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Corporations Flee Right-Wing ALEC: Yet Another Win for Progressives

Recently there have been several instances in which the public spoke out loud enough that a major organization or company had to back down, David and Goliath-style.
 
 
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Recently, activist site ColorofChange.org launched a campaign targeting corporations that fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right-wing group that has played a key role in the passage of loathsome voter ID and "stand your ground" laws around the country. As ColorofChange.org told its members:

Supporters of discriminatory voter ID laws claim they want to reduce voter fraud (individuals voting illegally, or voting twice). But such fraud almost never actually occurs, and never in amounts large enough to affect the result of elections. What is clear is that voter ID laws prevent large numbers of eligible voters from casting a ballot, and could disenfranchise up to 5 million people.....Major companies that rely on business from black folks shouldn't be involved in suppressing our vote.

A ColorofChange.org petition addressed to "the leadership of corporations that support ALEC" urges the companies, "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 companies being targeted included Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Intuit, Inc., and Kraft Foods -- all of which dropped their ALEC memberships as the ColorofChange.org campaign gained steam. Coca-Cola was the first to announce it was jumping the ALEC ship, and the other companies' announcements soon followed. (Notably, and predictably, missing have been the public statements denouncing voter suppression. Wrote Kraft, "Our membership in ALEC expires this spring and for a number of reasons, including limited resources, we have made the decision not to renew.")

As each new corporation drops ALEC, the pressure mounts for other corporations to do the same. Meanwhile, both Koch Industries and Wal-Mart, which plan to keep their ALEC affiliation, have been forced to issue public statements reaffirming their support for the dubious group. Quoth a Wal-Mart spokesperson, "Our membership in any organization does not affirm our agreement with each policy created by the broader group." Convincing!

Will Wal-Mart and Koch, not to mention ALEC, survive this campaign? As critics of this sort of activism are quick to point out, of course they will. But there are three big wins here that activists should celebrate: 1) The headlines generated by this campaign made the public more aware of ALEC and of voter ID laws; 2) ALEC has lost some major supporters; and 3) Koch and Wal-Mart had to explicitly state that they would rather stand with ALEC than with the victims of the terrible policies it supports. The latter may seem like a small thing for corporations the size of Koch and Wal-Mart, but it may prove to be a very big deal indeed the more consumers learn about ALEC's unsavory positions.

Blogger thereisnospoon wrote a post at Hullabaloo on Friday about why these types of campaigns work for progressives:

[T]he right wing doesn't look very good when exposed to sunlight. Corporations have an interest in making money, and they can't make money if regular Americans think they're associated with voter suppression of minorities, or with the sort of garbage that comes out of Limbaugh's or Beck's mouths. The people who come out to vote every two to four years may skew older and more conservative than the general population, but the people who buy soft drinks and other products don't. Corporations know this, and the last thing they need is [a] public relations nightmare.

The ALEC campaign isn't the first time that we've seen the power of public pressure on display in recent months. Recently there have been three other instances in which the public spoke out loud enough that a major organization or company had to back down, David and Goliath-style. Remember these?

1. Komen vs. Planned Parenthood. Breast cancer mega-charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure learned a valuable lesson earlier this year: Do not mess with reproductive health supporters.

During one whirlwind week in late January/early February, Komen 1) announced new funding criteria under which Planned Parenthood would no longer be an eligible grantee; 2) was called out for its baldly political move in a firestorm of outraged tweets, Facebook messages and blog posts from Planned Parenthood supporters; 3) lied about its motivations; 4) lied again; and 5) finally backed down (sort of), announcing it would tweak its new funding criteria and "continue to fund existing grants, including those to Planned Parenthood."

Although Komen's "reversal" leaves the door wide open for snubbing Planned Parenthood in the future, it's clear who won this messaging war: Planned Parenthood and reproductive health supporters in general. At a time when reproductive rights are under attack more than ever, from legislators, bishops and conservative talk-radio blowhards alike, that is a BFD.

And with all the dirt this fracas unearthed (ties to right-wing politicians, "pinkwashing" and more), Komen is still feeling the fallout of its decision in the form of fleeing executives and dwindling donations.

2. Protesters Pressure Apple on Foxconn Worker Rights. With all the hubbub over Mike Daisey's unfortunate embellishments in his spoken-word performance about Foxconn workers, it became easy to lose sight of the truths in Daisey's work: namely that factory workers at Foxconn doroutinely endure unacceptable conditions to make the products that we, as consumers, enjoy on a regular basis. We created the market for those workers' jobs, and then we allowed our beloved tech companies to get away with not enforcing labor rules as strictly as they should. It's a situation that was not okay before Daisey infamously lied to This American Life fact-checkers, and it is a situation that is not okay now.

The good news is that activists have made at least some headway in campaigns targeting Apple for its lax enforcement of labor rules in China. Both Daisey's story and a subsequent investigation in the New York Timeshelped prompt a new wave of public interest in Foxconn worker conditions earlier this year (we can thank Daisey for that). Change.org supporters and other activists ran with that interest, pulling in more than 250,000 signatures for a petition targeting Apple and organizing protests around the world.

Soon after, watchdog group the Fair Labor Association released a new report on worker conditions at the plant, finding "at least 43 violations of Chinese laws and regulations, and numerous instances where Foxconn defied industry codes of conduct by having employees work more than 60 hours a week, and sometimes more than 11 days in a row," according to the Times. In response, Foxconn said it would "work with Apple to carry out [a] remediation program, developed by both our companies." Although there is legitimate concern about how much of an impact these changes will have, and when they will be implemented, the changes could, per the Times, "signal a new, wide-reaching change in working conditions throughout China."

It may not be enough, but it is a significant step forward that activists (and yes, Mike Daisey) should celebrate.

3. Limbaugh's "Slut" Comment Leads Sponsors to Drop Him Like a Fly. Rush Limbaugh learned a Komen-esque lesson recently about screwing with reproductive health supporters. In early March, Limbaugh called Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" because she wanted to speak at what turned out to be an all-male congressional panel on birth control. He added, charmingly, "So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."

Limbaugh has said more than his fair share of horrific things about women, people of color and, well, plenty of other people. But perhaps buoyed by the Komen win, reproductive health supporters and other activists came out in full force against Limbaugh, garnering tons of popular support along the way. In response, at least 140 sponsors dropped Limbaugh, realizing that supporting him was a liability and could cost them customers.

If you take one thing away from all these stories, let it be this: public pressure works. As progressives, we can win battles against large corporations and other dubious organizations if we rally together.

 

Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to Change.org, The L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here.
 
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