ColorOfChange.org, by its own account, exists “to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone.” In the last year, the Oakland-based non-profit with a staff of eight has taken on one of the major players in current U.S. politics, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
ALEC is a powerful lobbying group that also drafts model legislation. This legislation is favorable to corporate and politically conservative interests, and ALEC pursues these interests behind closed doors, without the scrutiny of the voting public. ALEC charges those who want its advocacy and collaboration a minimum fee of $25,000. In large part ALEC is funded by major corporations, including Walmart, UPS, ExxonMobil, and AT&T.
Much on ALEC’s legislative agenda represents a serious attack on the civil rights of minorities and the impoverished. Lately, the lobbying group has come under increasing scrutiny for its support of prison privatization, voter identification laws, anti-union laws, and “stand-your-ground” laws, all which threaten to have a highly negative impact on minority, working-class populations, especially African-Americans.
In the face of growing criticism, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Wendy’s, McDonalds, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Intuit have all withdrawn membership and financial support from ALEC. In April 2012 these companies decided not to renew their annual membership, thanks in part to the pressure brought by ColorOfChange.org.
ColorOfChange.org’s mission is to create room for the voices of African Americans in public policy debate. The organization was formed in 2005 by James Rucker and Van Jones in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina crisis. The founding members were devastated by the government’s slow response to the pressing needs of the community. They vowed to be an unrelenting voice for citizens who had been failed by their elected representatives and forgotten by the corporations profiting from within their communities.
In a drafted petition, the ColorOfChange.org openly challenged the corporations backing ALEC:
I presume your company does not want to support voter suppression, nor have your products or services associated with discrimination and large-scale voter disenfranchisement. I urge you to immediately stop funding ALEC and issue a public statement making it clear that your company does not support discriminatory voter ID laws and voter suppression.
The group then organized an energetic call- and write-in boycott campaign. Consumers made the companies understand that they were withdrawing all support for corporations that sponsored ALEC’s disenfranchising lobbying efforts. To date, more than 85,000 supporters have called upon major corporations to withdraw support from ALEC. In an issued statement ColorOfChange.org expressed appreciation to companies heeding the call of the boycotts — in this case Coca-Cola:
We welcome Coca-Cola’s decision to stop supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization which has worked to disenfranchise African Americans, Latinos, students, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor. We confirmed with Coca-Cola that they are no longer a member of ALEC and no longer fund the group in any capacity.
ALEC has sponsored several bills into law that have split communities, including Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Legislation, alternatively known as the “Kill at Will” law. This law was invoked to justify why George Zimmerman was not arrested for shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford FL on February 26, 2012.
ALEC has also been instrumental in drafting laws to suppress the votes of African Americans, Latinos, students, the elderly, and the disabled through a series of new voting restriction laws – supposedly designed to curb fraud at the ballot box. The effects of these new laws have been to revive “Jim Crow” era voter suppression. The most common form of this legislation is to require a state-issued identification card or driver’s license to register and vote, while rejecting alternative forms of id, like student cards. Lower-income and minority citizens are less likely to have state-issued identification cards, which can be expensive or complicated to obtain. Paul Weyrich, founder of ALEC as well as the conservative Heritage Foundation, has been explicit in his understanding of voter suppression, openly commenting: “I don’t want everybody to vote.”
In a brief message Coca Cola stated their altered stance on ALEC:
The Coca-Cola Company has elected to discontinue its membership with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Our involvement with ALEC was focused on efforts to oppose discriminatory food and beverage taxes, not on issues that have no direct bearing on our business. We have a long-standing policy of only taking positions on issues that impact our company and industry.
That these corporations decided to leave ALEC is an encouraging victory for civil-rights activists throughout the country. The success of the campaign launched by ColorOfChange.org demonstrates the undeniable power of the people united and working together for real change.