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“Oil and Water” Meet on Wall Street

PHOTO: Panel Discussion at Commit!Forum2012, October 3rd in New York City. Courtesy: Mark Scheerer
PHOTO: Panel Discussion at Commit!Forum2012, October 3rd in New York City. Courtesy: Mark Scheerer
October 5, 2012

NEW YORK - What happens when social activists and corporate executives are thrown together in a conference setting over two days in a Wall Street meeting place?

The people who put together Commit!Forum2012 say good things happen, and that the world moves a little bit toward a better place.

The forum, sponsored by Corporate Responsibility magazine, brought together executives from companies such as AT&T and UPS with activists such as environmentalist Bobby Kennedy, Jr.

"We all tend to isolate ourselves. Environmentalists talk to environmentalists and watch MSNBC. Wall Street moguls talk to other Wall Street moguls and tycoons and watch Fox News. And never the twain shall meet."

But meet they did, in discussions centered on such issues as crony capitalism and the nation's fiscal and sustainability deficits. Mild sparks flew occasionally, but most participants said it was worth searching for common ground on which to tinker with free-market capitalism despite its excesses and shortcomings.

Robert Shapiro, former President Clinton's chief economic adviser, took part in a concurrent series of events called the "UnConvention," bringing together business leaders with political types from both the left and right.

"We need to find all sorts of forums and occasions and mechanisms to bring together business and the increasing demands of a general public that increasingly feels short-changed."

Bill Shireman is president and chief executive of Future 500, a consultancy that tries to bridge the gap between corporations and nonprofit groups. He organized the UnConvention.

"We have representatives from the Sierra Club that are here, we have representatives from Greenpeace, and from oil companies. We have the largest corporations and the most impassioned activist groups, right here."

Kennedy told corporate executives that in his view, injury to the environment equals deficit spending, in that the cost will become due down the road.

"Environmental injury is about loading the costs of our generation's prosperity onto the backs of our children, and onto the poorest members of our society who always shoulder the disproportionate burden of environmental injury."

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY