Score one for the good guys: After being pressured by Color of Change and other progressive groups, Coca-Cola has left ALEC -- the cynical corporate coalition that has pushed a bevy of anti-democratic, anti-middle class, and anti-consumer initiatives.
Now that Coke's come around, next up is Walmart. Their response on the ALEC issue was equivocal and unacceptable. And the issue needs to be raised directly and firmly with the other companies that back the organization - a list that includes AT&T, Bayer, ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, Pfizer and UPS.
This weekend on The Breakdown we interviewed Rashad Robinson, Color of Change's executive director, about the Trayvon Martin case and the role of ALEC in "stand your ground" laws like Florida's. He indicated that ALEC's member companies were going to be a leading target of the campaign for greater political and economic justice.
A few days after that interview aired, Color of Change sent an email to its mailing list that read in part:
You and more than 85,000 Color Of Change members have called on corporations to stop supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) because of its role in voter suppression.
We contacted Coca-Cola to make sure they understand that through their membership in ALEC, they are supporting racially-discriminatory voter ID... They told us they recognize the importance of voting rights but claimed that they weren't responsible for ALEC's voter ID legislation.
But it doesn't matter whether the company had a direct role in the legislation -- by funding ALEC, Coca-Cola is supporting an effort to disenfranchise African-Americans, Latinos, students, the elderly, the disabled and the poor. Eventually, representatives from Coca-Cola stopped responding to our emails and phone calls.
Will you help us hold Coca-Cola accountable for supporting voter suppression?
It's true that ALEC is like the United States Chamber of Commerce, in that many of its member companies don't realize what it really stands for. But the ones who have consciences (or understand the power of consumer anger) will eventually respond, just as they have for the Chamber. (Many leading corporations have left that organization as it moves to the extreme right.)
So the role of activists in this situation isn't just to exert pressure, but to educate. Companies like Coca-Cola need to understand the real nature of the organization they're supporting. These corporations do bear moral responsibility for the actions taken with their funding and support, and they should be held accountable.
(We'll be airing an interview this weekend with Zaid Jilani, who wrote an excellent piece on The Five Most Despicable Laws Passed by ALEC, which Zaid lists as "banning living wages," "crippling collective bargaining," "privatizing our schools," attacking voter rights," and "selling prisons to the highest bidder." We asked Zaid about laws that didn't make the top five, and they were pretty bad too.)
A Coke and a Smile
Coca-Cola responded either to the information or to the persuasion. As Think Progress reports, Coke officials told the Washington Examiner today:
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.
As Think Progress notes, the withdrawal came just five hours after Color of Change sent its email.
In other Coca-Cola news, the company just signed a deal with Dunkin' Brands to make its soft drinks available at Dunkin' Donuts, Baskin-Robbins, and other Dunkin' facilities. If you ask me, it's a good day for a Coke (classic only, if you ask me), along with a donut or a couple scoops of ice cream.
Coca-Cola's retraction came in the Examiner's "Secrets" blog. Blogger Paul Bedard's interpretation of the facts comes with a strong ideological bias, but the facts are clear: The good guys won.
By contrast, Wal-Mart told the Examiner:
Our membership in any organization does not affirm our agreement with each policy created by the broader group. Wal-Mart has a long history of supporting voter rights, and we continue to be a strong proponent of this issue. In fact, Wal-Mart was an active supporter in 2006 of the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of... One of Wal-Mart's basic beliefs is respect for the individual, and Wal-Mart will continue to stand with all Americans in ensuring our right to vote.
Not good enough. If you support people who are attacking the right to vote, financially and with your reputation, then you are supporting injustice.
Attention Sellers: This could affect your bottom line in a big way. There's a large majority in this country that feels disenfranchised from the political process -- and is. They've been, in the crude words of bar patrons everywhere, "screwed, blued, and tattooed." They've lost their jobs, or their wages have stagnated, while organizations like ALEC strip them of organizing rights and the chance for a job at a living wage.
They've also been disenfranchised by voter laws like the ones ALEC supports, and by a money-driven, corporate political process. But that disenfranchised majority has enormous economic power -- and it's learning how to use it. One of our most effective tools for responding to the power of corporate money is by cutting off the source of that money.
Heads up, Wal-Mart. Know who does a lot of shopping in your stores? People who have been victimized by ALEC policies: Poor people, minorities and people who are working more and earning less. They're getting wise, they're getting angry -- and they're getting involved.
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future and the host of The Breakdown, broadcast Saturdays nights from 7-9 p.m. on WeAct Radio, AM 1480 in Washington, DC.