the DNC.
This year’s event took place directly across the street from Occupy San Francisco – and from the welcome by BSR’s head, Aaron Cramer – through the passionate call to action of Al Gore and finally to the insights of Civicus’ Ingrid Srinath – the presence of Occupy was a constant message and the attendees were listening carefully.
Gore began with a critique of the financial markets that was stunning – calling Wall Street and many company’s “short-termism” “functionally insane.” And he pointed out that “short term” now is not even quarterly earnings targets but automated trading at a millisecond pace which controls over 70% of trades. This was one reason he pushed hard for support for the Transaction Tax.
In contrast to his take down of Wall Street, Vice President Gore praised OWS for “already succeeding in giving visibility to the inequality” we face – and called them a “primal scream of democracy.” In fact, Gore reminded us that the nuclear freeze movement was seen as crazy when launched but led in just two years to 75% of Americans agreeing in the need for a nuclear freeze and Reagan being forced to act. Noting that the majority of Americans already say they agree with Occupy, “we will see possibilities of genuine change.”
While Gore seemed careful to not directly critique Obama or speak in partisan terms, he was very clear in advising us that “the world of policy and politics has been degraded so much in recent years, I would caution [you] about being caught up in that world.” Describing what he called “sclerotic democracies”, Gore went on to call Congress “a wholly owned subsidiary of the financial services industry” and said that Congress is “on a leash” and noted that was not just true of “one party.”
Gore ended with a call for all of us to be passionate – truly passionate – about working for change. His own passion was clear and it was wonderful to see the 1000 attendees stand and cheer him as he finished by reminding us that:
“We have a choice to make now,” he told the audience in closing his speech. “You are a key part of the solution. I congratulate you on what you are doing. We have everything we need to succeed, with the possible exception of political will and the will of the executive suite of some businesses, but always remember that the will to act is itself a renewable resource.”
While Gore’s speech has not been released on video, above I’ve embedded the final keynote of the conference, highlights of a presentation by Ingrid Srinath, the Secretary General of Civicus. Srinath has fought for children’s rights and civil society her entire life and knows how hard the struggle is. Her words were also passionate – and inspiring – speaking on behalf of bottom up change, of consensus rather than control – and they are a good encouragement for us all.