Four Arrested at ALEC Protests in New Orleans

This week, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is meeting in New Orleans — at the same hotel that hosted guests at the progressive Netroots Nation conference just a few days before. ALEC, a secretive group funded by right-wing billionaires from the Koch brothers and Scaife Family, as well as a wide range of corporate donors, writes conservative legislation that has been adopted across the country, from Stand Your Ground laws to anti-immigration bills, restrictions on voting rights, and many more. Activists from New Orleans Palestine Solidarity Committee, 350 New Orleans, and the New Orleans People’s Assembly were among those present and speaking out.

In the video below, demonstrators were chanting peacefully in front of the Hilton Hotel, when four were arrested without warning.

The arrests can be seen from another angle in this facebook livestream from 350 New Orleans.

From a press release this morning in advance of the protest:

Today’s protest comes a week after Louisiana House Bill 727 went into effect. The new law heightens the criminalization of protestors in Louisiana by increasing the charge for trespassing on a pipeline site to a felony, which was formerly a misdemeanor offense. Under the new law this action is now punishable by to 5 years in prison. “ALEC-inspired HB 727 was a thinly veiled attempt to equate the peaceful, prayerful resistance of water protectors to terrorism, and hyper-criminalize our work accordingly” said Meg Logue of 350 New Orleans — a long-time active member of the No Bayou Bridge coalition. Ms. Logue added that, “our legislators jeopardize our democracy by bending toward the priorities of corporations while undermining the peoples’ right to self-determination and justice”.

The alliance of groups pointed out this is not the first ALEC-backed legislation they believe is targeting protected forms of dissent in Louisiana, and across the country. Saira Mehmood, Core Organizer with the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee said that “our Committee strongly opposes the work of the ALEC. Its agenda promotes legislation that benefits corporate interests and hurts marginalized communities across the country”. She added that, “protecting human rights for everyone — no exceptions — is NOPSC’s primary mission, but ALEC writes legislation for our elected politicians to diminish the rights of our most vulnerable communities. This legislation includes stand your ground laws, voter suppression laws, and in Louisiana, Executive Order JBE 2018–15 by Governor John Bel Edwards, which prejudicially bars Palestinian human rights supporters engaging in Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions from state contracts.”

Cherri Foytlin, Council-person from L’eau Est La Vie, an Indigenous-led pipeline resistance camp in Rayne, Louisiana, said that “for 45 years ALEC has come after those who fight for their rights — particularly people of color”. Ms. Foytlin added that “HB727 was only the latest in a long line of attempts by ALEC to put a target on the backs of anyone that threatens corporate profits by demanding their rights. We must stop special interest groups like ALEC from undermining our democratic republic”.

UPDATE: This afternoon, organizers put out this press release:

BLACK, PALESTINIAN RIGHTS, AND TRANS PROTESTERS ARRESTED OUTSIDE OF ALEC ANNUAL MEETING

NEW ORLEANS — Four protesters were arrested by the New Orleans Police Department for trying to enter the Hilton Riverside hotel to call on Governor John Bel Edwards and all Louisiana lawmakers to end all association with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The human rights activists were peacefully exercising their constitutionally protected free speech rights to coincide with the first day of ALEC’s annual meeting.

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the meeting to highlight ALEC’s record of privately drafting legislation with lawmakers and right-wing think tanks on a range of issues that have significantly affected the lives of people of color, and most recently Louisiana House Bill 727 targeting activists fighting the No Bayou Bridge pipeline. Protesters formed a line so that white activists demonstrating where closest to New Orleans Police. Despite this, as a protester negotiated with police, other officers nearby reached back beyond the front line of protesters to forcibly arrest two Palestinian Rights activists who are people of color, and a third person of color who was choked while being arrested, having only been standing peacefully beside other demonstrators moments before. A fourth protester, a water protector from the indigenous-led L’eau Est La Vie camp, was also arrested on the scene. All four protesters have been taken to Orleans Parish Prison and charged with trespass, disturbing the peace and resisting arrest.

Meanwhile, inside the ALEC meeting, white protesters entered the session and stuck protest signs to the walls and interfered with proceedings. When private security called police to arrest the white protesters inside, the police on scene reportedly stated that because of “their calm state,” they declined to arrest them, thus illustrating the everyday operation of race bias in the practices of the New Orleans Police Department.

“Although we were inside the ALEC conference rooms loudly disrupting the meeting, the officer said we appeared ‘calm’, while outside our Black and Brown comrades were being assaulted and thrown in a police van for peacefully expressing their views,” reported two of the white protesters who entered the meeting. This is a blatant example of how white supremacy protects white bodies and white interests while criminalizing and brutalizing people of color and indigenous-led movements.”

“Police approached our group as we sang so I began negotiating with them. Suddenly an officer lunged passed me to snatch three of our protesters, who are people of color,” said Meg Logue of 350 New Orleans and an active member of the No Bayou Bridge coalition who was outside the hotel with the protesters. “What happened today was exemplary of ALEC’s vision for our country — one where corporations write the laws, free speech and dissent are suppressed and people of color pay the highest price”.

“Today, I witnessed four people who were peacefully protesting against ALEC get arrested by NOPD. The ALEC agenda promotes legislation that hurts marginalized communities across the country; it seems almost fitting, sadly, that three of the four individuals arrested today are Black and Brown activists who fight for human rights,” said Saira Mehmood of the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee.

“Once again we see who really receives protection under the law. ALEC — the villains that destroy lives and attack freedoms all across this country — garners the most protection by the police,” said Cherri Foytlin, Councilperson of the L’eau Est La Vie camp resisting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. “ALEC pays-to-play in our democracy, creating legal systems that benefits corporations, while the poor, Black and Brown communities are criminalized for simply exercising our first amendment rights. It isn’t hard to see the injustice.”

Peace by Piece organizer and protester, Maris Jones, professed, “ALEC alleges to make laws supporting free speech, yet four protesters were violently silenced today by NOPD, Hilton Riverside Management, and ALEC security for exercising those very same rights. We were silenced for speaking out against how ALEC works to perpetuate injustice, lobbies behind closed doors at taxpayer expense, and writes legislation that overwhelmingly negatively impacts the most oppressed communities.”

This week, 350 New Orleans, New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee, L’Est La Vie, and Peace by Piece have been working together to host community events and educational activities under the #AbolishALEC theme to highlight the impact of ALEC on human rights and the environment. The week began with education events including teach-ins and trainings, and culminated in the unplanned arrests of four peacefully protesting activists — specifically targeting Black, Arab, and trans protesters.

Journalist, author, producer. See more at jordanflaherty.org.

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