Across the Country, People Are Rising Up to
Fight for Change
Rose Aguilar | Thursday 10 February 2011
Published on Truthout (http://www.truth-out.org)
"Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can
quietly become a power no government can suppress, a
power than can transform the world." -The late people's
historian Howard Zinn (August 24, 1922 - January 27,
Over the years, Milwaukee Labor Press editor Dominique
Paul North has covered a "heck of a lot of protests" in
Wisconsin. Last summer, a peace rally in Wisconsin's
inner city drew about 100 people calling for the U.S.
to get out of Afghanistan. "There was no media
coverage," he says. "I was the only reporter there."
The next day, 40 people attended a tea party event in
Wisconsin and every local media outlet was there to
cover it. "This is what we've been seeing over the past
year. If there's a peace rally or a worker's rights
rally, it's ho hum. You might find a reporter or two.
The tea party would gather five people on the corner
and there would be coverage."
So while it was disappointing, it came as no surprise
when most Wisconsin and national media outlets ignored
the state's first anti-inaugural rally on January 3.
Over 700 people gathered outside the Wisconsin State
Capitol to protest the inauguration of newly-elected
Republican Governor Scott Walker.
The Milwaukee Courier did report that "such a
mobilization of popular discontent at the inauguration
of a new governor is unprecedented in recent Wisconsin
political history," but Paul North says it deserved far
more attention. "This is very unusual for an inaugural.
I went to look at history books and couldn't find any
anti-inaugural events. There wasn't a single story in
the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the biggest paper in
Wisconsin. I didn't see any local TV news coverage in
Milwaukee, but there was a lot of coverage of his
Participants waved signs saying "Then They Came for the
Trade Unions," "Christmas Sucked, Thanks Scott," and
"We Need Good Jobs NOW." Demonstrators said they want
jobs that are family-sustaining and pay a living wage,
not minimum wage. Governor Walker has promised to
create 250,000 jobs in the next four years.
"Today isn't about Scott Walker, it's about the people
standing up to say we need good jobs now," said
Roderick Caesar, an unemployed Milwaukee worker, in an
interview with the paper. "I'm college educated and I
want a job so that I can support my family."
Organizers from churches and groups including the
Milwaukee Area Labor Council and Voces de la Frontera,
also expressed opposition to the Governor's decision to
kill the proposed 110-mph Madison-Milwaukee high-speed
rail line. They say the derailment of the federally
funded train line will cost the state 13,000 jobs.
The U.S. Department of Transportation recently withdrew
an $810 million grant from Wisconsin and divided it
among other states, including California and Florida.
According to the Journal Sentinel, Walker called the
grant withdrawal a "victory" because he believes the
rail line is a symbol of excessive governments
spending. "The Madison-to-Milwaukee train line is
dead," he said in a statement.
"I think it's an absolute travesty that the man who is
about to take the governorship of the state of
Wisconsin would find victory in giving away $810
million dollars," said Sheila Cochran, COO of the
Milwaukee Area Labor Council. "Aside from becoming the
laughingstock of the rest of the nation, a lot of us
just can't understand why you'd give away a grant."
"It was good news to see such a diverse mix of people
brave chilly weather on a week day to stand up and push
back," writes Gary Storck, co-founder of Madison NORML.
"The one silver lining to Walker's policies is they are
so extreme they have united a diverse array of citizens
willing to brave even a January day to stand up for the
real Wisconsin we all know and love."
Hear what Milwaukee residents have to say about what
their state is facing.
Here's a summary of a few of the other actions you may
have missed last month (unfortunately not all important
could be included):
-- On January 8, hundreds of Ohioans gathered outside a
pre-inauguration event at the Columbus statehouse in
subfreezing temperatures to send a message to the
newly-elected Republican Governor John Kasich.
According to People's World, it was so cold, the
bullhorns wouldn't work, but that didn't stop citizens
from denouncing Governor Kasich's plans to repeal the
state's collective bargaining law for public employees,
raise tuition at colleges and universities, and
privatize Ohio state prisons.
Citizens chanted, "We don't care about the cold, Ohio
can't be bought and sold."
"We're not going to sit idly by and watch our state get
sold to corporate interests," said Deb Steele, and
organizer with Columbus Jobs with Justice.
Like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Governor Kasich
also refused federal stimulus money for a 258-mile
high-speed 3C rail project linking Cleveland, Columbus,
and Cincinnati, calling it "one of the dumbest ideas"
he's ever heard.
The $400 million project had the potential to create at
least 225 immediate construction jobs over two years,
and approximately 8,000 indirect and spin-off jobs,
according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. The
rail service was projected to attract 478,000
passengers a year, and save up to 15,000 gallons of
fuel a day by reducing automobile use. Over time, Ohio
could have become an interregional rail hub connecting
the Midwest and Northeast, which would generate $3
billion worth of economic development and support
16,700 jobs, according to the Illinois PIRG Education
At his first news conference after the election,
Governor Kasich, another Republican climate change
denier, said, "Passenger rail is not in Ohio's future.
That train is dead."
"It's unbelievable these states would send back
$400million and $800 million in free money. It's
mind-boggling," said Mike Pracht, CEO of US Railcar Co,
a Columbus-based railroad-car manufacturer, in an
interview with the Columbus Dispatch. "The only thing I
can compare it to is the interstate-highway program
back in the '60s. Where would Ohio be today if it opted
out of the interstate highway system? To suggest
passenger rail would be any different is naive."
At another action on January 14, more than 400 people
attended a candlelight rally outside City Hall in
Cincinnati to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and
express their support for healthcare and childcare
providers. They also condemned Governor Kasich's
anti-worker plan to strip them of their bargaining
rights and get rid of wage rules, which mandate
union-wages for public projects.
"Why is John Kasich singling me out and trying to take
away my voice? I struggle everyday to make ends meet in
this tough economy," said longtime home healthcare
worker Teresa Laws. "I do this work, not for the money,
but because I love the patients I take care of. It
frustrates me to hear that Gov. Kasich is trying to
take away my voice and make it even harder for me to
support my family and the clients I assist."
"We want to say to Governor Kasich that these workers
and all workers deserve the right to join a union if
they so desire and once they have that right, we should
be talking about helping them to advance the quality of
their life, not diminishing it by taking away their
rights," said organizer Pierette Talley in an interview
with Fox 19.
Campus Progress reports that "when Republican lawmakers
like Kasich deride unions for giving their members
lavish lifestyles, they are talking about workers
making $60,000 (including benefits) and a difference of
$5000 in compensation between the public and private
employees. In comparison, Kasich made nearly $1.4
million in 2008, including $587,175 from Lehman
Brothers, where he worked until the firm collapsed that
Watch video from the rally here.
-- On January 9, more than 300 people gathered in New
York City to mark the second anniversary of the Israeli
government's assault on Gaza, which killed over 1,400
Palestinians and wounded 5,300. The action was
sponsored by more than 20 groups including The
Palestine Right to Return Coalition, Columbia
University Students for Justice in Palestine, and New
York City Labor Against the War. The Socialist Worker
was one of the few outlets to report on the action,
which was held to bring attention to the ongoing and
often forgotten siege of Gaza where 1.5 million people
don't have access to basic necessities. More than 60
percent of the population is unemployed and 80 percent
live in poverty, according to the Ministry of Social
-- In San Diego, more than 100 people marked the
anniversary by marching through the city's tourist
center and reading the names and ages of the 325 Gazan
children who were killed.
-- On January 10, demonstrators across the state of
California gathered in front of Democratic Governor
Jerry Brown's offices to oppose his budget proposal,
which calls for $12.5 billion in cuts affecting
everything from higher education and healthcare for the
poor and disabled to childcare and in-home supportive
California's Health and Human Services Network compiled
links to local coverage of the rallies.
On that same day, over 1,000 grassroots activists
joined 500 members of the California Health
Professional Student Alliance for their annual lobbying
day. They rallied on the steps of the State Capitol to
call for a Medicare for All system, which would
consolidate thousands of different health insurance
plans into a single system run by the state government.
The California Universal Healthcare Act passed the
legislature in 2006 and 2008, but was vetoed both times
by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Single Payer Now rally comes just a few months
before Blue Shield of California plans to increase
rates by as much as 59 percent. "I have California Blue
Shield, I have private insurance, and now they have
just raised, said they were going to raise rates this
year by 50.5%, and I am now paying $2,800 a month for
private insurance with a $1,500 deductible. I can't do
it anymore," said single-payer advocate Eleanor Clarke
in an interview with KALW News.
Amanda Forman, an occupational therapist at the
California Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles, told
California Healthline that the national healthcare bill
fails to address the problems she sees every day. "As a
clinician, I see patients come into the ER all the time
because that's the only way they can see a doctor. And
of course, it's the most expensive."
Almost one in four Californians under age 65, or 8.2
million, have no health insurance, and 5.7 million
Californians lack job-based health insurance, according
to UCLA's Center for Health Policy Research.
See photos of the event.
-- On January 11, human rights activists gathered in
Chicago, Washington DC, Berkeley, CA, and San Francisco
to call on the Obama administration to close
Guantanamo. On the ninth anniversary of the prison's
opening, activists wearing orange jumpsuits and black
hoods rallied in front of the White House to represent
the 173 prisoners who remain in custody, then marched
to the Department of Justice to hold a silent vigil.
Sixty anti-torture activists blocked three entrances to
the Department for an hour and a half. No arrests were
Organizers from groups including the Center for
Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, and
September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows are
calling on the Obama administration to either put
Guantanamo detainees on trial in federal court or
"Approximately 30 men could be released from Guantanamo
tomorrow but for a fear of torture or persecution in
their home countries," said Pardiss Kebriaei, Center
for Constitutional Rights staff attorney representing
men detained at Guantanamo. "These men appeal to the
international community for help in offering them safe
havens and a chance to rebuild their lives. People of
conscience in the world cannot let yet another
anniversary of Guantanamo pass without doing something
to help close it. Offering resettlement is a key part
of the solution."
The Washington Post was one of the few corporate
outlets to cover the rally. Watch coverage from The
Real News Network.
Demonstrators in Berkeley marched from the Old City
Hall to the Berkeley Marine Recruiting Station to mark
the anniversary and call for the release of Bradley
Manning, the U.S. Army intelligence analyst who's been
held in solitary confinement at a maximum security
military prison in Virginia for over eight months. On
June 6, 2010, he was charged with violating the Uniform
Code of Military Justice for allegedly passing a
massive trove of U.S. state secrets and video showing
American soldiers killing unarmed civilians in Iraq to
Wikileaks. He faces 52 years in prison if convicted.
-- On January 17, a group of protesters in Jamestown,
Pennsylvania, gathered outside of Combined Systems Inc.
(CSI), the company that sells tear gas to the Israeli,
Tunisian, and Egyptian militaries.
"The owners of CSI treat their workers like slaves, and
they treat the Palestinians like target practice," said
Werner Lange, of the Coalition for Peace in the Middle
East, in an interview with WKBN. "We want this gross
injustice to end, and we want it to end now."
This protest followed a January 11 action at the
offices of Point Lookout Capital Partners, a New
York-based investment firm that owns a majority
interest in CSI.
According to Adalah-NY, "Jawaher Abu Rahmah died in a
hospital a day after she was engulfed in a cloud of
tear gas and collapsed at a protest in the village of
Bil'in. Additionally, Israeli soldiers have shot
directly at and hit at least HYPERLINK
repression"18 protesters with tear gas canisters over
the last two years in the villages of Bil'in and
Ni'ilin alone. No one from the Israeli military has
been held accountable for the deaths and injuries
caused by shooting tear gas canisters at protesters."
See photos here.
CNN recently ran a piece about CSI's tear gas also
being used on protesters in Tunisia and Egypt. On
January 17, Lucas Mebrouk Dolega , a 32-year-old
photographer for the European PressPhoto Agency, died
three days after being hit by a tear gas grenade at
-- On January 19, approximately 200 union workers shut
down a Mortgage Bankers Association conference at the
JW Mariott in Washington DC for about 10 minutes,
taking over the stage to protest the Pulte Group, one
of the largest homebuilders in the country, before
According to the Huffington Post, protestors from the
Sheet Metal Workers International Association, the
International Union of Painters, and Allied Trades,
many wearing overalls and hardhats, burst into the
crowded conference room shouting, "Where is the money?
Where are our jobs?"
Organizers held the action to hold the Pulte Group
accountable for the $900 million in government tax
breaks it received to help spur job creation and avoid
"This is the second time we have attempted to get
answers from Pulte executives about how they spent the
money. Wherever they go, we will follow until there is
accountability for those taxpayer dollars," said
Saundra Williams, president of the Metropolitan Detroit
AFL-CIO. "We bailed out the auto companies. We bailed
out the banks. We bailed out Pulte. It's time for them
to show us the money that was supposed to create jobs.
There needs to be accountability here."
Watch CNBC's coverage.
-- On January 30, from Portland, Oregon to Queens, New
York, thousands of people took to the streets to
express solidarity with the people of Egypt and to call
for the dictator Hosni Mubarak to step down after 30
years in power and unfettered support from the U.S.
government. They also called on the U.S. government to
end all aid to Egypt. Check out a compilation of photos
--On January 30, police in riot gear arrested 25 people
for trespassing as over 1,000 protested outside a
four-day meeting in Rancho Mirago, CA held by the
billionaire tea-party funders David and Charles Koch,
conservative activists, and politicians including House
Republican leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.
Jeff McCall, 67, a retired teacher told the LA Times he
was there to express opposition to the Citizens United
ruling. "It's putting American democracy in the hands
of people like the Kochs and others," he said. "It's
not who you vote for, it's how much money you've got."
"I want to zero in on Medicare and Social Security, as
these are programs that the Koch Brothers want to
destroy," said DeAnn McEwen, a Long Beach nurse and
co-president of the California Nurses Association.
Politico's Kenneth Vogel reports that the Koch brothers
have hired a team of public relation professionals to
"quietly engage reporters to try to shape their Koch
The Koch brothers are worth a reported $21.5 billion
each. According to an August New Yorker piece, the Koch
brothers have quietly given more than $100 million to
organizations and think tanks that lobby for personal
and corporate tax cuts, social service reductions, and
deregulation. The Kochs operate oil refineries in
Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control 4,000 miles
of pipeline. Koch Industries owns a wide range of
products including Brawny paper towels, Dixie Cups,
Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra.
Rose Aguilar is the host of Your Call, a daily call-in
radio show on KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco and KUSP
88.9 FM in Santa Cruz, and author of Red Highways: A
Liberal's Journey into the Heartland. Source URL:
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