A dispatch for the “Arguing the World” blog at Dissent magazine.
Published in Dissent.
It is a myth that Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” But that old saying nevertheless carries a lot of truth when it comes to social movements. And it is always a pleasure to see a worthy target of activism move from disregard or mockery to going on the attack.
Therefore, I was happy to see the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) release a half-defiant, half-pathetic statement bemoaning the “coordinated and well-funded intimidation campaign against corporate members of the organization.” Its statement reads:
“ALEC is an organization that supports pro-growth, pro-jobs policies and the vigorous exchange of ideas between the public and private sector to develop state based solutions. Today, we find ourselves the focus of a well-funded, expertly coordinated intimidation campaign.
Our members join ALEC because we connect state legislators with other state legislators and with job-creators in their states. They join because we support pro-business policies that promote innovation and spur local and national competitiveness. They’re ALEC members because they’re more interested in solutions than rhetoric….
At a time when job creation, real solutions and improved dialogue among political leaders is needed most, ALEC’s mission has never been more important. This is why we are redoubling our commitment to these essential priorities. We are not and will not be defined by ideological special interests who would like to eliminate discourse that leads to economic vitality, jobs and fiscal stability for the states.”
After about the third reference to “job creators,” it’s hard to miss that this is an operation nestled snugly within the depths of the far-right echo chamber, never passing over a chance to frame tax cuts for the top 1 percent as a moderate, bipartisan path to common bliss. In fact, far from sticking to promoting “improved dialogue,” ALEC has (with troubling effectiveness) advanced a slew of reactionary measures in statehouses throughout the country. Stand Your Ground? Check. Prison privatization? Check. Right to Work? Check. Discriminatory Voter ID laws? Check. The list goes on and on.
These legislative outrages have inspired a coalition of progressive groups to fight back. They are going after the companies that are paying $25,000 annual dues to this far-right outfit—exposing these brand-sensitive patrons for aligning themselves with the conservative fringe.
The tactic is proving very effective. On Wednesday, fast-food giant Wendy’s joined McDonald’s in ending its ALEC membership. Previously Pepsi, Coke, Kraft, Intuit, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation all announced that they were jumping ship.
This exodus is what prompted ALEC’s response. That organization complaining about a “well-funded, expertly coordinated” political operation surely merits placement in the pot-calling-the-kettle-black hall of fame. But these words serve as high praise for the organizations that have endeavored to expose the group’s corporate funders.
Prominent among them is ColorOfChange.org, which has quickly established itself as a leader in the field of corporate campaigning. I previously lauded ColorOfChange.org for its successful effort to strip Glenn Beck of advertisers after the demagogue (then at Fox News) said that President Obama harbored a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture,” among other batshit-crazy statements.
Few in the mainstream media wanted to give the boycott credit for ousting Beck, preferring to believe that the cable news personality had simply outstayed his welcome on the network. Beck himself was not about to acknowledge activists’ impact, just as Kraft now says that it is leaving ALEC for a “number of reasons“—none, of course, related to the tens of thousands of signatures pouring in from ColorOfChange.org and allies such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. This is exactly what you would expect. Wendy’s, for its part, says that it didn’t renew its ALEC membership not because of pressure but because it “didn’t fit our business needs.”
That, in the end, is a pretty good definition of the purpose of corporate campaigns—making businesses decide that it doesn’t “fit their needs” to attack workers, reinforce institutional racism, wreck the environment, or undermine the social safety net. In any case, it certainly doesn’t fit the needs of the rest of us.