-- by Ashlee Rezin, published from Progress Illinois
Six people were arrested Monday when protesters descended upon the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago to push back against the impending visit of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose conservative agenda, activists say, promotes policies and legislation that protects corporate interests and disenfranchises workers and voters.
ALEC is slated to hold its 40th national conference at the hotel August 7 to August 9. In anticipation of the meeting, six protesters staged a sit-in on the hotel's lobby steps Monday, while roughly two dozen demonstrators marched outside demanding the hotel cancel its plans to host the powerful right-wing group's annual meeting.
"ALEC is one of the great nexi where money and politics meet in order to corrupt our democracy," said Greg Goodman, protest organizer. "From attacking workers, to attacking the environment, criminalizing immigration, constructing for-profit prisons, attacking health care, promoting Stand Your Ground laws, ALEC promotes the interests of big business and the one percent."
Chanting "No to ALEC," Goodman, along with fellow members of the Chicago Moral Monday Coalition, such as Natalie Wahlberg, were arrested for linking arms on the steps of the hotel's lobby, at 17 E. Monroe St. According to the Chicago Police Department, six protesters were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing for causing a disturbance and refusing to leave the lobby.
"It's important to take a stand," Goodman said, moments before he was taken into custody.
The Chicago Moral Monday Coalition is a group of activists and clergy who "stand in solidarity" with thousands of protesters and roughly 600 individuals that have been arrested in North Carolina for rallying against the conservative laws their GOP-controlled state legislature have put in place.
ALEC, which is made up of business leaders, citizen organizations and more than 2,000 state legislators, provides a forum for corporations and lawmakers to compose what the organization refers to as "model bills."
The model bills get pushed through state legislatures by ALEC members and, according to Bloomberg, approximately 200 pieces of ALEC-backed legislation are enacted into law every year.
Critics of the organization, which doesn't publish a list of its members, say the bills almost always prioritize corporations over taxpayers. Of the 1,000 model bills available for view on ALEC's website, several focus on deregulating provisions enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and implementing "Right To Work" laws and flat tax systems across the country.
"It's important for us to draw attention to ALEC, and let the people of Chicago and the rest of the nation know what they do and why we're opposed to them," Goodman added.
ALEC has also come under fire for their promotion of the controversial "Stand Your Ground" gun law.
"ALEC brings together corporate lobbyists and state legislators in order to vote behind closed doors on legislation that promotes big business and the one percent," said Rev. Marilyn Pagán-Banks, executive director of A Just Harvest, and member of the Chicago Moral Monday Coalition.
Pagán-Banks addressed the crowd outside of the Palmer House on Monday, and called on the hotel to cancel its plans to host ALEC's meeting later this week.
"It's immoral to celebrate the birthday of an entity designed and built to destroy the common good. It's immoral to support an organization that puts profits over people," she said. "It's immoral to go on with business as usual as our democracy is dismantled."
Westin Campo, member of the Chicago Youth Climate Coalition, targeted ALEC for the organization's environmental policies, including its promotion of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
"I'm here to protest ALEC's ongoing efforts to poison our water, air and our planet," he said. "They are fierce opponents of the EPA."
Campo accused ALEC of being a key player in the success of Illinois' recently-passed regulatory bill that is expected to lead to increased fracking in the state.
"Studies have shown that more than 800,000 people's water in Illinois could be contaminated if fracking starts," he said.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the controversial regulatory fracking bill in June, touting the bill as a job-creator for the state. But the oil and gas drilling technology, according to environmental activists, is unsafe and damages the environment.
"On this Moral Monday, we say no to ALEC," said Pagán-Banks. "ALEC is not welcome in this city."