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Inside ALEC's Education Task Force: Private Players Manipulating Public Education

The author infiltrated ALEC's inner sanctum -- and what she saw was chilling.

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So those policies bother me just as much as the education policies under discussion in that particular room, as does the fact that the people making those policies have no clue about the lived experiences of those of us they impose them upon. Though our society has a bad habit of trying to force different issues into various, separate boxes, they simply cannot be treated as isolated bits. And there’s a reason why government is supposed to be of, by and for all the people: that’s the only way to get all of the information necessary to make decisions that work (more or less) for everyone, not just the people in power.

And this was turning-point number two. By now, I’d completely forgotten the original message I’d planned to deliver, deleted from my memory as I watched how ALEC’s voting process works. As Mansplainer-in-Chief Forristall points out around minute 1:00 of the video, the public members and private members vote sequentially, but in each other's presence. When they called for the public members' vote on a bill to sunset, I heard just one voice say, "Aye." When they called for the private members' vote, a chorus of voices said "Aye." Realizing that there were clearly more private members in attendance than public ones, and recognizing that those gathered had no problem with the impropriety of that fact, was just galling to me.

That set off a string of very visceral realizations about just how insidious this process is. How comfortable would most people be publicly disagreeing with the very people who have spent loads of money supplying them “scholarships” and travel and posh accommodations — especially while outnumbered? How much can we expect our local officials to continue identifying with little old us, when they start being regularly flown far from their home districts to be wined and dined by national and international corporate lobbyists? And how much harder will that make it for us to change the outcome of a largely predetermined policymaking process, when we only find out that a bill is being pushed a few weeks or days before a vote, while they’ve been locked away planning these things for a year or more in advance?

I couldn’t take it any more. By now, my heart was pounding so hard I could practically see the lapels on my blazer fluttering. My eyes focused on the microphone positioned closest to my part of the room, placed there to offer the opportunity for members of the task force to ask each other questions (“Democracy for me, but not for thee…”). Before I knew it I was up there. Somehow, I managed to remain composed, despite feeling ready to scream, and I said my piece before I could no longer keep it together.

Had I prepared that statement in advance, I actually wouldn’t have changed much about it—except to say that while they might currently have the legal authority to make these kinds of policies, they have absolutely no moral authority to do so. Not so long as we’re playing on an uneven field, where our so-called leaders are allowed to sit side-by-side with deep-pocketed lobbyists, making decisions together behind doors closed so tightly it’s hard to get out, let alone in. (And whatever happened to sunshine laws?) No matter how dryly and politely they try to present themselves, there is something fundamentally savage about people who allow their privilege and greed to completely blind them to their impact on everyone else.

I’m done tolerating this. I refuse to continue living in a society where some people are essentially allowed to lie to the public with impunity, and buy the ability to disempower other people. I know I’m far from the only person who feels this way. But if we want our power back, those of us who share the same interests (which does not necessarily mean the same ideas) must unite and show the tiny group who doesn’t that they can’t trick, divide or hide from us anymore. As I believe I demonstrated, this doesn’t always have to be an ugly process—but yes, it will require some disruption to the powers-that-be.

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