Over six months in the planning by OccupySLC ALEC Welcoming Committee, our efforts finally came to fruition on July the 23rd. The American Legislative Exchance Council was given a truly unforgettable welcome, one that should stick in their memory for a while, especially several of our state legislators who ended up being questioned by the media. And boy howdy, it was fuuuunn!!
A bit of background on how this evolved is probably in order. It all began when several OccupySLC members ran across the website ALECexposed and began learning about ALEC and what it was about. They learned not only that Utah and its mostly rightwing state legislators fit snugly into the mold of ALEC’s agenda, but also that ALEC was holding its 39th annual conference was scheduled to be in Salt Lake in July, and also noticed that ALEC was getting plenty of attention by Common Cause and other progressive groups. So it was proposed that OccupySLC set up a working group to do research and formulate ways to expose ALEC and foster public awareness. And so the ALEC Welcoming Committee came into being in January, 2012, with a website , and over the next few weeks working groups were formed to give-teach-ins, work on outreach to local and national groups, plan actions, create art and theater, create and distribute fliers and literature, and arrange housing for out-of-town participants.
On April 02, 2012, after several drafts, and much back-and-forth discussion, and consensus, a formal Call To Action was posted on the website:
We the people of Salt Lake City invite all those opposed to the tyranny of the 1% to join us from July 23-28th 2012 in providing a warm welcome for the 39th Annual Meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council. This annual meeting by ALEC is paid for and attended by corporate sponsors who sit behind closed doors with our elected state legislators. At these meetings laws are created without the voice of the people that will later benefit those same corporate sponsors at the expense of our communities.
ALEC functions as the most influential mechanism by which corporations maintain their dominance over people and policy by occupying our political institutions. ALEC is responsible for thirty nine years worth of oppressive legislation. Model legislation proposed by ALEC and enacted by our elected representatives have destroyed workers rights and strangled free speech. These model policies have driven the privatization of agriculture, education, health care, and the prison industry all at the expense of the ecosystems that sustain us.
We will not allow this systemic corruption to continue. We the people have developed direct democratic communities and processes to challenge the status quo. We call for a local and national convergence of these communities from July 23-28 in Salt Lake City. We remain committed to nonviolence as we provide an open and inclusive space for resistance, rebellion and a diversity of tactics. We the People demand our frustrations be known as we develop solutions together where the voice of the people is heard over the voice of the corporations. It is by solidarity through struggle that we will find our greatest strength.
ALEC Welcoming Committee of Occupy Salt Lake
Bring a tent. Pitchforks Optional.
The bulk of ALEC’s corporate and legislative membership, as well as their meetings and task force workshops, were scheduled for July 25th to the 27th. The ALEC board of directors, however, was arriving in town on Monday the 23rd, checking into the Grand America hotel, and having a special dinner that evening in the hotel. As OccupySLC did not want to miss any opportunity to show ALEC how we felt about them, we had decided early on to begin our ALEC Welcoming Committee actions on the 23rd. The calendar of events on the website began to fill up with activities and actions very quickly. Our calendar action for July 23rd read as follows:
People’s Picnic and “The Parade of Empty Plates”
WhenMon, July 23, 6pm – 8pm
WhereWashington Square 500 S State Street SLC (map)
DescriptionWhat: Join us. The public is invited. We will also offer food that was prepared by and served to ALEC Welcoming Committee team members and their guests. If you bring a potluck dish check spoilage guidelines online. No mayo, egg salad, etc, or other foods that may spoil. If you can’t bring food come anyway, eat and enjoy. Bring your own empty plate, utensils and cup. If you like bring fresh fruits and vegetables that are whole and uncut and/or prepackaged foods that are not potentially hazardous and share this food and some stories with old and new friends.
Why: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is holding its annual meeting this week in Salt Lake City to dish out more “pork” through 50 state legislatures to some of the Nation’s largest corporations, but the people are wondering why there is no slice of pie for the poor and the middle class. While the ALEC Board of Directors are wined and dined on corporate “charity” money in the confines of the Grand America “Castle Fortress” Hotel the people’s plates are once again literally and figuratively coming up empty. While the ALEC Board of Directors eat in secret at their “by invitation only” event, contemplating new ways to starve the taxpayer’s and feed corporate coffers, the ALEC Welcoming Committee is holding its own alternative no invitation needed Unity Gathering and Parade of Empty Plates. The parade will take place around the hotel, with a People’s Picnic afterward at Washington Square.
A rousing and hearty welcome was given to the ALEC Board of Directors that first evening. We assembled in our permitted space on the southwest corner of the block occupied by the City and County building, which sits kitty-corner from the block where the Grand America Hotel is located. The Parade of Empty Plates was just that, a lively procession of 60 – 70 protesters carrying empty plates, pots and spoons to make (lots of) noise with, and signs – a very spirited group, if I do say so myself.
As far as media coverage, we had an internet media guy with us named John, who co-owns and operates an internet radio station in Thousand Oaks, CA. John stayed with us all week and recorded video and audio to take back with him. The local media coverage, however, was scant that first day – in fact, only one local TV station covered our gathering . But the hotel seemed totally taken by surprise, because it felt like we were chanting and banging plates for almost 10 minutes under the main entry canopy before hotel security showed up. Security made sure no protesters entered the hotel and saw that we didn’t obstruct the drop-off lane too badly, but they did not make any effort to move us out of there. The police were eventually called, but didn’t show up for at least 20 or 30 minutes, and by that time we had moved around to the side entrance canopy for a while, and then continued marching around back on the sidewalk to the next side of the hotel. That’s when several police on bicycles showed up, and after warning one of our main cheerleaders, promptly arrested his megaphone and cited him for using amplified sound which was not specifically permitted for our “free speech” action. I never heard if they set bail for the megaphone, and I don’t think we ever saw it again.
Back at Washington Square, we celebrated the day with our “People’s Picnic” which included much healthy fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, some packaged foods, and several prepared dishes and homemade cookies – plenty of water, of course, some bottled, but mostly in 5 gallon jugs. All the tables and chairs had been set up early in the afternoon and food had been brought over starting around 4 pm and later. And after dinner, a bit of theater entertainment put on by OccupySLC’s talented and imaginative performers.
Well, that’s about it for Day 1 of the protest, fingers are getting tired; more to come in future installments. I would like to express, however, sincere thanks and appreciation to all the people of OccupySLC and our partner coalitions and groups who made this all possible. The many dedicated, hard-working and talented people who stuck with it through the hiccups, who worked out the details and made the actions successful. And especially the wonderful young ladies who took the lead in researching, preparing and presenting the numerous teach-ins that were held prior to this event – they were unstoppable!