As the nation begins to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech, young activists and leaders across the country are marching in solidarity to the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
An alliance of students and young people from across the country called We Got Next have planned a dramatic action at ALEC's Crystal City, Virginia, headquarters. The youth attending the action, which is taking place today, say ALEC, which is best known for advancing conservative model legislation across the country, is putting Dr. King's dream further out of reach for young people of color. As evidence, they cite ALEC's role in pushing for suppression of voting rights, opposition to living wages, and their defense of controversial "Stand Your Ground" laws.
In a time where human rights are under heavy attack, ALEC is the organization that's at the center of it all.
Back in 2012, as the election approached, ALEC sponsored "voter ID laws" that would disenfranchise voters who would be least likely to vote for their Republican candidates. This year, the United States Supreme Court gutted Section Four of the Voting Rights Act and gave way to states—namely Texas and North Carolina—to pass amended versions of the already harsh ALEC-modeled voter ID laws, that will ultimately disenfranchise over 318,000 voters. On August 12, North Carolina’s governor signed the state's most wide-ranging voter ID law that restricts early voting from 17 days to 10 days, requires government-issued photo ID for all voters, eliminates same-day voter registration, and ends pre-registration for 16 and 17 year-old voters who will be 18-years-old on election day.
According to the National Employment Law Project, 105 bills that "aimed to repeal or weaken core wage standards at the local level, have been introduced in 31 state legislatures. Of the 105 bills, 67 were "directly sponsored or co-sponsored by ALEC-affiliated legislators," and eleven of those 67 bills sponsored by ALEC members have already been signed into law.
As if voter suppression and opposition to fair wages was not enough, in early 2004, ALEC wrote "model legislation" for a Stand Your Ground bill, which was signed into law in 2005 in Florida, and spread like wildfire through several states. On a fateful night in Sanford, Florida—February 26, 2012—Trayvon Martin was followed, shot, and killed by George Zimmerman. It was the Stand Your Ground law that allowed Zimmerman to go free that night and remain free for nearly six weeks before national outcry led to his arrest for the murder of 17 year-old Martin. Sanford's police chief at the time, Bill Lee Jr., referenced Stand Your Ground as a reason for not placing Zimmerman under arrest, saying, "We were basing our decisions, which were made in concert with the state attorney's office, on the findings of the investigation at the time, and we were abiding by the Florida law that covers self-defense."
Across the nation, ALEC has negatively impacted our right to fair wages, access to voting and voting registration, our safety and, ultimately, the way we live.
During the March on Washington in 1963, Dr. King stated that "the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination." These words still ring true today, not just for the Negro but for ALL people of color. While there are no longer "white-only" drinking fountains or schools, our current economic climate segregates the haves from the have-nots. ALEC-affiliated legislators, coupled with discriminatory laws across the country, put us at a disadvantage for exercising our basic rights. As Dr. King said, we are not going to continue to allow "America to default on its promissory note of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It is in this spirit that we're defending the dream.
We—young activists, students, educators, dreamers, and entrepreneurs—no longer want to live in a world where our rights, freedoms, and liberties are progressively being stripped away. It's tiring enough having typed out the many ways ALEC's "model legislation" robs us of our freedoms, but it's more tiring—and even heartbreaking—having to live it. We must do something about it.
We will show ALEC our depth of commitment to dismantle their corporate base of support by exposing the impact of their model legislation and drawing attention to ALEC's efforts to limit our freedoms and threaten our futures. This is not just a march. We're engaging in non-violent direct action and informing the community about ALEC's secret network of corporate backers. We're staging a die-in—a form of protest where participants simulate being dead—and hand-delivering our letter to ALEC demanding that they "LET US LIVE" and put an end to the attacks on our future. As John Legend sang in the song, "If You're Out There," "we're the generation who can't afford to wait; the future started yesterday and we're already late."
Click here to add joining to the movement to challenge ALEC's influence to your GOOD "to-do" list.