CA activists stand up for students, middle-class at ALEC annual meeting

A California educator is sharing what it was like to join hundreds in San Diego to protest the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC. ALEC is funded the infamous billionaire duo Charles and David Koch, also known as the Koch brothers, and has a track record of exploiting the rights of working Americans to make the rich even richer.

Barbara Dawson (in photo at left), a middle-school history and English teacher, said taking part in last Wednesday’s demonstration, outside the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel, gave her new hope about California’s future.

It made me feel that maybe California is a place where we can stop all this big money from coming in and destroying unions and workers’ rights,” said Dawson. “I felt empowered all those people coming together to say that unions are what we need for the middle class and our communities. They (unions) make us better and stronger.

 ALEC has been the driving force behind Right-to-Work legislation popping up in states all across the country. Right-to-work laws are designed to break unions and rob people of their collective voice in the workplace. That’s what happened in Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker. In fact, Walker, a current Republican presidential hopeful, was one of the featured speakers at this year’s ALEC meeting.

ALEC is also responsible for so-called education reforms that have done more harm than good. ALEC bills have included voucher schemes that rob public schools of valuable dollars, unregulated charter schools that are unaccountable to the taxpayers who fund them, and huge tax breaks for the wealthy that leave scarce dollars behind for critical services communities depend on.

ALEC uses money from the Koch brothers and its other rich, corporate donors to provide lavish, all-expenses-paid junkets to state politicians from all across the country. ALEC then walls them off with corporate lobbyists so they can secretly negotiate backroom deals that lead to ALEC-written bills being introduced in state legislatures nationwide.

“I live here in San Diego County and I am worried about the Koch brothers’ money coming in and creating unregulated charter schools that hurt public education,” said Dawson. “I wanted to be there (at the demonstration) as a teacher and a union member to stand with other unions and say we are not going to let what happened in Wisconsin and other states happen here.”

Dawson said unions representing educators, electricians, nurses as well as construction and farm workers were joined students, parents, community leaders and other activists at the protest. Reports put the crowd at more than a thousand, but Dawson believes it was closer to 2,000 people in attendance. They all gathered at Embarcadero Marina Park before marching over to the Hyatt for a loud, but peaceful, demonstration.

“They (those attending the ALEC conference) couldn’t have missed it,” said Dawson. “We were beating drums, yelling and chanting in front of the hotel.”

Dawson believes last week’s march was a success, but the work is not over. She says now it’s up to those who were in attendance to spread the word about ALEC and its agenda to undercut the public interest.

“What they have to do is go and talk to their next door neighbors about ALEC,” said Dawson. “They have to talk to people who are not aware of the contributions unions make to everyday lives and how they make the middle class stronger. We need unions to help stabilize this country so that everyone can have a fair shake.”