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'Save the American dream'... Rally in support of Wisconsin workers' protest at Illinois State Building February 26 in Chicago

If you drove by the Thompson Center, aka the State of Illinois Building, located at 100 W. Randolph in downtown Chicago at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 26, 2011, you would have seen maybe 150-200 protesters beginning to gather for a 12:00 p.m. solidarity rally in support for what is presently happening in Wisconsin. If you drove by again near the end of the rally at approximately 1:00 p.m., you would have witnessed a crowd of over 2,000 filling and spilling over the entire corner of Randolph and Clark.

The rally was sponsored by MoveOn.org Political Action, billed as the "Rally to Save the American Dream." According to the e-mail I received, confirming my own official participation, as of Saturday morning, “over 30,000 people in all 50 states are rallying together today, and dozens of national groups have come together to make this a true movement-wide effort.”

Before the official speakers began, the first people at the microphone set up in front of the Center’s middle entrances were simply anyone who wanted to go up on the small platform/stage and say their piece. Some on the stage as well as others in the growing crowd began chants, such as “What’s disgusting? Union busting!” or “Kill the bill!” or a back-and-forth and forth-and-back of “People!” “ Power!” This would carry on until the next chant or speaker. One woman led the crowd in singing a rousing chorus of Solidarity Forever.

The following is an incomplete listing of the multitude of unions represented at the rally, with the members present in downtown Chicago explaining that many others in their unions were up in Madison: Machinists Local 126; Electricians Local 134; the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians – Communications Workers of America (NABET CWA) Local 41; a Mobilizing for Justice Team from the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of American (UAW) Region 4; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31; AFSCME Local 2858; Millwrights Local 1693; Operating Engineers Local 150; Steelworkers Locals 73 and 265; Roofers Local 11; Teamsters Local 673; a fireman in partial regalia from the on-call force in LaGrange Park; and our own Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Local 1.

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) was present for potential crowd control issues, of which there were none.

The first speaker to really rally the rally was Roberta Lynch, the Deputy Director of ASFME Council 31. She told the crowd that the governor and Republican legislators of Wisconsin were trying to get the police in Madison to act against the protesters there. But did we know that the governor received a letter from the police informing him that they would not be a part of ejecting the protesters and were advising their members to join with the protesters? She said that whatever the outcome in Madison, we were all part of giving birth to a movement that cannot be stopped. And to just watch what happens in the next election cycle in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

She said that while people in the crowd may or may not have a union card in their pocket, from this day forward, “You belong to the Labor Movement!” This movement would be fighting for social and economic justice and fairness. The wealthy elite would not be allowed to drive us into the ground. We would “Save the American Dream!” At this finale, the crowd began chanting, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

At this point, in the sometimes bizarre juxtapositions of life in a big city, many people from a Planned Parenthood group of protesters marching around the block kitty-corner from the Save the American Dream protest joined the American Dream crowd, swelling its ranks even more. At another point, “Right to Life” protesters with yellow balloons stating “Life” marched past the combined protesters while singing a Hallelujah hymn on their way down Clark Street. Throughout the demonstration, drivers honked their horns in solidarity with those along the curbs holding up signs facing the streets.

The next speaker to rally the crowd was Dan Montgomery, President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT). When he asked, “Are there any teachers out there?” the response indicated that a lot of teachers and their supporters were present. However, he said that we were here for all workers. He referred to Ronald Reagan’s words about “government being the problem.” He blasted this, saying that this was the government that our fathers and grandfathers died for, they died to protect that government. He said that when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker called the workers “the Haves,” what he meant was that workers should not be the “Haves,” and he was doing everything in his power to make us all the “Have Nots.” Mr. Montgomery also singled out the injustice in Illinois for Chicago Public School teachers who do not have the same bargaining rights as any other school districts in the state, making Chicago “a slice of Wisconsin.”

Jack Darin, Director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, was the next speaker. He said that the Sierra Club was proud to stand with workers, both private and public sector, in Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, and across the United States. Strong unions made for a cleaner environment. Union workers were the ones checking to see that our drinking supply was safe. Union workers enforced the laws against polluters. We could not save the planet if we could not save the unions in order to build a better world for workers and their children.

The last speaker who totally pumped-up and rallied the crowd was William McNary, the Co-Director of Citizen Action Illinois. He clarified that this was not about workers against management or those with jobs against those without jobs. This was about the “soul of our nation.” The greedy corporations and the greedy CEOs were running the country into the ground. They had too much power, too much money, and too much political influence. Inequalities were building, with pensions going down as bonuses were going up. He gave the crowd some statistics: 15 million unemployed; 1 in 7 people living in poverty; the richest 10 percent in this country have 70 percent of the wealth. He stated, “This land is big enough for everyone to eat.” The crowd went wild when he loudly declared, “Corporations are not people! We are the people!” And the people were “exercising our freedom of speech!” We needed to get social responsibility back, in place of short-term gain for a few. Corporations should serve the people. Yet with all of the statistics above, the other side had the nerve to say that it was our side that was waging “class warfare.” He yelled, “We did not ask for this fight, we did not start this fight, we did not pick this fight, but…” His words at this point were drowned out by the crowd cheering, but one can infer that he finished with, “But we will win this fight!”

Mr. McNary spoke of the symbolism of light. That even in the deepest and coldest winter, there was a small light. He implored the crowd, “Do me a favor. Shine your light.” If everyone there shined their light to neighbors, friends, family, etc., then the truth would come out. Then, senators… and even presidents would start to speak out. (The crowd cheered when he referred in this way to President Obama probably eventually speaking out strongly on these issues.) He ended by stating: “Let the record reflect that on this date, Saturday, February 26, in the year 2011, tens of thousands of men, women, boys, and girls came out in support of workers and justice!” It took a while for people to disperse after his magnificent speech.

Though a large number of demonstrators remained, the crowd started to dissipate. One woman went up on the stage and yelled, “I’ve got a message for the Koch Brothers! The whole world’s watching!” The crowds near along with those moving farther in all directions chanted that (“The Whole World’s Watching!”) for a short while, along with “Working families under attack. What do we do? Stand up! Fight Back!”

The last thing this reporter heard was another woman who yelled into the microphone, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”



Comments:

February 28, 2011 at 12:14 PM

By: Earl Silbar

Susan's article on Saturday's Chicago demonstration

Did any speaker inform the crowd that the union delegates to the Madison area federation of labor voted unanimously to endorse a one day general strike to "Kill the Bill"? see: www.scfl.org for more info.

The union leaders speaking in Madison continually strees their acceptance of huge, gargantuan cuts that threaten 10-15% pay cuts, cutting health care for 500,000 on Badgercare and much more.

Many workers and affected non-union folks hate this as betraying their needs and interests. There is an internal battle going on here too.

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