In late July 2012, Salt Lake City hosted the annual convention of the American Legislative Exchange Committee [“ALEC Is Coming,” July 10, City Weekly]. Perhaps Utah was chosen in the belief it was a safe place to promote their agenda in the secrecy they have been accustomed to. If so, that belief was shattered by a small but vocal group of dedicated and well-informed activists, critics and local media.
Wherever ALEC members were meeting, protesters were there with signs, literature and a willingness to engage any curious enough to ask questions. Events included bicycle swarms in downtown Salt Lake City, street-theater skits informing the public about ALEC’s current and past achievements and teach-ins in public spaces.
The Empty Plate Banquet was perhaps the most poignant protest. While the ALEC crowd of corporate dignitaries, GOP legislators of Utah and lobbyists dined in a five-star-hotel’s dining rooms, protesters held the Empty Plate Banquet outside, where empty plates at tables symbolized the increasing poverty among the shrinking middle class and growing poor across America, largely due to the policies authored and implemented by those dining in posh splendor. Participating in these events under the ALEC Welcoming Committee umbrella were Occupy Salt Lake and other groups with converging philosophies.
Amazingly, even some of Utah’s most conservative and pro-business GOP legislators came out on record saying ALEC should be more transparent in the future. Whether they will actively promote transparency within ALEC remains to be seen, and pressure should be applied toward these promises. And, of course, will “transparency” mean actual full public disclosure of meetings and agendas or just a slick PR campaign to create a false impression of such? Personally, cynically, realistically, I predict the latter.
CLEE PAUL AMES