Yesterday, Chicago activists served a warning to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which will celebrate its 40th birthday in Chicago later this week.
This council of corporate entities and rich one-percenters is having a devastating effect on the quality of life for the rest of the 99%, from its support of Stand Your Ground laws to helping to pioneer the attack on abortion rights, immigrants rights, health care and public education. The historic and sumptuous Palmer House hotel will host the anniversary gathering of plutocratic scum beginning Wednesday.
So Monday, activists gave notice to the hotel, its patrons, and ALEC itself that we will speak out against their attack on popular democracy. I travelled to Chicago to cover these protests, so I was glad to be present for the kick off. Monday afternoon I received a message — come to a nearby church and dress nicely (“like a politician”).
Forming into impromptu affinity groups, we split up and filtered to the hotel. Though it will likely be heavily guarded later this week, we easily strolled into the front doors and up to the second floor bar and lobby looking every bit like normal customers of the establishment.
The bar was full of people enjoying business meetings or early happy hours, and they took no notice of us until the chanting began. This was Chicago’s first “Moral Monday” action!
What is America going to be — corporate greed or democracy?
Banners dropped from every balcony on the third floor overlooking the lobby. Suited security guards quickly appear but could do nothing to stop the chanting. Activists however soon grew quiet — so that Rev. Marilyn Pagan Banks, Senior Pastor of Namaste United Church of Christ, could preach to us about ALEC’s evils. Security threatened to arrest her partway through her speech, but she kindly assured them “I’m almost done.” All around the room you could see people becoming educated. Throughout the protest, spectators would shuffle up to one of the many people chanting and ask for more information about the Council.
After the sermon, six activists began a sit-in on the stairs to the third floor, chanting and refusing to leave until police mobilized to escort them out in cuffs and zip ties. All told, protestors disrupted business as usual for an hour in the hotel, kicking off protests later this week and tapping this new Chicago Moral Monday Coalition into a nationwide push back against corporate power in politics across diverse issues. From North Carolina to Wisconsin, from Texas and now to Chicago, people are refusing the ALEC agenda and beginning to realize how all these issues are linked — not just by the Council’s shadowy back room deals but as part of a larger tapestry of attacks on free speech, human rights, and other basic fundamentals of 99% livelihood.
With every day, the newest wave of protest and direct action grows. While I can’t imagine protestors will inspire regret or self-doubt in the withered hearts of ALEC conference attendees, with each raised voice I believe we come just a tiny bit closer to claiming our freedom.
I’ll be covering the ALEC protests all this week.
Flag and sit-in photos by @PhillipCantor, used with permission. Banner drop photo by Kit O’Connell, released under a Creative Commons license. Video by Mikasi.