By Kathryn Watson | Virginia Statehouse News
ALEXANDRIA — Progressive activists had been stalking the American Legislative Exchange Council
for months, hoping to derail the free-market organization that specializes in crafting model legislation for state lawmakers.
In February, they found their chance when George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, in Sanford, Fla.
ALEC’s marginal interest in gun rights snagged the group in a months-long political fight, ending when ALEC renounced its interest in gun rights and social issues in order to focus on its core mission of deregulation.
ALEC's enemies say that was just Phase One.
Gathered Thursday — appropriately, in the President’s Conference Room of the AFL-CIO’s Washington, D.C., headquarters — activists outlined the next stage of the battle to crush ALEC.
Dubbed “Accountability 2.0: Innovations Against ALEC,” the lunchtime event was hosted by the New Organizing Institute
, a coalition of organizers who say they're promoting democracy and social justice.
Watchdog.org was among the attendees.
Panelists from such organizations as Common Cause
, a nonpartisan nonprofit that promotes open and accountable government,
and Color of Change
, an organization that empowers black Americans, outlined the evolving war on ALEC, describing how the dozens of business attire-clad activists and potential activists could join the campaign.
At the head of the colossal table were panelists including Lisa Graves
, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy
, a nonprofit dedicated to investigative reporting, and publisher of its PR Watch publication; Gabriel Rey-Goodlatte
, director of strategy for Color of Change
; and Doug Clopp
, deputy program director for Common Cause
The meeting’s leaders said they continue to lobby corporations and legislators to sever ties with ALEC and what they called its “right-wing” policies — including school vouchers and voter ID requirements.
Panelists said they had spread public awareness of the ALEC spring task force meeting scheduled for the May 12 weekend in Charlotte, N.C.
They said they also will:
Continue to pressure state attorneys general and other local officials in all 50 states to generate reports pinpointing ALEC’s involvement in state legislatures;
Continue to pressure legislators who are ALEC members to cut ties with the organization;
Use documents obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests and submitted to the IRS to find evidence of tax-code violations;
Draw attention to “Stand Your Ground” laws as the Zimmerman trial progresses.
Panelists said activists next will target:
Johnson & Johnson
Organizers said activists had achieved victories beyond ALEC’s retreat from social issues and gun rights, claiming that:
Fourteen corporations have ended their sponsorship arrangements with ALEC;
Upward of 35 state legislators have terminated ALEC membership;
Supporters have made “thousands” of calls to corporations and legislators, urging them to cut ties with ALEC.
As the panel continued through the lunch hour, most attendees showed mild — but perhaps not eager — interest on their faces, asking more questions than time allowed. Why, one asked, haven’t organizers addressed in greater depth issues central to the black community? What type of organizing model comparable to ALEC stands for the left?
There was no single call to action for attendees, other than encouragement to join the fight. Organizers listed specific and not-so-specific ideas for contribution — tweeting about the ALEC spring task force meeting; highlighting people who are “screwed” by ALEC-backed policies; making sure reporters are asking the “right questions;" and pitching in with research skills and money.
Afterward, a few attendees stayed to speak with organizers, while others headed straight for the door.
The message, however, was clear: You ain’t seen nothing yet.