This weekend in Chicago, protestors will descend on ALEC’s Summer Conference. ALEC has taken some serious hits over the last year, losing some of it’s biggest corporate members, but this has lead to it becoming even more scary, retaining some of the most problematic (tobacco companies, gun companies, energy companies). I want to take a minute to do two things: brag, which is something I rarely ever do, and tell the story of how we in Cincinnati organized for the first protests against ALEC and accidentally created something bigger than we ever expected. I hope this encourages those participating in the actions this weekend, and every action for that matter.
I remember when I first heard about ALEC. It was Mid-March, 2011. It was at a dance party in a house my friends were renting near UC’s Campus. My friend Aliya was spinning some vinyl and I was getting wasted and moving with my awkward Elaine-like dance moves. Another friend, Adam, who I met on a trip the previous summer to the Detroit US Social Forum, was there, clutching a beer and engaging Aliya on something that was clearly very serious. To me, anything Adam and Aliya, two of the most political people I know, were discussing was something I could be confident I wanted to hear about. I moved in closer and listened for a few minutes. I caught the occasional word in the dub step filled room. ALEC. Bill Cronin. John Kasich. Paul Weyrich. Scott Walker. Shannon Jones. SB5. Ok, I thought, this is something I want to be a part of.
On Sunday, about 75 people came to a speak out in support of Justice for Trayvon Martin. The protest was called less than 24 hours in advance, when George Zimmerman was cleared of any wrongdoing for shooting and killing Martin.
In February 2012, Zimmerman murdered the 17 year old Martin as the teenager was walking through Zimmerman’s neighborhood. He followed Martin after initially being told by the police to not pursue him. Details of what followed are vague, but the entire case was based on essentially one side of the story–that presented by Zimmerman’s lawyers, even though the man never took the stand to testify himself.
The case echoed earlier slanders about Martin: that he was a thug, that he slung dope, that the world is better off without him. The public knows only one thing for sure: that Zimmerman did pursue martin, that the two got into a fight, and that Zimmerman fatally shot the teen who was simply walking back from the store with a can of tea and a bag of skittles.
About a dozen speakers talked about how the result of the case had surprised, or not suprised, them. They talked about how racism was embedded in the culture and how it affected them personally. One mother spoke about her seeing a little bit of Trayvon in her own children.
Recently a picture of Paris Hilton wearing a tank top with “Stop Being Poor” printed across the front went viral on the internet. There was a generally negative reaction, as is to be expected, though some questioned whether the intentions of Hilton, the hotel heiress famous for being famous, were as vile as it would seem. Regardless of the intention, the effect remains the same. Even if we are generous and grant Hilton the benefit of the doubt, and choose to believe the shirt was a joke, we still must deal with the fact that one of the richest people on the planet, thinks it is OK to wear a shirt that denigrates poor and working class people the world over. What is clear is that not only does Hilton not know what it’s like to be poor, she also has no poor friends or acquaintances that would give her perspective that would keep such displays in check. While only her background and upbringing can give an idea of the depth of the issue, from the picture alone it is clear that Hilton is no ally of the working class.
In our movement work we’re often faced with the question of who is on our side and, subtly different but possibly more important, who we want on our side. Questions arise like can we extend an olive branch to corporations and ceos? Can we convince groups like 3CDC or Western & Southern to change course? What would Gandhi do?