Protesters gather at American Legislative Exchange Council conference Downtown

More than 150 people held a lunchtime protest Friday across from — and briefly inside — the Omni William Penn Hotel, which hosted a gathering of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council.

“This is our town, this is our state … this is our democracy,” Sam Williamson, a regional leader of SEIU Local 32BJ, told the crowd, whose numbers were swelled by striking Verizon employees. “And we’re not going to let a bunch of pay-to-play corporate hacks take it away from us.”

ALEC arranges forums for corporate members to discuss and shape model legislation with state legislators from around the country. Although the nonprofit organization sees itself as serving an educational mission, it has attracted considerable controversy. ALEC does not disclose its members, and it focuses on a limited-government, pro-business economic agenda often opposed by unions.

In addition to espousing causes such as public education and higher wages, some speakers denounced ALEC for past initiatives such as voter ID legislation and tough-on-crime measures. “No organization should fight to keep people from voting,” said state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Homewood.