“This is California. We fight for workers’ rights. We fight for affordable healthcare”
-Labor Leader Mickey Kasparian
By Doug Porter
The American Legislative Exchange Council’s 2015 annual meeting in San Diego drew more protesters than it did delegates. And (for few moments, anyway) the issue of what ALEC actually does to took precedence over the appearances of GOP aspirants to the presidency.
A united front of labor and activist organizations staged a rally in the Embarcadero Park North, located behind the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel, where legislators and lobbyists were gathered.
Buses came from Los Angeles. Things were well organized. There was plenty of food and water to be had. There was also plenty of intense sunshine, symbolizing in a way, the purpose of the protest: to make the public aware that ALEC is not the virtuous organization it claims to be.
Today we’ll take a look around at some coverage of the protest. And there are plenty of pictures….
Faulconer’s Welcoming Remarks Decried
From the Times of San Diego:
Francine Busby, chairwoman of the San Diego County Democratic Party, called ALEC a group of extremists and, at a news conference before the peaceful demonstration, demanded that Mayor Kevin Faulconer not make a speech at the conference.
Common Cause President Miles Rapoport characterized the conference as “a festival of closed-door deal-making by politicians, corporate executives and lobbyists. They gather to do the public’s business in private, fashioning legislation that undercuts the public interest in things like clean air and water, quality public schools, economic fairness and participatory democracy.”
Faulconer was going to make welcoming remarks of about five minutes each to state legislators, and a group of city and county officials from around the country, mayoral spokesman Matt Awbrey said.
Mickey Kasparian, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, said he didn’t want ALEC in San Diego.
“This is a no ALEC zone. I mean, we don’t want ALEC in our city or, quite frankly, in our state,” Kasparian said. “This is California. We fight for workers’ rights. We fight for affordable healthcare.”
E-Harmony for Legislators
Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, Ethiopian-American labor activist Tefere Gebre, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO and Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins were among the featured speakers.
From the San Diego Union-Tribune:
“ALEC works to pass laws that make the lives of Americans harder,” Doug Moore, executive director of AFSCME’s United Domestic Workers and also an AFSCME International vice president, said in a statement. “We do things differently here in California; we are raising the minimum wage, protecting our families, educating our children and respecting the rights of all Californians.”
And Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said ALEC creates cozy relationships between legislators and corporations.
“ALEC has been described as E-Harmony bringing together corporate interests and legislators,” she said.
From the Los Angeles Times:
“Shame on you, shame on you, for pandering to the interests of the rich and greedy,” chanted the group, led by San Diego Rabbi Laurie Coskey, executive director of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice….
…Labor movement icon Dolores Huerta said that ALEC supports candidates who are tough on immigrants in the U.S. illegally and who question whether climate change is manmade.
“They are trying to get people elected who are denying that we are in a precarious condition,” Huerta said of the climate change issue.
A Powerful Statement
Following an hour’s worth of speeches, the crowd was restless and ready to march. The various union members attending were wearing brightly colored tee shirts indicating their affiliation; green for the United Domestic Workers, purple for SEIU, orange for laborers, etc. About a third of the crowd were activists from environmental and social justice groups.
The march from the park to the hotel was loud and proud. Different groups marched behind banners, chanting slogans and even singing songs. It made for powerful imagery, one not observed by TV News crews camped the park in front of the hotel.
My nod for most captivating video at the hotel goes to NBC7 San Diego, featuring reporter Megan Tevrizian.
The Numbers Game
You can’t have a demonstration without having a debate about how many people attended. (It’s in the activists handbook, page 455, right after ‘how to write a press release’.)
Yesterday’s anti-ALEC action was spread out along the park as people jockeyed for shade and some people went to hear speakers from a small stage in front of the hotel. I know there were some reporters who never ventured back to the park. So, needless to say, the “count” varied widely.
One enthusiastic partisan told me his best guess was the crowd topped out at 7500. Some TV outlets went with “several hundred.” (Several hundred were bused in from the LA area alone) The Times of San Diego and media outlets relying on City News Service went with “more than a thousand.” NBC7 said two thousand.
The thing that matters is the impact of the action. And in that regard, I’d say it was successful. All the coverage included some mention–at least in passing–of what ALEC is about.
Outside of San Diego
There were also stories of note about ALEC in outlets from around the country.
The Teamsters online publication pointed out why they thought it was important to come to San Diego:
Hundreds of Teamsters from across California traveled to San Diego today to participate in a massive protest outside a national meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The Teamsters had one clear message they wanted to send – it was time for UPS to end its affiliation with ALEC.
The Teamsters Union represents more than 250,000 members at UPS and UPS Freight. UPS remains an active member of ALEC despite the organization’s anti-worker and anti-union agenda that seeks to undermine and weaken worker protections. As of April 2015, more than 120 major corporations and organizations have publicly announced they no longer work with ALEC due to the organization’s stance on many controversial issues.
Local outlets from around the country made note of their legislators travelling to San Diego.
From North Carolina’s alt Indyweek:
The state does not have a budget yet, but at least nine North Carolina lawmakers are headed to gorgeous San Diego (today’s forecast: 77 and sunny) for the annual convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council. This is the Koch-funded, über-powerful conservative group behind much of the nation’s (and North Carolina’s) regressive bills.
House Speaker Tim Moore and Sen. Bob Rucho, reports WRAL, are headed to the convention. Once in the comfort of their hotel—the Manchester Grand Hyatt—without any pesky constituents around,corporate lobbyists and lawmakers hang out, conspire and then vote on boilerplate “model” legislation. You’ve seen ALEC’s handiwork in the ag-gag bill, anti-Obama care legislation, the expansion of charter schools, rollback of renewable energy policy, limiting local government control over fracking—in fact, limiting local government control, period.
Basically, if it’s a horrific bill, pull back the curtain and you’ll find ALEC.
ALEC’s Education Trap
Tom Sullivan, writing at Digby’s Blog took note of the education policy “discussion” taking place at this week’s ALEC meeting:
The group has long had public education as a target, with a goal of transferring public education funding to private schools (part of its overall privatization agenda) and abolishing pubic education altogether. Milton Friedman addressed this at an ALEC meeting in 2006 [emphasis mine]:
How do we get from where we are to where we want to be—to a system in which parents control the education of their children? Of course, the ideal way would be to abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it. Then parents would have enough money to pay for private schools, but you’re not gonna to do that. So you have to ask, what are politically feasible ways of solving the problem. And the answer is, in my opinion, choice, that you have to change the way government money is directed. Instead of its being used to finance schools and buildings, you should decide how much money you are willing to spend on each child and give that money, provide that money in the form of a voucher to the parents of the children so that the parents can choose a school that they regard as best for their child.
And of course deceiving the public about that goal is the way you go about it. You sell the hollowing out of the American tradition of public education with talk about choice, racial inequity, innovation, etc. And school reformers did for a long time. At this ALEC conference, however, it seems finally the mask has come off:
With vouchers gaining momentum nationwide, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is meeting in San Diego today, has decided to drop the pretense that vouchers have anything to do with social and racial equity, and is now pushing vouchers for the middle class—a project which, if pursued enough in numbers, will progressively erode the public school system and increase the segregation of students based on race and economic standing.
Climate Change: “…they’re just literally lying.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists had something to say about ALEC’s notorious positions on climate change. Bad publicity led ALEC to threaten lawsuits against Common Cause and other organizations earlier this year for claims made about denialism. That threat turned out to be all talk: truth is the best defense.
From the UCSUSA Blog:
A new report, “The Climate Deception Dossiers” by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), details how ALEC and some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies it counts among its members have actively misled the public and policymakers about the climate risks of fuel extraction despite repeated scientific warnings. UCS researchers chronicled the decades of deceit by reviewing internal documents related to ALEC and companies including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Shell that came to light through leaks, lawsuits, and Freedom of Information Act requests. The documents show that the corporate leaders long knew the realities of climate science—that their fossil fuel products were harmful to people and the planet—but still supported disinformation campaigns that actively denied or obfuscated the facts.
One of ALEC’s major priorities has been to attack climate science and dismantle state policies to reduce carbon pollution and accelerate the transition to clean energy, including the very policies that make California a climate leader. ALEC’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force convenes frequent backroom meetings in which state legislators are briefed with climate disinformation and lobbied by utility and fossil fuel interests, according to the UCS report.
These sort of deceptive tactics have led to public pressure on some major California tech companies to leave ALEC, which Google, Facebook, and Yahoo have done over the past year. As Google Chairman Eric Schmidt told NPR last September, “Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people…they’re just literally lying.”
All photos by Doug Porter, unless otherwise noted.
On This Day: 1892 – Anarchist Alexander Berkman shots and stabbed but failed to kill steel magnate Henry Clay Frick in an effort to avenge the Homestead massacre 18 days earlier, in which nine strikers were killed. Berkman also tried to use what was, in effect, a suicide bomb, but it didn’t detonate. 1904 – The ice cream cone was invented by Charles E. Menches during the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis 1962 – The “Telstar” communications satellite sent the first live TV broadcast to Europe.
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