Today, occupiers in 80 American cities will hold the movement’s largest coordinated demonstration since fall: a huge protest against the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Never heard of it? That’s the point.
“It’s an extremely secretive organization,” says David Osborn, an organizer with Occupy Portland’s Portland Action Lab, which is spearheading the national protest (known on Twitter as #F29 and #ShutDownTheCorporations). “Our goal is to expose the destructive role that it plays in our society.”
Founded in 1973 as a “nonpartisan membership organization for conservative state lawmakers,” ALEC brings together elected officials and corporations like Walmart, Bank of America, and McDonald’s to draft model legislation that often promotes a right-wing agenda. It claims to be behind 10 percent of bills introduced in state legislatures.
Though Mother Jones broke the story on ALEC in 2002, the group began gaining more attention from progressive activists in July, when the Center for Media and Democracy obtained and published a trove of more than 800 “model bills” crafted and voted upon by ALEC’s members. Since then, the Center’s website, ALEC Exposed, has drawn attention to ALEC’s conservative agenda and funders, which include ExxonMobil, the Olin and Scaife families, and foundations tied to Koch Industries. “ALEC is like a speed-dating service for lonely legislators and corporate executives,” says Mark Pocan, a Democratic state assemblyman in Wisconsin, where ALEC played a role in last year’s efforts to cripple public-sector unions. “The corporations write the bills and the legislators sign their names to the bills. In the end, we’re stuck with bad laws and nobody knows where they came from.”
Prominent bills drafted by ALEC include Arizona’s SB 1070 (the nation’s strictest anti-immigration legislation) and proposals introduced in 38 states to undermine Obama’s health care law by making it illegal to penalize residents for failing to obtain health insurance. A recent study of ALEC’s impact in Virginia found that it was responsible for 50 bills introduced there, including legislation to require people to show identification before voting, encourage schools to contract with private education companies, and legalize the use of deadly force in defending one’s home.
Democratic lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin are fighting back. Their proposed ALEC Accountability Act would require the group to register as a lobbying organization, thereby forcing it to disclose its financiers. Pocan, the Wisconsin assemblyman, went so far as to crash an ALEC convention in New Orleans and post his findings on YouTube.
In the works since January, today’s protests are just as much about the broader issue of corporate control of politics. “We are rejecting a society that does not allow us to control our future,” says a call to action on Shut Down the Corporations, the umbrella website for the protests. Here is a rundown of some of the planned actions:
- Southern California: Actions targeting one of the largest Walmart distribution centers in support of nonunion warehouse workers
- New York City: A teach-in by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi (coiner of the “vampire squid” meme) and actions targeting Bank of America, Pfizer, and the Koch brothers
- Salt Lake City: A mock debutante ball in the state capitol that will draw attention to a Utah replica of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law
- Portland, Oregon: Actions targeting ALEC corporations throughout the city
- Phoenix: A rally at the state capitol focusing on union-busting and anti-immigrant bills followed by a “museum-style” tour of ALEC corporations