Hundreds of protesters pushed back against 40 years of “greedy, right-wing billionaires imposing their will on the masses” Thursday during the second day of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) annual conference in Chicago. Progress Illinois was there for the action.
Hundreds of protesters pushed back against 40 years of “greedy, right-wing billionaires imposing their will on the masses” Thursday during the second day of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) annual conference in Chicago.
“The policies of these billionaires that come together and make up ALEC are destroying America,” said Fr. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church, who joined a massive march around the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago to rally against the conservative organization and the corporate-friendly legislation it promotes.
At least five individuals were arrested at the end of the energetic and passionate rally that saw more than 500 marchers wrap around the block at 17 E. Monroe St. and chant, “Go home ALEC!” Thursday's protest shut down Monroe Street, and was just one in a string of demonstrations held outside of the hotel this week while inside the powerful right-wing group hosts its 40th national conference, which runs from August 7 to August 9.
The massive protest was organized by local faith, environmental, labor and community organizations and was intended to draw attention to the conservative organization’s influence on legislation.
“We’re stronger on the street than they are up in the hotel,” said Pfleger. “This is bigger than partisanship, it’s about justice, and right and wrong.”
Touting a membership of more than 2,000 state legislators and dozens of corporations such as BP and Koch Industries, ALEC brings together business executives and elected officials for the purpose of designing “model legislation.”
ALEC’s legislation, protesters say, too often protects corporate interests and disenfranchises the middle class.
“There’s a lot of money behind this organization,” said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), an attendee of Thursday’s protest. “They’re using money to influence legislation that destroys unions, privatizes education, pushes down the middle class, and benefits the 1 percent.”
Of the 1,000 pieces of “model legislation” available for view on the group’s website, several bills and resolutions focus on repealing states’ living wage requirements; stripping labor unions of their power and slashing workers’ benefits; privatizing public assets; and deregulating provisions enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, pointed at the hotel and led the crowd in a chant of “Shame on you!”
Ramirez said it’s time for protesters to “stop agonizing and start organizing” as a means to push back against the influential organization:
“This is the 1 percent trying to get richer and, in doing so, widening the gap with the 99 percent,” said Fioretti, who added that he didn’t know of any Illinois legislators who are members of ALEC, but promised “they won’t be re-elected” if the group’s unpublished membership list is revealed.
According to the Center for Media & Democracy, a progressive watchdog group that has repeatedly studied and criticized the conservative group, 466 ALEC-backed bills have been introduced in all 50 states during the 2013 legislative session. Of these bills, the non-profit reports, 84 were enacted into law. Among those, strict voter ID laws, that restrict individuals without state-issued photo identification from voting, were signed in five states. For more on ALEC's legislative influence over the last year, and what laws have been enacted in Illinois, read Progress Illinois' story on a new report detailing the group's impact on statehouses across the nation.
“I hope they get out of our city,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in an interview with Progress Illinois. “Wherever they go, they will find people resisting their anti-labor, anti-public laws. We need more public education, not more private schools. We need higher wages, not lower wages. We need less guns, not more guns.”
ALEC’s sponsorship of the controversial Stand Your Ground law, which played an integral role in the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 murder case of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin, has drawn criticism for the organization over the last year. Several corporations, including Wendy’s, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, have recently severed ties with the right-wing policy group as a result.
“The architect of corporate greed, destroying working families in the middle class in our country, is ALEC,” said Susan Hurley, executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice. “They are the people working in every state to bankrupt pensions, to bust unions, to pass Stand Your Ground laws.”
Hurley addressed the crowd of hundreds at Thursday’s protest, drawing cheers from the group when she said hoped their cries could be heard by the legislators and executives inside of the hotel.
“They think we don’t know who they are or what they’re doing, but we do, don’t we? Are we going to stop them,” she asked the crowd who cried "Yes!", cheering in response.
"That's right, we are," Hurley continued.