Getting Smart about ALEC: Standing on the Side of Love in Arizona Demonstrates, Learns, and Gets Ready for Future Advocacy
Post by Tom Marcinko and the Standing on the Side of Love at Vally UU Congregation in Chandler, AZ Team
Photos courtesy of Suzi Spangenberg
A low-profile but influential national right-wing group found itself in the public spotlight this week, thanks in part to yellow-shirted Standing on the Side of Love (SSL) volunteers from Unitarian Universalist congregations in the Phoenix area.
The organization was the American Legislative and Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that encourages state legislators to pass divisive bills like SB1070 and invites large corporate interests to influence legislative efforts. ALEC, whose behind-closed doors meetings also encourage state legislators to suppress voter turnout, discriminate against the LGBT community, boost the private-prison industry, and repeal the Fourteenth Amendment, expected its Nov. 30-Dec. 2 meeting at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale to be low-key.
Instead, they were greeted the morning of Nov. 30 by several hundred protesters from diverse groups, including Occupy Phoenix, Occupy Tucson, Seeds of Peace, MoveOn.org, Phoenix Urban Health Collective, and UUs Standing on the Side of Love.
For SSL, protesting the ALEC meeting also presented an opportunity to take a firm stand for social justice, in accordance with Unitarian Universalism’s long tradition advocacy and activism, and to organize and give consideration to the strategies, logistics, and tactics necessary in direct actions considerably less benign than the Phoenix Pride Parade. At the Westin, dozens of protesters were pepper-sprayed by a strong, riot-geared police presence and seven were arrested. None of the SSL demonstrators were involved in these incidents, largely because they held more of a support role.
In addition, a rally at the Arizona State Capitol Building took place around 11 a.m. the same day. UU Congregation of Phoenix minister, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray was among the speakers who addressed the crowd, including members from at least five media organizations. It had been a tough decision for Rev. Susan whether to stay in Scottsdale with members of her congregation or go to the Capitol; wafts of tear-gas still hung in the air. But in light of the goal of raising public awareness about ALEC, she opted to speak at the event along with representatives from Common Cause, MoveOn.org and other organizations. Several local UUs, dressed in familiar yellow SSL shirts, also chose to join her at the Capitol in support, and to give the public a distinct sense that “SSL is everywhere.”
SSL@Valley UU Congregation in Chander offered real-time feed of the event, with photos on their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/SSL.at.VUU. The posts, made by multiple support “com relays”, gave a good idea of how tense the situation got at the Westin, and also how most of the demonstrators kept their cool, their hope, and their sense of humor:
• “SSL folks on the livefeed below now! Looking good and sensible in hats and yellow. With lots of water!”
• “SSL protestors are staying at the south gate (to support the medics from PUHC, who had been treating several injured). Most of the other protestors are moving to the east gate again to keep pressure on ALEC attendees and the police onsite.”
• “SSL has assisted a man exhausted and dehydrated by his activities by pulling him to safety. Otherwise all the intense activity has moved to the other gate. For now.”
The gathering fell short of a “shutdown” of the conference, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s keynote address to ALEC was covered by the media. Most of ALEC’s meeting, however, took place hidden from public view. The idea that the media should be allowed to cover all the ALEC sessions our elected representatives attended seemed to be a new idea to some of the reporters who interviewed protesters.
After Nov. 30, the media continued to cover ALEC. At least a dozen protesters were arrested Dec. 2 at the offices of the Salt River Project (SRP)—a public utility and one of the many businesses that fund ALEC. Others include Koch Industries, BP, ExxonMobil, AT&T, United Healthcare, Walmart, Freeport-McMoran, Amazon.com, FedEx, Pfizer, Cox Communications.
Without the protests, it’s doubtful ALEC and its would-be sub-rosa activities would have gotten the media attention they did. And in covering the story, the media had to explain what ALEC is and what the protesters were objecting to. For the most part, local media covered the protests accurately and fairly (an incomplete list is at the bottom of this post).
Phoenix area SSLers are now engaged in debriefing and follow-up, assessing what worked well and how public advocacy can be improved, and providing chaplain support & outreach to all participants. Follow-up, what they’ve learned, is one of the most essential components of social justice work. Not only does it provide the opportunity to learn lessons about planning, organization, and communication, but it helps build relationships among team members and allied groups that are essential for effective social justice activism.
Before the ALEC summit, SSL activists had held two training sessions in Nonviolent Direct Action, which stressed Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach with a UU twist. “Cool heads, warm hearts”… “Above all, be kind”. All who planned to attend the ALEC protest had the opportunity to share experiences, learn useful de-escalation techniques, role-play possible adversarial scenarios, and were encouraged to prepare themselves well for a potentially chaotic environment.
Because the safety and well-being of demonstrators is vital, procedures for checking in and out with on or off-site support were established for both the Scottsdale and Capitol sites. Despite a few glitches, the check-in/out system greatly helped overall organization and added peace of mind for many. Additional organizational efforts ensured that sufficient support roles were in place to accommodate questions, promotions, and emergencies, and provided a way for members whose comfort level didn’t include crowds, noise, or the possibility of teargas or pepper spray to be engaged.
According to preliminary debrief information: overall execution went well, but future efforts would benefit from better internal communication. SSLers speaking to media outlets stayed solidly on message when interviewed, and more focus should be devoted to social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, increasing the use of those channels to broaden public outreach. SSL continues to have good relations with local law enforcement, but this should not be considered a guarantee of safety or protection at any event.
Once all the follow-up calls are made and the debrief information is complete, the lessons learned will be put to good use to improve infrastructure and procedures for the next direct action. When will that be?
“Likely the next time we enter the public arena to call attention to inequity, or counter identity-based discrimination within our communities,” says Rob Smith, chair of the SSL@VUU Team in Chandler, AZ. http://www.vuu.org/ssl
“This public advocacy is a big part of living our Unitarian Universalist principles and Standing on the Side of Love, so doing it effectively is essential to our team’s core mission.”
… in other words… not very long at all…
from “on the ground” in Arizona,
Tom Marcinko and the SSL@VUU Team
- For more information on ALEC:
Center for Media and Democracy: http://alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed
Think Progress: http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/08/05/288823/alec-exposed-corporations-funding/
Daily Kos: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/12/01/1041629/-ALEC-Occupy-Scottsdale-Just-ONE-Version
Official ALEC website: http://www.alec.org/
Some YouTube videos of the protest:
Impartial list of media:
- The Arizona Republic published at least three stories, including:
Phoenix Channel 12: http://www.azcentral.com/video/1303102979001
NPR station KJZZ-FM
In addition, the international TV/radio/podcast news program, Democracy Now! also mentioned the protest: http://www.democracynow.org/2011/12/1/headlines#12
The UU Examiner posted this story, along with a photo slideshow:
And UU World covered the protest as well:
Famed civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson stopped by Occupy Philly this week to start a discussion about bringing more diversity to the Occupy Movement. While he was there, he asked our own Rev. Peter Friedrichs to lead an interfaith group in prayer before the press conference. Check out the video here.
Rev. Jackson came to Philadelphia with the goal of engaging clergy and people of color in a meaningful diversity dialogue. Some people of color had previously felt unwelcome in the Occupy Philly community and Rev. Jackson wanted to discuss the creation of a more diverse movement. They also talked about how the economic justice issues at the heart of Occupy often have a disproportionate effect on people of color.
Before he left, Rev. Jackson made a commitment to link the interfaith working group at Occupy Philly with local African American church leaders in an effort to incorporate more voices into the movement. He also drew a clear connection between the Civil Rights Movement and the Occupy Movement, describing it as a continuation of the same work. Rev. Friedrichs reported that it was inspiring to be in Rev. Jackson’s presence and that the discussion left him energized and hopeful for the broadening of the Occupy Movement.
Rev. Friedrichs is just one of the many UU ministers and lay people across the country that are involved in the Occupy Movement. Join the conversation about Unitarian Universalism and the Occupy Movement at the OccUUpy Facebook group.More >
The message below went out to Standing on the Side of Love supporters on Tuesday, November 22, 2011. You can sign-up for these emails here.
I am excited to share with you a new way to help you stand on the side of love with immigrant families. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, a national partnership of faith-based organizations working for immigration reform and other fair and humane immigration policies, has assembled a page of resources including an Advocacy Toolkit that will help equip interfaith teams to change how migrant families are treated all across the country. The Toolkit was developed in collaboration with the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), Church World Service, and other members of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC), and is available now on the IIC website. The Unitarian Universalist Association is one of 32 organizations, including Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and many mainline Christian denominations, that are members of the IIC.
The Toolkit equips you with resources to organize interfaith teams to call on elected and appointed officials in your community. The purpose of these calls is to change your community’s policy on when detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are honored by local officials.
You have heard a lot about the so-called Secure Communities program. The stated purpose of this program is to identify, detain, and deport undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes. Tragically, thousands of people who have not committed serious crimes have been detained and deported under this program.
According to ICE, their officers make immigration enforcement decisions “only after an individual is arrested for a criminal violation of state law, separate and apart from any violations of immigration law.” But thousands of people who haven’t violated state law have been detained in local jails at ICE’s request and then deported. Detainer requests from ICE should not be honored for minor infractions and immigration violations.
Cook County, Illinois, Santa Clara County, California, and Washington, D.C., have decided to not honor all detainer requests. These communities have made the decision to not honor “detainer requests” unless the person in question has been convicted of a violent or serious state crime. We believe that hundreds of other counties, cities, and perhaps even states can be inspired to follow their lead. We believe that interfaith teams can help provide the information and inspiration needed.
The Toolkit provides you with resources to organize your community and ask your local leaders to change their policy on detainer requests. In addition to the Toolkit, we will be offering webinars to help leaders like you organize and conduct calls on local officials. If you are interested in a webinar you can sign up on the IIC website and be notified when they are scheduled.
Please download the Toolkit at the link below today and join in this major new interfaith initiative to change how migrant families are treated in our communities:
The Toolkit was developed under the auspices of the Steering Committee of the IIC, a 32 member interfaith coalition. Accompanying the Toolkit is a national map that will identify where interfaith teams have formed or are in the process of forming. You can put your team on the map by filling out the online form next to the map.
If you have any questions about the Toolkit, please contact your faith community’s regional or national immigration advocacy leaders. You are also welcome to contact me.
Rev. Craig C. Roshaven
Witness Ministries Director
Unitarian Universalist Association
Post by Tim Brennan, treasurer of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and Glenn C. Farley, co-chair of the UUA Committee on Socially Responsible Investing.
In each of the past five years, the Unitarian Universalist Association has filed a shareholder resolution asking Walmart to add Gender Identity or Expression to its non-discrimination policy. Last week we were notified by Walmart’s Office of Diversity that they were adopting this policy and were disseminating it throughout their network of stores and distribution centers. This is a big step towards justice for Walmart employees and perhaps even more importantly, an example to other companies. Walmart is currently the largest company in the Fortune 500 and the largest employer in the nation and, for that matter, the world. So how Walmart operates can profoundly affect corporate policies and practices worldwide, for better or for worse.
Federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, and state laws vary widely. Therefore, protections by employers are extremely important. While more companies each year add gender identity or expression as a protected class, most companies are still lagging. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2010 69% of the Fortune 100 and 46% of the Fortune 500 had non-discrimination policies that include gender identity or expression. This is up from 11% and 5% respectively in 2003. Fully 39% of the Fortune 500 offer transgender-inclusive health insurance benefits, up from 1% in 2004. We hope that the Walmart example will spur additional companies to become more inclusive.
Other companies have changed as well. The UUA’s resolutions asking for non-discrimination polices on gender identity or expression resulted in policy change at Lowes, Home Depot, Travelers Insurance, and Dr Pepper Snapple Group. Verizon, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips have so far refused, but our campaign continues.
This is one small, but significant step for Walmart. Yet the company still has a long way to go to improve its treatment of employees. Just recently it was announced that the company’s health plan would become more expensive and less widely available. Advocates both within and outside of the company must continue to push for improvement.
The UUA’s shareholder advocacy program is just one expression of the Standing on the Side of Love campaign – our vision is of a world in which no one is dehumanized through acts of exclusion, oppression, or violence because of their identities.
We know that lasting change only happens in coalition and collaboration. In our broad shareholder advocacy work towards inclusion, anti-oppression and non-violence, we will continue to do our part to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
On November 20, we encourage you to stand on the side of love as we observe the International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), honoring and remembering those murdered through hate and ignorance.More >
Yesterday afternoon advocacy organization representatives and congressional staffers gathered in a small room in the Canon House Office Building for a congressional briefing on No More Deaths’ “Culture of Cruelty” report. As we have reported previously (here and here), No More Deaths conducted interviews with nearly 13,000 migrants and documented 30,000 incidents of abuse and mistreatment by the U.S. Border Patrol in short-term detention over the course of three years. At the briefing, Danielle Alvarado from No More Deaths, Jennifer Podkul of the Women’s Refugee Commission, and Tania Chozet from the ACLU of New Mexico’s Regional Center for Border Rights each spoke about their experiences working with migrants near the border and their frustration surrounding the Border Patrol’s flat out denial of the report’s findings.
While the report presents a multitude of alarming statistics about the situation on our southwestern border (for example: “out of 433 incidents in which emergency medical treatment or medication were needed, only 59 (14%) received it before being deported – the other 86% were deported without receiving needed medical care”), yesterday’s briefing focused on the actions that members of Congress can take to alleviate the situation.
Despite the report’s disturbing findings, the Border Patrol has been unwilling to meet with No More Deaths locally. This is not an isolated incident–Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has a reputation for being unresponsive to both civil society and congressional information requests. The only existing oversight mechanism–the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties (CRCL)–is understaffed, does not have the authority to issue penalties or make binding recommendations, and is not independent enough to truly hold the agency accountable. Consequently, no one is asking questions about questionable Border Patrol policies.
In contrast, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has introduced access policies to allow advocacy groups to visit their detention facilities and conduct independent monitoring. This program allows ICE to benefit from the expertise and advice of the advocacy community as well as fosters dialogue about ICE policies. This model could provide similar accountability for Border Patrol policies and facilities.
The panelists emphasized that they are not asking that the laws go unenforced, just that they be carried out in a humane way. This kind of abuse and mistreatment is inexcusable, particularly in the United States of America. Moreover, though these policies are conducted under the guise of national security, human rights abuses do not make us safer. Congress can do a number of things to hold the Border Patrol accountable for their actions including adding oversight and reporting conditions in budget bills and calling for oversight hearings. Our members of Congress need to start asking the tough questions and requiring the executive agencies to take responsibility for the abuses occurring on their watch.
Want to do something about Border Patrol abuse? Sign our petition. Call the White House and ask the administration to launch an investigation. Contact your members of Congress and ask them to call for an oversight hearing. Make your voice heard!More >