By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
CHICAGO — The same old protesters showed up, but this time they were protesting a new boogeyman. And many among the Illinois demonstrators weren’t sure what it was.
A large crowd of union members and the professionally outraged (kids and older people bussed to the rally) marched to oppose The American Legislative Exchange Council, a group meeting this week at the Hilton Palmer House hotel.
ALEC brings local officials and business leaders together to discuss smaller government and freer markets. But to hear protesters on the street tell it, ALEC is responsible for not only conservative legislation, but all manner of evils.
“I am here trying to get justice for Trayvon,” said a protester speaking of Trayvon Martin, the Florida youth killed in an altercation with George Zimmerman. The protester, who would not give his name, went on to acknowledge, “I don’t really know much about ALEC, but I have a designated speaker you can talk to.”
Other marchers also had no idea why they were there, but they marched anyhow.
Sandy Deines, a retired public school teacher from suburban Park Ridge Illinois, said she’s known about ALEC for a while. She said she is uncomfortable with ALEC’s perceived influence over state legislatures.
“I know The Federalist Papers,” Deines said, harking back to her time as a government teacher. “But behind-the-scenes money organizations that don’t act for the common good is not what James Madison had in mind.”
Deines, who as a retired teacher is in line for a public pension, did note that the unions that organized the anti-ALEC march often do the same things.
Illinois’ teachers unions, the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and the Chicago Teachers Unions, all negotiated terms of 2011’s education reform package at the statehouse — literally behind closed doors.
And the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which is Illinois’ largest public employee union, is negotiating with the legislature on pension reform.
Though ALEC maintains a strict “no lobbying” policy, Deines insisted that conservative groups like ALEC spend a lot of money to influence laws and lawmakers.
By contrast, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2012, organized labor spent nearly $4 billion on influencing legislation and elections between 2007 and 2012.
ALEC issued a statement after Thursday’s protest, saying in part, “While we understand others may disagree with our work, we welcome all citizen groups, businesses and public sector members from any political background to join and contribute to the lively discussions we have at our meetings.”
You can reach Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.