The controversial organization behind “Stand Your Ground” and voter ID laws around the country is backing down on social issues, signaling a victory for the progressive activist movement opposing it.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, announced that it was shutting down the task force that developed the “Stand Your Ground” laws enacted in Florida and two dozen other states. The Florida law—which allows people to “shoot to kill” without retreating when they feel threatened in public— came under fire following the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch member.
ALEC, which is funded by the hard-right billionaire philanthropist Koch Brothers and some of America’s largest corporations, is responsible for model legislation adopted by Republican-controlled state houses.
In addition to the Florida law, these include voter ID bills aimed at voter suppression in black, Latino and other communities, anti-union laws, and legislation requiring intrusive trans-vaginal ultrasounds for women before having an abortion.
“Today we are redoubling our efforts on the economic front, a priority that has been the hallmark of our organization for decades. Fostering the exchange of pro-growth, solutions-oriented ideas is precisely why ALEC exists,” said David Frizell, an Indiana state representative and chair of ALEC in a press release.
In eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task Force that deals with non-economic issues, Frizell added, “We are refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles, and have made changes internally to reflect this renewed focus.”
This apparent retreat by ALEC is due to the concerted efforts of an organized movement, including activist groups who have educated the public on the harmful effects of ALEC’s activities, and have waged a boycott of its corporate underwriters. Recently, Pepsi, Intuit, McDonald’s, Kraft, Wendy’s and Mars severed ties to ALEC.
And last week, Coca-Cola ended its relationship with ALEC only hours after the online advocacy group ColorofChange announced a boycott of the company. Other organizations involved in the campaign include the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), who introduced many people to ALEC through their ALEC Exposed wiki, and the group Common Cause. These groups should claim victory for a number of reasons. First, this movement was able to effectively frame the problem in a manner that resonates with the public, and in a language they understand. The Center for Media and Democracy noted that ALEC has an “extreme agenda” that protects armed vigilantes and makes it more difficult for citizens to vote.
Meanwhile, ColorofChange Executive Director Rashad Robinson has described ALEC’s efforts as part of the right wing’s longstanding attempt “to stop black people, other people of color, young people, and the elderly from voting — and now some of America’s biggest companies are helping them do it.”
Further, ALEC backing down is proof that economic boycotts still work. Perhaps the most successful example of a boycott to punish companies who support oppressive laws was Martin Luther King’s 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. That boycott brought down a bus company, and broke the back of Jim Crow segregation in that Southern city. Fast forward to today, and the anti-ALEC movement has made it impossible for corporations to expect continued black patronage if they promote laws that attack civil rights and expose blacks to gun violence and racial profiling.
Third, most people had not heard of ALEC only a few short months ago. However, ColorofChange, CMD and Common Cause lifted the veil on corporate secrecy — particularly the undue influence of certain companies on lawmaking and the democratic process. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has allowed unlimited financial influence in politics on free speech grounds.
As a result, nameless, faceless entities have purchased politicians and legislation in anonymity, and without accountability. In this case, corporations funnel cash into ALEC, which operates under the guise of a nonprofit bipartisan organization.
In reality, ALEC advocates an extremist agenda of deregulation and privatization of the government for the benefit of the few, policy positions these corporations cannot promote on their own for fear of public condemnation.
Finally, for the black community — which is often accused of believing in irrational conspiracy theories, yet has been victimized by real-life conspiracies such as the slave trade, Jim Crow, the Tuskegee Experiment and COINTELPRO — ALEC is a real-life conspiracy exposed. Black folks represent some of the more vulnerable victims of voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws, but they are by no means the only victims.
So it appears ALEC has backed down from backing voter ID and vigilante gun laws. Although this is a victory, the war is not over. After all, the NRA is doubling down on “Stand Your Ground” in the wake of Trayvon Martin death, and wants the law in all 50 states. Plus, these horrible laws, and the damage they have visited on America, have not been corrected where they already exist.
“ALEC’s latest statement is nothing more than a PR stunt aimed at diverting attention from its agenda, which has done serious damage to our communities. To simply say they are stopping non-economic work doesn’t guarantee that ALEC will not continue to push laws that endanger African Americans and trample our voting rights,” said Robinson of ColorofChange.
“Shutting down one task force does not provide justice to the millions of Americans whose lives are impacted by these dangerous and discriminatory laws courtesy of ALEC and its corporate backers. It’s clear that major corporations were in bed with an institution that has worked against basic American values such as the right to vote. Now that these companies are aware of what they’ve supported, what will they do about it?” Robinson added.
“The American public has wised up to ALEC’s misguided and secretive attempts to co-opt state legislators for corporate profit,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar, noting an “important victory” that ALEC has abandoned its most controversial agenda items under public pressure. “But bad laws the shuttered ALEC task force advanced remain on the books across the country, and ALEC continues to support legislation that weakens clean air and clean water regulations, undermines public schools and infringes on the bargaining rights or workers,” he added.
Nevertheless, you must take the victories whenever you can.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove