Mandela, ALEC and The Fight That NEVER Ended

Photo Credit: ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
Photo Credit: ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

With the passing of Nelson Mandela, media outlets have been flooded with the constant championing of his ability to forgive. However, the bigger lesson to be learned is, apartheid never had to happen. Apartheid was not a mystical occurrence; it was a fully planned and intentional mass oppression of a people. The same can be said for the current systematic creation of the permanent underclass.

Mandela once said,  “Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”

One of Mandela’s greatest wishes was that we never forget the millions of people around the world currently living in poverty and dehumanizing conditions. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Right now corporations and organizations like ALEC should be on the forefront of our minds.


ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is an organization of legislators, corporations and lobbyists that seek to control the global economy. In the 1980s, ALEC was a key organization that supported the South African apartheid regime and worked against divestment and sanctions.

In 2013, ALEC engineers voter suppression laws, making sure that it’s harder for Black, Brown, Young, Old, Women and Poor people, to vote in U.S. elections. They do this in order to prevent laws like The Affordable Care Act from benefiting people with low-economic statuses. Laws like the Affordable Care Act, provide a wider opportunity for the poor to have economic upward mobility.

This is a huge issue because it prevents corporations from sustaining the creation of a permanent underclass, which would allow for companies like Walmart and McDonald’s to continue their low-wage driven pay scale, thereby increasing profits. Though Walmart and McDonald’s both ended their membership with ALEC last year, they are still implementing the same policies among their workers which prevent economic stability.

In the most simplistic terms:

The poor remain poor due to their inability to access quality education, healthcare and other life saving resources. Poor education limits the earning potential of workers and substantially increases the chances of incarceration. Due to the fact that low-income wage workers can’t afford to shop somewhere else, they end up becoming consumers among the same companies and fast-food restaurants that try to suppress their votes.

 A cycle of poverty ensues leading to stress, violence, and the constant intake of low-priced highly processed foods. Consequentially, the top four causes of death for African Americans are heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. African American is not synonymous with poor, however many African Americans face historical prejudices which make it difficult for economic advancement.

Furthermore, this issue goes beyond race. Though the construction of race plays an important role in social hierarchies, people of all races and various income backgrounds are susceptible to the underclass creation cycle. ALEC and other conservative groups use race-baiting and fear mongering to prevent unsuspecting voters from recognizing this until it’s too late. By the time voters realize that they’ve been hoodwinked, their home has been foreclosed on or a family member lost their battle with cancer due to lack of proper healthcare.

Still, even these issues are first world problems. In other parts of the world, poverty can be viewed in the form of children dying from preventable illnesses like diarrhea. And though the world is often draped in luxury and decadence there are still people that die from starvation or spend their lives working 20 hr days in sweatshops and factories under the worst conditions imaginable.

Mandela teaches us that our world doesn’t have to be like this. His fight against apartheid teaches us that we must not remain silent in the face of oppression. Yes he used forgiveness and reconciliation as a tool for healing a nation. However, forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness and its blessings cannot be fully realized if the horrors of the past are white-washed, allowing for oppression to continue thriving in various forms.

Mandela’s main leadership example was fighting against the burdens placed on the poor and marginalized people of his country by the white supremacist doctrines of the National Party of South Africa and every nation, politician or corporation that supported/looked the other way while they structurally subjugated a nation of people.  (This includes Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Citigroup, IBM, General Motors Corp, JP Morgan Chase & Co, ALEC and many more.)

Though apartheid has ended, the battle against organizations like ALEC and corporations that economically oppress people around the world has never really ended. Mandela said forgive but he didn’t forget. And so in the tradition of freedom laid before us, let us not forget that there is still much work to be done.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of & To reach JAM, email her at

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