College Student Harnesses Social Media to Stand up for Sustainable Business Jobs

Joel Francis, a senior at Cal State Los Angeles, has a challenge for billionaire Charles Koch of Koch Industries. Koch has given at least a million dollars to help bankroll the effort to pass Prop 23—a ballot measure that would suspend California’s global warming law, and which Francis believes would put thousands of green jobs in sustainable business industries at risk. Harnessing YouTube and the power of the blogosphere, Francis has publicly challenged Charles Koch to debate the merits of Prop 23 with him.

Toward the end of a two-minute YouTube video explaining why Prop 23 is a bad deal for sustainable business and clean energy jobs, Francis has a message for Charles Koch. “I say that if you are going to try to hurt the economy of a state that you don’t even live in,” says Francis, “then you ought to have the courage to explain yourself in person.” Francis has offered to meet Koch for a public debate anywhere in California before Election Day. Should Koch fail to respond to the debate request by Tuesday, Francis says he will show up at Koch Industries headquarters in Kansas to issue his challenge in person.

What does this really mean for the hard-fought battle to stop Prop 23? Francis hopes to give voice to the concerns of thousands of students across the state of California, who are rallying to defend sustainable business jobs from Prop 23. Students at more than fifty campuses associated with the California Sustainability Coalition and the Power Vote campaign are organizing their peers to vote against Prop 23, and have made youth activism a vital part of the movement to defeat the ill-guided ballot measure.

Even if Charles Koch doesn’t take Francis up on the debate challenge, the YouTube video and its subsequent spread over Facebook and the blogosphere is a great example of how online media can make it easier for ordinary people to make themselves heard over the clamoring voices of multimillion dollar corporations. Joel Francis says in the video recording, “Mr. Koch…I’m not going to let you hide behind your billions of dollars” that have allowed Koch Industries to purchase ad space for the Yes on Prop 23 campaign. If, as seems likely to happen, Koch declines to respond to this initial debate challenge, he will simply reinforce the image of himself as a rich corporate profiteer killing sustainable business while refusing to engage in real debate with California voters.

Already this year, companies from Nestle to Chevron have felt the wrath of online initiatives aimed at drawing attention to less than socially responsible corporate behavior. In many such cases corporate entities find themselves wrapped up in a publicly broadcast argument that’s hard for them to win. After all who is the public more likely to feel an instinctual sympathy for: a corporate Goliath or a band of creative citizen protagonists making a stand for sustainable business?

At the close of the video recording, Francis addresses Charles Koch with a statement that may be more than a little tongue-in-cheek: “As the CEO of one of the largest privately held companies in the country, I know you can’t possible be afraid of just one college student.” It may indeed turn out Charles Koch has something to be afraid of, as student activists in California continue using the Internet to hold his multi-billion dollar enterprise accountable.

Photo credit: Power Vote California