Carry the Torch
Carry the Torch
By Chip Mellor,
President & General Counsel
Fifty clenched fists shot into the air-members of the Transit Workers Union following their boss, shouted well-rehearsed answers to his calls:
Boss: "What do we want?"
Boss: "What do we do?"
Members: "Take it!"
Each weighing in at well over 200 pounds, standing in straight columns, they made an imposing presence on the steps of New York's City Hall. Their aim: to pressure the City Council to maintain a stranglehold on the commuter van industry-the Transit Workers' would-be competition.
Unfazed by this nearby spectacle, our clients, a band of more than 100 van drivers and riders-all Caribbean immigrants-proudly held up signs, "Vans = Work" and "Let me Work." Their voices, rose as one, "Let the vans roll! Let the vans roll!"
The vivid contrast between the two groups overwhelmed me with a sense of why our side will ultimately triumph, not only in this particular case, but in every such case nationwide. My conviction stems not from statistics, polls, theories, or political calculation, but from another source entirely: our clients. Our clients hail from very modest economic circumstances. They may live in blighted inner cities or rural homes. They may be black or white; native-born or immigrant. But despite such diverse backgrounds, they all share common aspirations and an indomitable spirit. They refuse to give up their dreams for a better life in the face of overwhelming odds created by arbitrary and impersonal governments.
It's safe to say most of our clients have never read Frederick Hayek, Milton Friedman or Thomas Jefferson. Yet by their words and deeds they embody the principles of liberty on which this country was founded. What's more, by their principled actions, our clients help not only themselves and their families, but serve as remarkable catalysts for the good of others in their communities and beyond.
This dynamic potential was brought home to me recently by working with three individuals from very different backgrounds who nevertheless have much more in common than their differences might lead you to expect. You may recall our very first client, Taalib-Din Abdul Uqdah, the African-American hairbraider who successfully fought against the District of Columbia cosmetology licensing laws. Taalib-Din's story didn't stop with the successful salon he and his wife Pamela operated after the law was changed. Through his experience in fighting against arbitrary government action, Taalib-Din recognized that he was not alone in his plight. Indeed, countless other individuals around the country seeking to practice African hairbraiding faced exactly the same heavy-handed barriers that kept him in the underground economy. Taalib-Din became an impassioned advocate for economic liberty, organizing The American Hairbraiders and Natural Haircare Association and counseling braiders around the country on how to improve their businesses and become legal. Taalib-Din's hard work has brought African hairbraiding to unprecedented attention, receiving support not only from the Institute for Justice, but the Congressional Black Caucus and national media. Through his efforts, literally thousands of others will now prosper.
The man leading the charge for commuter vans in New York City is Hector Ricketts. Hector hails from Jamaica and came to this country seeking the promise of economic prosperity that has drawn so many people before him. Hector worked as a hospital administrator for a number of years, but saw that transportation services were inadequate throughout his community. He decided he could provide a much-needed service and earn a decent living operating a commuter van. Hector not only established his own company, but like Taalib-Din, he didn't stop there. He organized and began to professionalize his embattled industry. He formed the Interborough Alliance for Community Transportation and has worked tirelessly to improve the commuter van industry in New York City. Again, in the face of adversity, one individual transformed the lives of thousands of people.
And then there is our most recent acquaintance, Ed Campos, or as he is known in the Little Village community of Chicago, "King Corn." Ed arrived in the United States from Mexico many years ago and had a successful career as a labor lawyer. At a time when most people would sit comfortably in retirement, Ed has taken up the cause of Mexican street vendors who sell popular food items such as corn-on-a-stick, but face arrest and confiscation of their carts at a moment's notice. Their crime is peddling without a license. Unfortunately, under the law, it is impossible for them to get a license to do what they do. So Ed formed the Little Village Association of Street Vendors and launched a crusade to legalize and professionalize this traditional Mexican occupation. The vendors' fight for economic liberty is far from over and we are investigating to see how we can be of assistance. In the meantime, King Corn has again demonstrated how one individual with the right values and drive can enrich so many lives.
These individuals, though in their own ways unique, are not isolated examples. The Institute for Justice draws them together through our litigation and demonstrates how their struggles and the solutions they offer hold tremendous potential for countless others. People like them exist in every community in this nation. They are exactly the forces for good we must unshackle to solve the problems confronting America. You will find them resolutely pursuing the American Dream not only as entrepreneurs, but also as parents seeking a decent education for their kids, and as property owners seeking to preserve their stake in the future. They never stop to complain about their lot in life. Indeed, it would never occur to them to do so. They just do what they know is right regardless of the odds.
This nationwide reservoir of courage will inevitably burst the dam of government oppression.