When the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) gathers in New Orleans for its annual meeting at the end of the summer, it will have some company.
A peaceful demonstration has been planned to coincide with ALEC's 38th annual meeting, which is scheduled to be held August 3-6 at the Marriott New Orleans. According to the "Protest ALEC" website (which is not affiliated with CMD), advocates will hold a number of workshops devoted to examining the ALEC agenda, corporations, and politicians. The session will culminate with a program followed by a "March to the Marriott" from the Hale Boggs Federal Building. Scheduled speakers and performances include Jordan Flaherty, journalist and community organizer; Bob Sloan, prison industry investigative consultant and author; David Rovics, musician; and representatives from the AFL-CIO and Interfaith Worker Justice.
The demonstration is being organized by the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), a student organization at Louisiana State University that, according to its website, "works to promote the common interests of students and workers." The group drew its inspiration from an April 29 protest that several of its members attended, held in Cincinnati at the site of ALEC's Spring Task Force meeting. SLAP indicates it is working with advocates from across the country for its New Orleans effort to help educate the public about ALEC.
Fighting Corporate Collusion
"We believe that the American Legislative Exchange Council is a very clear example of corporate collusion with political systems today," said Nathan Anderson, SLAP co-founder. "It displays very clearly how corporate interests are interacting with our government and setting up the framework for what is being considered politically viable as solutions for the problems we face today."
Anderson said one of the most significant problems associated with ALEC is that there is no organized opposition to it within either the Democratic or Republican party. "We are the opposition — those of us on the ground, working people," Anderson said. He thinks that what is needed is "an independent political movement of working people" that will lead to the implementation of policies to protect the rights and future of working Americans.
Bruce Fealk, a progressive activist from Michigan who is a spokesperson for the protest, also objects. "Having corporations be in direct contact with our legislators, not just through lobbying … but to be able to write legislation, is not the way the American democratic system was meant to work," Fealk said.
Fealk plans to travel from Michigan to New Orleans for the August protest. He also participated in the Cincinnati protest. He believes protests such as these serve to send a message to ALEC that "meddling in our politics and letting corporations have such direct access to our politicians isn't acceptable."
Individuals have responded to ALEC's agenda with a variety of efforts, including asking the corporations involved to step back from their support for the organization, asking politicians more about their role in ALEC, calling for politicians involved in ALEC to be "recalled" from office, making requests from state officials for more disclosure of ALEC "scholarships" or reimbursements of elected officials' expenses, and other efforts to hold those involved more accountable.
It is important for people to be aware of how ALEC is affecting their state, Anderson said. With days to go before ALEC's annual convention, protest organizers are working to increase public awareness. "We're looking, first of all, for people to be here," Anderson said. "We need people out on the streets to show that we know what ALEC is doing, that we're not OK with it. ALEC believes they pose the only real solutions to these problems; we know that's not true." The groups organizing the protest are currently working to line up housing arrangements for advocates.
"The bigger the protest, the more attention we get, and the more people are going to become informed about ALEC and their activities and why they're bad for our democracy," Fealk said.
The Protest ALEC website has a list of guidelines for participants to ensure the protest is "peaceful, focused and well-understood." The demonstration organizers will have crowd marshals available to assist participants and encourage peaceful actions.