By Harriet Rowan and Sara Jerving
Ashley Gillece, a 25 year-old college student and single parent, was arrested Wednesday in front of one of Pfizer's laboratories in Groton, Connecticut. She and six other protesters had their arms linked in front of the main gate demanding that the huge pharmaceutical company open it's doors to listen to the demands of a crowd of protesters who had been outside of the building for hours.
The protesters were there to ask Pfizer to cut its ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC brings together major U.S. corporations and right-wing legislators to craft and vote on "model legislation" behind closed doors. These cookie-cutter bills are then introduced in statehouses across the land with no disclosure of their origins in ALEC. ALEC's voter ID bill, anti-union bills, anti-immigrant bills and specialized corporate tax breaks have garnered a great deal of scrutiny in 2011, thanks in part to CMD's ALEC Exposed project which unveiled over 800 model bills.
Pfizer is a long-time ALEC member and one of the drug manufacturers that stands to benefit from ALEC bills that limit consumers' rights to seek justice when they are injured or killed by faulty medical products. "A lot of people don't realize that Pfizer is spending a lot of money to be a corporate member of this DC-based organization that is pushing legislation that does not benefit citizens," Gillece said. One of the signs dubbed ALEC: "Amoral Legislators Enriching Corporations."
This protest was part of over 90 actions across the country on F29 (February 29th) planned largely by Occupy Wall Street groups. The call to "Shut Down the Corporations" was an effort to shine a light on the agenda of ALEC corporate members and related firms. UC-Davis protesters shut down a U.S. Bank. Occupy groups in Southern California shut down three Walmart distribution centers. Arizona activists targeted G4S, a private prison corporation. Occupiers in New Hampshire targeted the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. A "Corporate Debutante Ball" was held in Salt Lake City, and rats were lured out of the Wisconsin capitol by the Pied Piper. Portland's march -- which included nearly 200 yellow ALEC umbrellas -- visited offices of ExxonMobil, McDonalds, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Verizon, FedEx, Taco Bell, and Walgreens.
While the corporations varied, the message was clear. ALEC is not what democracy is supposed to look like.
"A-L-E-C Doesn't Spell Democracy"
About 800 protesters in Portland, which is where the call to action originated, marched through the city chanting "A-L-E-C doesn't spell democracy." The protesters rallied in front of ALEC corporate members such as ConocoPhilips, Verizon, and McDonalds, temporarily shutting down the firms. The group held a mock press conference in front of Blue Cross Blue Shield where a faux corporate PR representative announced that the company had decided to withdraw from ALEC. They also stopped at Wells Fargo to protest its investments in ALEC corporate member Corrections Corporation of America -- which pushes legislation through ALEC to privatize prisons. Three activists locked and chained themselves inside the office of ALEC state chairman Paul Cosgrove of Lindsay, Hart, Neil & Weigler, LLP, and were arrested. Corporate state chairmen raise the cash to send legislators to ALEC meetings, often at swank resorts.
Standing Up for Walmart Workers
Occupy the Hood and friends descended on three Walmart distribution centers in Southern California to find a heavy police presence. The protesters had gathered to shine light on the mistreatment of non-union warehouse workers by Walmart and its subcontractors. According to the Occupy Wall Street liveblog, police used unnecessary force in attempting to corrall the protesters.
New Yorkers Make "Pop-Up" Occupations
Hundreds of protesters in New York City set up "pop-up" occupations throughout the city. These included a teach-in with Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi, food drives, street performances, a march to Pfizer and brigades of clowns. About ten people were arrested. Pfizer said in a statement that it was a member of ALEC, but its aim was strictly to "advance the health of all Americans."
Wisconsinites Go on Rat Hunt
In Madison, activists called on people to "join the Pied Piper... as we flush the rats out from their corporate suites and lobbyist dens around the Capitol Square." They encouraged people to come in their favorite medieval rat-catching gear, and paraded from firm to firm with a human-sized rat-trap with money bags for bait. They warned those they passed on the street "rats are invading Madison, watch out!" Some of their targets included State Farm Insurance and Hamilton Consulting Group, a government relations firm whose clients include Koch Industries and Walmart, two prominent corporate members of ALEC. In the evening a small group picketed outside the Oscar Mayer factory, which is owned by Kraft foods, another corporate member of ALEC.
Monsanto Entrance Blocked
In Washington, DC activists targeted the "mother of agricultural biotechnology" and ALEC member Monsanto. A few dozen activists were able to shut down the Monsanto headquarters in downtown Washington, DC for over an hour by blocking the entrance. The action resulted in twelve arrests. In the afternoon, activists protested at the site of a proposed Walmart. John Zangas helped block the entrance of Monsanto's headquarters. He sees the F29 protests as heralding a new stage of the occupy movement after severe police crackdowns on many of the occupy camps across the country. "Destroying tents has done nothing to stop the movement. It's caused us to mature. Caused us to become more dedicated, and more focused on what we do," he told CMD.
Arizonans Block Deportations
Arizona activists targeted G4S, a private prison corporation. They locked themselves together with PVC pipes, blocking the entrance of the gated and barbed-wired property. G4S was forced to cut down their own fence in order for their buses to leave the property, buses presumably containing people awaiting deportation.
Texans Speak Out at Capitol Building
In Austin, Texas, a group gathered on the steps of the capitol building for a teach-in on the impacts ALEC has had on the state. Phillip Martin, research and policy director for Texas Research Institute & Progress Texas, spoke about his organization's new report which details the ALEC bills moving in Texas. According to the report, Texas lawmakers have accepted $16.2 million from ALEC corporate member over the past decade. "I love my state and I don't want corporations to have more say in it than myself or my family," Martin later told CMD.
"This is Just the Beginning"
Occupy Portland organizer David Osborn told CMD, "these actions brought to light for many people in America the dark role that ALEC plays in influencing state legislation. This day of action is just the beginning of efforts to expose ALEC and corporate power more generally."