THE AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL
A Speech Given at the Minnesota Capitol in March 2012
by Scott Thompson
Our country right now is in a state of denial. What we say we want and what we’ve actually built for ourselves are two totally different things, and people manage to live with that contradiction by just not thinking about it. How did that happen?
If you go out and ask people if they’d rather live in a democracy, where they have a real say in governing themselves, or in a plutocracy where a handful of rich people make all the important decisions, virtually everyone would pick democracy. That’s why so many people still want to think of this country as a democracy when it no longer really is, because the real situation is so upsetting.
When most people hear the word “democracy,” they think of citizens governing themselves by either voting directly on import issues or electing representatives to do that for them.
They don’t think of a shadowy behind-the-scenes organization, a backroom deal between the rich and powerful to govern this nation for their own benefit.
So if that’s what we have right now, if that’s how we’re governed, then we’re no longer really a democracy. We’re in the process of becoming a plutocracy. I don’t want to think that’s really the case any more than you do, but when we see a piece of new legislation and whole sections of it, word by word, are taken from a piece of model legislation written by corporate interests and for corporate interests, what other conclusion can we draw?
ALEC is not just some kind of conservative think-tank driven by a right-wing ideology—that would actually be less sinister, if it was just a case of a group of people trying to advocate for their sincere opinions, however much I disagree with them. ALEC isn’t that. ALEC is WalMart, Pfizer, Bank of America, Monsanto and a lot of other companies, and any ideology ALEC advocates is nothing but a cover for the self-interested agenda of these corporations.
So, what is it these corporations want, what are they using ALEC to try to achieve? They want it to be harder for you to vote, harder for you to join a union or form a union, easier for you to end up in one of the prisons they own for breaking laws they wrote themselves. Corrections Corporation of America, an ALEC member, actively lobbies for new laws like Arizona’s SB 1070, laws that help keep their prisons full and their profits high.
Most people don’t want to spend all their time engaged in activism. Most people don’t want to have their free time and their energy eaten up by a seemingly endless succession of causes, fighting against forces so big and powerful it sometimes feels like no progress can be made. In a certain way, that makes sense, because most people would rather spend their free time doing things they enjoy doing with the people they love. Most people don’t want to beat their heads against a wall trying to create the perfect world. That’s a sane and healthy way to feel.
But at the same time, most people will stand up and fight when they feel like they no longer have a choice, and whether or not we’re ready to admit it to ourselves, that time is now.
The people crazy enough to want to run the world are no longer content to just do that and leave everyone else alone. Instead they seem determined to make it so the rest of us can’t just live in peace and ignore them anymore. Ignoring them and just going about your own life could mean waking up one morning without the right to vote. It could mean watching your wages shrink until you can’t afford to pay for your house or your apartment anymore and you end up on the street. It could mean getting in trouble for something that wasn’t even a crime until someone decided he could profit by making it one, and ending up in prison without doing anything wrong. It could mean watching everything you value about this country disappearing or being corrupted one step at a time, until your kids or your grandkids inherit a country you wouldn’t even recognize as the United States of America.
The time to start fighting back isn’t when the worst case scenario has already happened, because by then it might already be too late. When Occupy Wall Street started a few months ago, the military didn’t have the authority to detain American citizens, but now it does. When Occupy Wall Street started a few months ago, it wasn’t a crime to “mic check” a presidential candidate, but as of March 9th, it is. How many of these incremental assaults on our liberties will we tolerate before we collectively say “enough is enough”? How hard do you have to be pushed before you start to push back?
If you think they need to be stopped, please don’t let your involvement end today. Please don’t just come out for the biggest and most important rallies, because ALEC isn’t working just once a month or once a year, they’re working every single day. They’re proposing 1,000 new pieces of legislation every year. About 250 of those will become law. We can’t afford to take a wait and see attitude.
The time is now, and if we fail to push back with complete determination we could see the final end of democracy in America and the beginning of outright corporate domination.
That doesn’t have to happen. You can stop it—but only if you get in the fight and stay in the fight, in whatever way makes the most sense to you. You can work with Move to Amend or Occupy Minneapolis or Occupy Saint Paul, or one of the other organizations represented here today. However you choose to do it, please start today. The time for just going about our own lives is over.