Inspiration at Capitol in Lansing

I didn’t really want to go to Lansing today. Gas prices are outrageous. I feel like we’re enriching the oil companies for the right to express our First Amendment freedoms.

But you can’t get lost in convoluted thinking like that. This is the system we have. It’s the system we’re trying to change. And we can’t do it if we don’t speak out. By ourselves. Together as one.

Besides, mass expressions of freedom are exhilarating. Whether I’m at the podium or in the crowd, I come alive in the presence of friends, comrades, fellow patriots.

Does my one voice make a difference? If you ever look in the mirror it does, because every day you, and only you, have to answer to your own action, or inaction. Are you willing to see the United States become a third world country? Or did you say, “I count.”

Today in Lansing, under sunny skies, cool breeze blowing, flags and signs waving, over 5,000 patriots said “We count” as they came to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to cut programs for seniors, children, education, the environment, and others to give 87% tax cuts to corporations; while also creating a state-appointed, unelected “emergency financial manager” with the power to arbitrarily void union contracts at the city, county, and state level.

A sign caught my eye as I approached the Capitol before the rally: “Walk like an Egyptian.” We’re now getting our inspiration from a former dictatorship. How sad.

“They’re making Michigan a no-fly zone,” someone said, a reference to one response some politicians have suggested we take toward Libya.

I spoke to three students from Adrian College, two women who had been to demonstrations before and a man who was at his first. “They’re addictive,” I told him. One of the women held a sign that said, “Fucking Democracy. How Does That Work?” I told her to not count on the sign making TV news. “I don’t care,” she said. “I love democracy.”

The format of the event today alternated between first songs and speeches and then visits to representatives inside the Capitol. Here are snippets from the speakers from round 1:

  •  A teacher from Hamtramck led the crowd in “God Bless America” and a Marine veteran did the same with the Pledge of Allegiance. The formal rally wasn’t more than five minutes old and I was already shedding tears.
  •  Bob King, recently elected president of the UAW, was the first speaker. He urged us to connect the events here with what has been happening in Wisconsin, and to unite against the attacks on the middle class and on democracy. “The middle class is the best investment our country can make,” he said, “Instead, our representatives are reverse Robin Hoods, cutting our pensions and giving $2 billion for the rich, robbing $500 per student from public schools.”
  •  Cindy Roper, director of Clean Water Action, noted that 75% of the budget for environmental protection has been eliminated, along with food safety inspectors.
  •  My friend David Hecker, president of AFT-Michigan, said, “This is our house. This is our state. You can’t cut your way out of a financial hole. We must invest to bring families back to the middle class.” The 86% tax cuts given to corporations came with “no quid pro quo, no guarantees. So they go into corporate profits.”
  •  Yesterday State Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer and State House minority leader Rick Hammel introduced an amendment to the Michigan constitution to add one sentence that would allow Michigan’s public employees to join unions and bargain collectively. “We didn’t start the fight but we don’t plan to lose it,” Whitmer said. Hammel, a UAW member himself, added, “We expected the budget process to be bi-partisan but we were wrong. Thirty-six anti-labor bills have been introduced in the two houses in two weeks.”
  •  Amy Woodard, president of the child care providers union, lamented cuts to her members but promised, “We’re not going anywhere.”
  •  Bob King came on again to explain the plan for direct action, nonviolent, peaceful action inside the Capitol. He cautioned that authorities often hire agents provocateur to provoke violence that they can then use as an excuse to use excess force. “If someone tries to provoke violence,” he urged, “take their pictures with your phone.”

The first phase of the rally came to an end after only forty minutes. Some folks went inside the Capitol to talk to their representatives. I walked around looking for familiar faces (found some) and reading the signs. “What would Jesus cut” waved prominently. “The only dictatorship I want to live in is Mom and Dad,” read another. The atmosphere was one of joy, with a steady bongo beat.

The crowd thinned out during this time as participants drifted away to grab a quick lunch. I took the opportunity to move my car from one side of the street in a “two hours free parking” zone to the other so I wouldn’t get ticketed. I convinced myself that I was safe from ticketing and returned to the rally. On my way back I stopped for coffee. In a packed restaurant I sat next to Bob and Karen, a couple who had come in from Kalamazoo. Bob told me that during the Vietnam War he had been a test case as a professor. “They didn’t draft professors at the time, 1968. My draft board needed another body so they drafted me. I didn’t take it seriously. I thought they were mistaken. But the draft board said, ‘It isn’t a mistake. There was nothing I could do. After that teachers were drafted routinely.”

Back at the Capitol, the grounds were packed again. If some folks from the morning had left and not come back, others had just arrived. “America the Beautiful” started phase 2. Other speakers:

  • AFSCME member Herbert Sanders observed the mosaic of Americans in the crowd: retirees, teachers, children, workers, small business owners, and others. “This isn’t a union fight. This is about what’s civil and what’s right,” he said. Meanwhile inside the Capitol there is “a breeding nest of union busting, oppression, injustice, and the stripping away of the core fabric of our American democracy. We refuse to accept the notion that there is a Constitution but it is not applicable to us. We won’t allow someone to dictate when dictatorships are falling all over the world.”
  •  Detroit City Councilperson Joanne Watson, in possibly the most stirring speech of the afternoon, said, “We are not slaves. We are not victims. We are standing on hallowed ground. Somebody died for us to be here today. We will not allow anybody to put a foot on our necks. Wake up, Michigan. This is our time. The world is watching to see how much Michigan takes. When we fight, when we stand up, when we organize, we win. We are in it to win it.”
  •  A business owner from Traverse City said, “Where are my tax breaks. Trickle down crap is over.”
  •  Jeff Breslin, president of the Michigan Nurses Association, shouted the MNA slogan, “Some cuts will never heal,” as he called attention to education cuts and democratic rights usurped.
  •  Randall Anthony, of the NAACP, called attention to everyone who was suckered into voting for candidates who lied to get their votes and said, “We can’t continue to vote wrong and expect folks we elect to do it right.” He urged everyone to go back to their local communities and organize and to not “get comfortable with the agony.”

And there were a few others. All were inspiring. All spoke to the inequity that is calling for “shared sacrifice” that in fact is being borne by seniors, children, students, workers, retirees on fixed incomes but never the millionaires. This is a class war, many noted through speeches and signs.

I had to take off after the second round of speeches came to an end. A third round was scheduled to begin at 4:30. As I am writing, word has it that some folks are talking about remaining inside the Capitol after hours, what we in the business call “civil disobedience.” If it happens, I am confident it will be peaceful.

For reports better than mine and for lots of photos, go to dailykos.com.

And, no, I didn’t get a ticket. Positive thinking paid off.

EMU Lecturers Halt “Visits” as President Martin Shows Sincerity

Members of Eastern Michigan University’s Adjunct Lecturers’ Organizing Committee (ALOC) and Students for an Ethical and Participatory Education (SEPE) spoke to over 60 campus folks face-to-face in three days last week. Forty of those who were contacted committed to participate in the ALOC/SEPE coalition “office visit” days that were planned Thursday and Friday to get EMU President Sue Martin back to the negotiating table. This new strategy reflects the growing frustration that lecturers have been feeling as their righteous desire to expand EMUFT membership to all lecturers, full-timers and part-timers, have continued to be ignored by an intransigent administration.

But in a late-breaking development, ALOC leadership called a temporary halt to the visits after Michigan AFT President David Hecker’s noon-time phone call with President Martin on Wednesday. EMUFT is a chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). David Hecker is one of the great union presidents of our time. He is rock solid behind the workers he represents but he can talk to leaders of the other side in a way that commands respect, not hostility.

To her credit, President Martin seemed to realize this. According to Hecker, “There was sincerity on President Martin’s part to resolve our differences and work on an agreement.”

This is major good news for the EMU community and President Martin deserves credit for her position, informal as it is at the moment. However, there is still no set date for substantive face-to-face talks and action on that front needs to happen this coming week.

ALOC’s goal is to settle the member definition issue and have an election before the end of this semester that includes all lecturers who teach a class in any given semester:  “one syllabus, one vote!”

According to Hecker, Martin indicated during their conversation that she wanted “to avoid any further disturbances.” On that I am pleased to report that lecturers are in agreement. After over twenty years of teaching at EMU I still believe that EMU is a first-class university, largely because of the commitment of the faculty at all levels, and because of their love of teaching and of EMU. Protesting is a drain on the energy that we want to devote to our students, who are the reason why we teach.

But if that is how the university forces us to use our energy by refusing to work with us to resolve this issue fairly and soon, that is how we will use it to make our position known.

Because  attacks on our dignity also are a drain on our energy, especially when they come from those high-paid administrators whose major contribution to campus life is to hire high-price lawyer friends with university funds to fight members of the university community.

Among lecturers, from full-timers to those who teach one class a year, there is no question that we share a community of interest. When the original struggle was waged, and which I led, to create a union for lecturers, it was meant to be for all lecturers. The compromise result was a union for full-time lecturers only, EMUFT. This current struggle is to realize the vision of the first generation of leaders.

It is a worthy goal, one President Martin should support if she really has the interests of her community in mind. Hopefully she will listen to the people who do the real work to run the community and support the lecturers. All of the other unions on campus do. So do the students.

ALOC is the group that is leading the effort to bring part-time lecturers into EMUFT, the collective bargaining unit that represents full-time contract lecturers. Full-timers won recognition as a local of the American Federation of Teachers in 2001. SEPE is an inspired group of students who have supported the lecturers because they know that lecturers teach the bulk of classes at EMU and so are the key figures in students’ education.