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WASHINGTON — Serving as co-chair of the 13th Annual Summit Awards Dinner — which was presented by the American Society of Association Executives - the Center for Association Leadership Wednesday evening at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. — National Association of Chain Drug Stores president and CEO Steve Anderson emphasized to more than 1,100 attendees that associations serve a vital function as the "fifth estate" in the 21st century American democracy.
The gathering of the trade association community was created to showcase these organizations’ effectiveness in advancing the nation. Anderson said the work of associations — particularly as advocates — reflects the core values and democratic design stitched together by the nation’s founders.
“When you consider the history of our nation, and the way in which our experiment in democracy has played out, members of NACDS and of all associations have every right to feel integral to the direction of the republic,” Anderson said. “Engaged association members make American democracy work.”
Anderson referred to the “fifth estate” concept that he first described upon accepting the 2004 Association Executive of the Year award presented by Association Trends. The executive, legislative and judicial branches of government have been called the three “estates” of government — referring back to a similar concept related to the power structure of pre-Revolution France. Later, British statesmen Edmund Burke cited the “watchdog” function of the press in a democracy, and the media became known as the “fourth estate.”
Anderson noted that the Founding Fathers felt so strongly about the role of associations in American democracy that they codified the “fourth estate” and the “fifth estate” together in the same place — the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
“The First Amendment did more than ensure freedom of the press. It also guaranteed Americans the freedom of speech, the right to assemble and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” said Anderson. “The First Amendment has been put to the test many, many times since it was enacted, and a look at legal history shows that our highest courts are maintaining the sanctity of the associations the forefathers sought to protect.”
Anderson also emphasized the role that ASAE plays in leading the association community. He noted that there are many different associations, but they all look to ASAE as a leader in continuing to advance the value that associations provide in the nation’s democracy.
Summarizing associations’ key role in democracy, Anderson observed the following belief: “I believe our associations make the American democracy a stronger system, and make the United States of America a better place in which to live. America is and will continue to be the land of opportunity. Associations provide that opportunity for all Americans. No matter where they live in this vast land, no matter their station in life, through the enthusiasm and commitment of our millions of members, associations give all Americans a seat at the table in our democracy.”