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Occupy Takes On ALEC

Occupy’s latest target: corporations that write their agendas into state laws.

Occupy ALEC, photo by Mark Haller

A protest sign from the February 29 day of action.

Photo by Mark Haller

Remember Wisconsin’s union-busting Budget Repair Bill, the one that brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets of Madison—and was then partially reproduced in Ohio and other states? What about Arizona’s SB-1070, the “show-me-your-papers” bill that prompted national boycotts of the state, but was quickly copied by Alabama, Georgia, and Utah?

It’s no accident that these bills—as well as a wave of state-level legislation to target reproductive rights, to privatize schools, or to create barriers to vote—spread as widely or as quickly as they did. They were all helped along by the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, a group that brings state legislators from around the country together to draft and share model legislation. But it’s not just state legislators who are involved: some of the U.S.’s largest corporations, which pay up to $25,000 to join ALEC—also have seats at the table.

Unsurprisingly, bills that trace their origins to ALEC have major benefits for the corporations that help draft them, whether it’s the prison industry supporting draconian immigration laws that increase prison populations or other industries promoting their own deregulation. At the same time, they often have devastating effects on the states that pass them (Alabama's version of the "show-me-your-papers" law, for example, may end up costing the state billions of dollars and thousands of jobs).

ALEC is far from the only way that wealthy corporate interests corrupt our political system, but, thanks to a lot of recent investigative work, it’s become one of the most visible. It’s little surprise, therefore, that the Occupy movement has focused its attention on the group. Today, Occupy groups in 80 cities held rallies calling out ALEC’s role in helping corporations write their agendas into state laws.

In Portland, protesters marched through downtown, protesting at branches of Verizon, Wells Fargo, and other corporations that belong to ALEC. In Washington, D.C., the target was Monsanto; in New York, it was Pfizer; in Kansas City, AT&T; in Charlotte, Bank of America. California protesters focused on Walmart distribution centers, shutting down three, according to organizers.

The goal was not just to call out the bad behavior of specific companies, but to challenge a political and economic system that privileges corporate interests over the needs of people. “The decisions affecting our communities should be made democratically, not through a corrupt system that hides the influence of the very corporations that benefit at our expense. ALEC is representative of a failed system in which profit and greed are dominant over everything else,” said Kari Koch of Portland Action Lab, which helped plan the protest, in a statement.

The Occupy Portland video collective made this video of the day's action in Portland:


Brooke Jarvis wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Brooke is YES! Magazine's web editor.

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