The coup did not manifest in a single event, but was a series of significant victories for the corporate elite and their well-groomed henchman. The brilliance of the affair was that the other side was perpetually dancing on a banana peel, ever befuddled by the cunning and organized grace with which the enemy moved. Lawmakers wore their treason with shit-eating grins and tap danced for cheap crumbs. The most pathetic among the dupes either didn’t realize they were in a war or swallowed the tired, free-market sleight of hand not knowing they didn’t belong to the class for which it was designed.
The above requiem for the democratic process isn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion but the nation indeed stands at the precipice of a corporate abyss. As groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) push hundreds of regressive, corporate shill bills into law, the thought of an effective counterattack is daunting. This particular Goliath is not of the oafish variety but rather a cold, calculating and confident machine well-lubed by the dollars of some of the richest companies on the planet. It takes supernatural gumption to look into those hollow, beady eyes and do anything but gulp.
From a strategic standpoint however, ALEC’s greatest asset, its 40-years of back room craftiness, is also its greatest liability. The veil has been lifted and the gruesome beast can now be hoisted on the examining room table and probed. Knowing your enemy and knowing your own assets is tried and true 2,600 year-old advice.
Any lawmaker, think tank or individual citizen concerned with the public interest should be taking crash courses in everything ALEC. It should be a requirement for freshman lawmakers to go to an ALEC event. This deflowering would, at the very least, force a legislator to choose sides and would forever mute any claim of ignorance of this monstrosity and its well-laid plans.
Wisconsin State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) recently did just that as she ventured into the belly of the beast and attended ALEC’s national conference in Chicago. She wrote about her experience in The Progressive Magazine and summed up the organization as follows:
The backbone of the American Legislative Exchange Council is an infrastructure that has been developed over the last 40 years that melds together rightwing think tanks, corporations and legislators. This ménage a trois has created a policy-making machine that produces a corporate agenda to elevate private profits over the needs of most people.
She goes on to lament any organized opposition:
There is no comparable infrastructure on the left. ALEC makes it easy.
Along with model bills comes every piece of information (whether true or not) you could ever need, including handbooks and manuals with pro-active and reactive talking points.
ALEC also gives lawmakers the support of a network of conservative think tanks, which exist in every state, that provide data and research.
It would seem that a framework of infrastructure is beginning to form, at least in part to a couple of opposing organizations. The Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN) and the American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange (ALICE) both take a strategic approach to harnessing networks. EARN does this through “a network of state and regional multi-issue research, policy, and advocacy organizations” and acts as a “large collective think tank capturing the best ideas and strategies from the state level.” ALICE utilizes a range of advocacy organizations, public interest groups, professors and students to draft model laws to be used and replicated across the country.
While ALEC aims to push corporate influence down the throats American citizens through secrecy and subversive influence, these two organization's strength emanate from the collective hive of organizations and individuals working for transparency and good government.
EARN’s stated mission is to “improve the lives of Americans through state and local policy, and change the nature of the national policy debate—state by state. EARN seeks to advance progressive policy at the state and regional level, to deliver important national messages, and to use the collective capacity of its organizations to develop new ideas and strategies.”
ALICE bills itself as a “very partial antidote to ALEC” and describes its mission as follows:
…. Our values are to promote, not destroy, economic fairness, environmental sustainability, and effective democratic government. Our model laws are public, not secret. They’re written by public interest advocates and volunteers, not paid corporate lobbyists. They cover local, not just state, policy. They include law originating from the executive branch and directly from citizens, as well as from legislative bodies.
ALEC’s strength lies in its secrecy, its fine-tuned organization and its well-funded backers. The strength of resistance resides in transparency, collective nimbleness and the ability to effectively utilize existing data and communication networks. If we are to stymie the dark wind blowing through state legislatures across the country we must first educate ourselves of the opposing force and harness the collective power that brought about the Occupy Movement, the protests against SOPA and PIPA, the Wisconsin protests against the assaults on collective bargaining, the protests against the Iraq War, the recent protests against the Keystone Pipeline and a myriad other collective movements that raised the consciousness of millions of people and put pressure on state and federal lawmakers.
The linchpin of the resistance resides in proactive legislative enactment. Perpetual defense is not a winning strategy. We need to predict and plan for the 5, 10 and 20 year plans of our corporate interlopers. A collective acknowledgment of the duel is a must. How many times must one be slapped in the face with a glove to realize a challenge has been issued? Learning more about and participating in groups like EARN and ALICE is where many of us can, in a practical way, join the guerilla resistance.