Founded in 2005, Color of Change (COC) is a nonprofit corporation and an Internet-based grassroots activist group. Van Jones and James Rucker (former director of MoveOn.org Political Action and co-founder of the Secretary of State Project) created COC to combat what they viewed as the systemic racism pervading America generally and conservatism in particular. COC’s mission is to “strengthen Black America’s political voice”; “make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans”; and “bring about positive political and social change for everyone.” Toward these ends, the organization supports race- and gender-based preferences in government contracting, college admissions, and hiring/promotion policies. Further, COC favors the expansion of the welfare state and thus seeks to discredit initiatives that would restore limited government and rein in public expenditures.
From its inception, COC has aimed its criticisms chiefly at prominent conservative and Republican figures. In 2005, for instance, the organization attacked political theorist William Bennett for uttering “racist lies” and pushed to have him dismissed from his broadcasting positions with the Salem Radio Network and CNN.
That same year, COC depicted the federal government’s allegedly sluggish mobilization of post-Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts as symptomatic of America’s low regard for black people. “With no one to speak for them,” COC lamented, “hundreds of thousands of people—largely Black, poor, and elderly—were left behind to die.” To drive this point home, COC collaborated with MoveOn.org Civic Action to screen the Spike Lee film When the Levees Broke, which alleged that the federal government had dynamited Gulf-area levees in an effort to flood the black neighborhoods of New Orleans—a view popularized most famously by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Rap singer Kanye West, who cited the government’s inept response to Katrina as evidence that President “Bush does not care about black people,” had a connection to COC at that time: A now defunct website entitled “KayneWasRight.org” was linked back to ColorOfChange.org.
In January 2006, COC initiated a Senate letter-writing campaign to galvanize opposition to President Bush’s nomination of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. Alito “has consistently demonstrated his hostility towards laws that ensure racial equality and protect the civil rights of Americans,” COC claimed. “If history is a guide, Alito’s presence on the Supreme Court will put some of our most basic civil rights protections in jeopardy.”
During the 2008 presidential campaigns, COC was part of the progressive effort to associate the Republican ticket of McCain-Palin with racism. In an open letter which it disseminated widely, COC complained that the “hateful language” and “rhetoric” allegedly on display at Republican campaign events was taking on “an increasingly dangerous tone that seems to ignore the precarious state of our progress when it comes to race and ethnicity.” The organization charged, for instance, that attendees at such events had called for “violence against Sen. Obama, yelling ‘kill him!,’ ‘off with his head!,’ and ‘bomb Obama.’” Subsequent investigations, however, showed no evidence that these racial slurs and threats had ever been uttered.
In one of its longest-running initiatives, Color of Change has repeatedly smeared the Fox News Channel (FNC) as a disseminator of racism and bigotry. Beginning in March 2007, COC denounced the station for “consistently attack[ing] Black people, leaders, and cultural institutions.” The following year, COC tried to prevent Fox from co-hosting any of the presidential debates with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. When Fox News’ Glenn Beck exposed the radical communist past of Van Jones in August 2009, eventually leading to Jones’ resignation from his White House post, COC began a letter-writing campaign to the CEOs of FNC advertisers, demanding that they pull their ads due to “Beck’s racially divisive rhetoric.” In September 2009, COC claimed victory, stating that its efforts had caused Beck to lose 50% of his advertising dollars.
In March 2010, COC began an aggressive effort to discredit the Tea Party movement’s “venomous rhetoric,” “racially inflammatory and violent outbursts,” “racially charged imagery,” and “paranoid conspiracy theories.” Said James Rucker: “Republican officials have contributed to this atmosphere with fear-mongering and coded racism, and they have actively courted this element of their party.”
In the fall of 2011, COC helped launch a campaign threatening to boycott corporations that gave financial support to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an association that drafts pro-free-market, pro-limited-government legislation for state lawmakers across the U.S. Most notably, ALEC supports the enforcement of voter-ID laws, immigration laws, and Second Amendment rights. Joining COC in its crusade against ALEC were AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers, the Arizona AFL-CIO, the Arizona Education Association, the Center for Media and Democracy, Occupy Wall Street, People for the American Way, and Progress Now. The combined pressure of these organizations caused a number of companies to withdraw their support for ALEC. These included Arby’s, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Coca-Cola, Intuit, Kaplan, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Walgreens, Walmart, and Wendy’s.
In the spring of 2012, COC and its allies tried to exploit the racial overtones of the February 26, 2012 killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin, who had been shot by a “white Hispanic” claiming to have acted in self-defense as permitted under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Charging (incorrectly) that ALEC had drafted that particular law, COC demanded that AT&T—which was one of ALEC’s corporate board members—abandon the Council or be permanently branded as a racist entity with Trayvon Martin’s blood on its proverbial hands. Further, COC alleged that Florida police had deliberately sought to suppress evidence against Martin’s killer, and that law-enforcement’s decision not to incarcerate the gunman reflected “a pattern of failing to prosecute when the victim is Black.”
COC’s executive director is Rashad Robinson, who is also affiliated with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Right to Vote Campaign. The latter is a national collaboration of eight civil-rights organizations—including the ACLU, the NAACP, and People for the American Way—that seek to combat “voter disenfranchisement” by lobbying for laws that would permit convicted felons, who are disproportionately African Americans, to vote in political elections.