Police used pepper spray on a crowd of protestors, and arrested six of them, outside a a Scottsdale conference center today that was attended by dozens of lawmakers from around the country.
The roughly 150 demonstrators showed up at the American Legislative Exchange Council summit in Phoenix, to protest what they see as undue corporate influence in government.
“OUR GOVERNMENT IS NOT FOR SALE,” and “SHUT ALEC DOWN,” were among the many messages written on homemade signs and being chanted by the crowd.
The protestors generally associated themselves with the “occupy” movement that has sprung up in cities across the country. Though some organizing emails that circulated early in the morning presented the group under the moniker “ResistALEC.”
Diane D’Angelo, a representative of ResistALEC,” said the protestors’ main complaint is about how the group creates an unimpeded channel for corporations to help produce laws favoring their interests.
ALEC, which is underwritten by hundreds of corporations, often pays for lawmakers to attend the conferences, then helps lawmakers draft bills ready to be passed into law.
ALEC is most commonly associated with conservative initiatives and politicians, and among Arizona’s legislature, ALEC membership is almost entirely Republican.
“Arizonans need to be aware that most of their state legislators have been co-opted by ALEC,” she said. “A large part of the bills being sent to the governor to be signed are designed by ALEC for private profit.”
D’Angelo said the link between the corporations backing ALEC and the bills being advanced by sympathetic lawmakers is concrete.
“Exxon, Wal-Mart, private prison companies, the Koch brothers: they meet with our legislators in closed door sessions, then bills that serve those corporations’ interests get passed by those same legislators.”
A spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department said they used pepper spray in response to some protestors trying to cross a police barrier meant to keep protestors out of the Westin Kierland Resort, where the summit is being held.
Officer Trent Crump said some of the protestors used what appeared to be homemade wooden instruments, with screws or nails sticking out them as they tried to push through the police line. The protestors were arrested on a variety of suspected crimes, including aggravated assault, trespassing and criminal damage.
And despite some claims that up to 50 protesters were hit with pepper spray, Crump said there’s no way to verify how many people were affected by the pepper spray, “as it travels in the air.”
Crump said the “occupy Phoenix” protest, which has mostly been contained to the public spaces around Phoenix City Hall, has been almost entirely peaceful. Crump said he thinks there were small groups of protestors more affiliated with “anarchist” messages who incited the small clashes seen today.
D’Angelo said that the “occupy” protestors are generally non-violent, but that there is no way to stop violent protestors from joining the group and causing trouble.