FRANKFORT, KY – For an hour and a half Saturday February 26, a multi-generational, multi-racial crowd of over 200 stood in the cold outside the Kentucky capitol building singing songs, chanting, and listening to speeches. They made their voices heard in solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin. Some participants wore red and white, some waved American flags, and many carried signs expressing their support for unions and protesting the latest attacks on middle class Americans: Cut bonuses not teachers; Save the American Dream; Unions make us strong.
The crowd chanted: “Union workers, fight back!”
State Senator Kathy Stein (D) of Fayette County was the only member of the legislature present. She spoke to state workers, saying: “You are not forgotten about!” Dick Levine, University of Kentucky architecture professor, using the state flag as a backdrop asked “Who do we stand with?” He led the crowd in a chant using the state’s motto: “United we stand, divided we fall!”
A representative from the Professional Firefighters spoke about how important collective bargaining is: “It’s important to bargain for other things besides wages. The Firefighters won’t back down!”
The crowd chanted: “We won’t back down!” Janette Westbrook, a social worker, spoke about the important, difficult, and sometimes dangerous work that social workers do across the state: helping to care for everyone from children to the elderly.
Candy McDaniels, a special education teacher in Davis County and member of the Kentucky Education Association, spoke about her concerns for retirement. A bill currently under consideration would deny new state employees a defined benefit pension plan, and only provide them with a defined contribution plan. Meanwhile the state continues to underfund the current pension plan, a plan that state employees already pay into.
Candy concluded on a somber note: “Together we will fight, hopefully we will win.”
The most rousing speech was by Larry, a construction worker and union carpenter. He summarized the feelings of everyone there. He expressed what the protests in Kentucky, Wisconsin, and across America are all about: “I’m damn proud to be union, and I will fight like hell for the right of everyone to have a union.”
As the rally finished, people smiled, shook hands, and said “Hello” to old friends. There was a community atmosphere, and a sense of pride to be making a stand, to be participating in something important. People registered to vote, others inquired about joining a union for the first time.
For some it was their first time at a union rally, for others it was one more in a long history of participation. Democracy is not just about voting, nor is it just about donating money. Democracy is about participating in democratic institutions – political parties, unions, councils, committees. United we stand, divided we fall.