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Protesters Spotlight Corporate Influence in State Politics at ALEC Annual Meeting
As they sometimes say in the South, it's all about taking care of bid'ness.
But don't tell that to the group of 100 or so protesters, who on Friday afternoon marched on the Marriott hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA), where corporate lobbyists were voting with state lawmakers on "model" legislation at the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) 38th Annual Meeting.
The protest, organized in part by Louisiana State University's Student Labor Action Project, the Defend Ohio Campaign, and activists from across the country, began at the Hale Boggs Federal Building in downtown NOLA. That same day, members of the local community also gathered to celebrate the conviction of five police officers on charges stemming from the notorious Danziger Bridge case. A federal jury found the officers guilty of civil rights violations in the shootings of unarmed citizens.
Leon Clark, a 39-year-old engineer from New Orleans, came for the Denziger verdict, which he said disproved the rumor that citizens had ever shot at citizens in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He also had sharp words for politicians he believed had been corrupted by "corporate greed."
"Why aren't major politicians here today? Because they've been bought by the elitists. When corporations control the dollars, they also control the government."
At the Marriott, nearly 2,000 state legislators, the majority of whom are Republicans, met behind closed doors with corporate representatives to discuss the design and implementation of ALEC model legislation, and vote side by side on these bills. The event also featured speeches from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, two well known GOP figures whose luncheon presentations were sponsored, respectively, by PhRMA and Visa.
Nathan Anderson, a member of the Student Labor Action Project, or "SLAP," and one of the main organizers of Friday's protest, described ALEC's role in perpetuating corporate influence in state and local governments.
"We want a society that is actually democratic and doesn't put the interests of the top one percent above the interests of the working class majority," he said.
"People need to stop ignoring the reality of ALEC's organizational structure -- They're writing our laws and putting them in the pockets of our legislators."
Anderson was proud to have the protests reflect the increasing national awareness of ALEC. Activists from Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana joined him for Friday's demonstration.
Mark Haller, a General Electric inspector from Erie, Pennsylvania, who also flew to Cincinnati for the April protest at ALEC's spring summit, joined the movement in New Orleans to "kick ALEC out of the corporatocracy" that he says they have created in state governments across the country.
Despite strict instructions from protest organizers to remain peaceful and respect public property, a group of self-proclaimed anarchists purportedly from "NOLA Anarcha" spray-painted an anarchist symbol on the front of the Marriott, creating a deep rift between themselves and the rest of the protesters.
Adam Stant, one of the organizers of the protest against ALEC that took place in Cincinnati, expressed his extreme disappointment over the unauthorized disruption by the anarchists, whose actions he said distorted the working-class message of the protest.
"The Protest ALEC organization did not want people to do this. We made very clear the guidelines. I'm very disappointed that individuals have chosen to denigrate all the work we put into this because of their own selfishness," he said.
ALEC staffers and plain-clothes policemen immediately took pictures of the graffiti. Stant, visibly dismayed by the sudden turn of events, worried that it was this image that would be played endlessly on TV, not the images of the non-violent solidarity of the organized protestors. He also had warned members of NOLA Anarcha and their unknown affiliates prior to Friday not to do anything crazy at the event.
Prior to the march, activists, labor organizers, and long-time ALEC investigators spoke about their experiences with the largely secretive organization, and the effects of model legislation introduced in their state.
Bob Sloan, a blogger at DailyKos, spoke of ALEC legislation giving prisoners jobs that once belonged to the public sector.
"It all started with ALEC. Their Prison Industries Act, their Privatization of Facilities Act. A lot of people don't know that inmates are being used all over the country to turn profits for corporations like Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America that have belonged to ALEC."
Local musician David Rovicks performed, infusing his music with references to the extremes in the distribution of wealth in America and the efforts of activists and liberals to protect people's rights in the face of powerful organizations and institutions.
Protesters discussed the need for a national effort to dismantle the ALEC-forged "partnership" between elected officials and corporations. The lack of national media coverage also upset Sally Stevens, a local resident who has spent her entire life fighting poverty.
"Its definitely disappointing," she said. "Their weapon of choice is manufacturing poverty. The only power I have is to call them out and do my best to prove them wrong."