More than a thousand protesters took to the streets of San Diego on July 22 to demonstrate against a conservative nonprofit’s annual meeting of politicians and corporate lobbyists.
“Today we refused to allow the actions of a group of anti-worker billionaires that push laws to make the rich richer on the backs of hardworking families go unnoticed,” Jesse Torres, a home care provider with the United Domestic Workers of America said in a statement by the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees.
Demonstrators were protesting against the yearly meeting by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a conservative nonprofit organization known for drafting and sharing legislation amongst politicians, thus facilitating the collusion between corporations and government.
On its website, ALEC touts the values of “limited government, free markets and federalism” and describes itself as a “think-tank for state-based public policy issues and potential solutions” that “develops model policies and resolutions on economic issues.” In essence, these meetings serve as a space for right wing politicians to network with corporate lobbyists and receive pre-written legislation from them that serves right wing political and economic interests such as anti-union “right to work” laws, anti-renewable energy laws, and laws allowing pollution by big companies.
“All of us here today are committed to building the middle class and lifting families out of poverty,” Torres said in a statement, “and ALEC is here to do the exact opposite!”
This year’s 42nd annual conference is being held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Protesters, organizing under the hashtag #NoALECZone, began gathering on Wednesday at Embarcadero Marina Park at around 3 p.m. They then made their way north on Kettner Boulevard to the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel and chanted outside of the building.
“This is a no ALEC zone. I mean, we don’t want ALEC in our city or, quite frankly, in our state,” Mickey Kasparian, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, told KPBS. “This is California. We fight for workers’ rights. We fight for affordable healthcare.”
Conservative politicians spoke at the meeting while local, liberal politicians spoke at the protest outside of the three-day gathering. Democrat Toni Atkins, San Diego’s Speaker of the Assembly, referred to ALEC as “E-Harmony bringing together corporate interests and legislators.” Francine Busby, the chairwoman San Diego’s Democratic Party, called on Mayor Kevin Faulconer to cancel his plans to address the ALEC event. The mayor went on to speak at the meeting, citing the fact that, as mayor, he makes opening remarks for many conferences held in San Diego. Kasparian referred the mayor’s decision as “definitely a disappointment.” The ALEC conference’s headline speakers were presidential candidates Gov. Scott Walker and former Gov. Mike Huckabee who spoke to the conference on July 23. Both Walker and Huckabee pandered to the pro-business, socially conservative crowd touting their past support for anti-union “right to work” policies.
Sen. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, was scheduled to speak on Friday but, amongst all the negative press, canceled. He’s not the first person to make such a move due to the negative press associated with ALEC. Organizations and companies like General Motors, the Gates Foundation, Google and Facebook have all withdrew funding from ALEC due to bad press associated with it.
The protesters hope that their demonstrations continue to publicly expose and shame politicians and companies who support ALEC and the anti-democratic, behind-closed-doors politics that the organization makes possible.
“They gather to do the public’s business in private, fashioning legislation that undercuts the public interest in things like clean air and water, quality public schools, economic fairness and participatory democracy,” Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause, one of the groups that organized the protests, said in a statement. “And they do it all on the taxpayers’ dime. Every penny spent by corporations to cover the cost of legislator travel to the meeting, accommodations at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, and entertainment will be tax-deductible because ALEC is classified as a ‘charity’ for tax purposes. That’s wrong and it has to stop.”
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A prolific writer and speaker, Rev. Deats strengthened grassroots movements by leading nonviolent action trainings in conflict zones around the world.