On Thursday, December 7th, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) held their Nation and States Policy Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. A coalition of Leftists including Democratic Socialists of America, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Anarchist Black Cross Nashville, Nashville AntiFa, local workers’ collectives, anticapitalists, and antifascists from throughout the state of Tennessee assembled to disrupt and obfuscate the ALEC conference. The purpose of the disruption was to send a message to lawmakers and corporate interests that ALEC is neither welcome in Nashville, Tennessee nor is their continued influence over politicians acceptable.
The State of Tennessee spent $100,000 in tax dollars for Republican legislators to meet corporate donors at this conference to effectively learn how to keep wages low for working class Americans and to discuss legislation that would further criminalize dissent against government and corporate oligarchy. ALEC is a so-called “nonprofit organization” of neo-conservative legislators and private corporations who cooperate collectively to write model state-level legislation for distribution among congressional representatives in the United States. ALEC serves as a de facto dating service for powerful corporations to directly interact with lawmakers under the guise of improving “government efficiency” and “free markets”. Although ALEC frequently touts itself as a “grass-roots” organization presenting “industry-backed legislation”, as of 2011 corporations and trade groups accounted for the bulk of ALEC’s funding, with the Koch foundations being prominently featured as donors. Capitalists such as Scott Pruitt see this as a strength of our democracy and crow that “ALEC is unique in the sense that it puts legislators and companies together and they create policy effectively.” What the newly anointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency misses in his assertion is that corporations do not represent the public interest, and these arrangements often put moneyed interests in the driver’s seat of legislative generation, effectively letting corporations rewrite laws to fit their needs, not the needs of the people these representatives purport to serve. ALEC-related contributions to politicians in the form of campaign donations also represent a powerful impetus for elected and appointed officials to do the bidding of their corporate masters.
Consequently, ALEC has been responsible for writing model legislation that has devastated our communities and the institution of democracy in the U.S. ALEC has supported legislation that has gutted Medicaid health coverage for the poor. They have paved the way for legislators to deregulate utilities (electricity, natural gas, and fracking) leading to serious concerns about the safety of drinking water, emission of greenhouse gasses, and escalating climate change. They have also embraced deregulation and privatization of utilities that has given rise to the virtual monopolies held by Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner and Comcast. Rather than fostering free market competition through deregulation, the U.S. has one of the most sluggish and expensive internet telecom systems in the developed world; which has far reaching consequences including economic and innovative competitiveness. Education systems increasingly rely on internet access, and working class Americans struggle to pay the astronomical monthly costs for telecom access while these companies reap record breaking profits ($1.8 billion in profit per month for Verizon alone) yet continue to cut healthcare benefits for employees and attempt to crush worker’s unions. Tennessee is a “Right to Work” state, but labor organizers remain a critical backbone of working class resistance to corporate violence perpetuated by the companies represented by ALEC. Cries of “Get up, get down! Nashville is a UNION TOWN!” rang through the streets as the coalition of protestors approached the conference venue.
In addition to supporting some of the most powerful multi-billion dollar utilities and telecom corporations, ALEC has played a critical role in the expansion of the private sector carceral industrial complex, with Corrections Corporation of America (now rebranded as Core Civic) as one of its major contributors. ALEC has been directly involved with pushing “tough on crime”, “three strikes”, and “mandatory minimum sentencing”, while also representing corporations heavily invested in the establishment of more detainment centers and prisons. The enactment of the Prisons Industries Act (ALEC-modeled legislation) has also quietly expanded the prison labor industry, a market that critics rightfully label “legalized slavery”. In Tennessee, this has resulted in a pay scale for prisoners that ranges from as low as $0.25/hour to the pay of a skilled, promoted (Step 2) laborer which earns $0.75/hour (the highest pay available to an incarcerated person in the Tennessee Department of Corrections inmate pay scale). The expansion of the industrial carceral complex, coupled with the institution of mandatory minimum sentencing, has disproportionately swept the undercaste, including numerous young and vibrant Leftists like artist William "Luke" Johnson into brutal, draconian prison sentences. Our coalition stood in defiance the hegemonic powers of ALEC and the corporate industrial prison complex on behalf of Luke Johnson.
Concomitantly, ALEC has further pushed an agenda to criminalize political dissent; another act which has disproportionately affected Leftist activists. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act sponsored by ALEC member Senator James Inhofe was directly modeled after ALEC’s “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” containing language which specifically targets “politically motivated” acts for criminalization. Interestingly, this type of legislation has been leveraged against activists such as Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane, who were convicted of freeing minks from the fur industry. ALEC’s political agenda has successfully created a reality in the U.S. where Dylan Roof’s murderous shooting spree, killing members of a historically Black church while they were worshipping does not constitute “terrorism” but Joseph and Nicole’s act of animal liberation is legally considered “terrorism”. We disrupted ALEC’s conference on behalf of Joseph and Nicole, who continue to languish in federal penitentiaries because of this legislation.
On Thursday afternoon in Nashville, ALEC, heavily funded by the oil and gas industry unveiled a new model bill called the “Critical Infrastructure Protection Act” which would further criminalize ecological protests around pipelines and other projects that often contribute to global warming. The criminalization of ecological protests, which frequently threaten capital, have lead to violent clashes at corporate sites, such as those witnessed at Standing Rock between Water Protectors and corporate-backed militarized police forces seeking to dismantle any resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). These pipelines traverse North America and are often re-routed away from regions inhabited by affluent, white residents, and directly through sovereign Indigenous lands. Indigenous resistance to these pipelines has been heavily infiltrated by law enforcement and influential activists within the movement, such as Red Fawn Fallis, have been targeted and criminalized. Red Fawn was arrested at a pipeline protest camp in October of 2016, and remains the defendant facing the most serious charges stemming from Water Protector activities against DAPL. Because ALEC’s “Critical Infrastructure Protection Act” will continue to expand the ability of the State and its corporate masters to subjugate Indigenous and grassroots resistance to pipelines, strip-mines, and other projects which threaten our water supply, we rallied and interrupted the ALEC conference for Red Fawn (who is currently held at a halfway house awaiting trial), and for all Water Protectors who continue to fight these critical battles.
It is clear that ALEC represents the interests of the corporate oligarchy and further facilitates the subjugation of the working class and poor. It was unsurprising to us that, although right-wing pundits and keyboard warriors alike complain that the system is rigged, or that corporate influence has tainted U.S. democracy, there was no right-wing resistance to the ALEC conference in Nashville, Tennessee.
Interestingly, some of the ALEC conference attendees emerged from the building in their fine dining clothes to film the Leftist disruptors with their smartphones. Cries of “EAT THE RICH!”, “1-2-3-4, THIS IS FUCKING CLASS WAR!”, and “A-L-E-C, ALEC SERVES THE BOURGEOISIE!” caused these folks to retreat back away from the din at the front of the conference center. Our coalition and our broader movement will continue to resist ALEC and entities like it to create a world that is free from the constraints imposed by unfettered corporate greed which continue to threaten the freedom of all human beings as late capitalism continues to bring suffering and deprivation to our communities.
Please consider writing and supporting the Leftist prisoners mentioned in this article with cards, mail, words of encouragement, or donations to support their legal defense funds. They can be supported below at:
William “Luke” Johnson #726-338
P.O. Box 540
St. Clairesville, OH 43950
Joseph Buddenberg #12746-111
FCI Coleman Low
P.O. Box 1031
Coleman, FL 33521
Nicole Kissane #20651-111
5701 8th Street – Camp Parks
Dublin, CA 94568
Donate to Red Fawn’s legal defense fund at: