COLUMBUS, Ohio – Last Tuesday, March 8, was touted as Gov. John Kasich’s day, with huge speakers set up outside the Statehouse here to broadcast his State of the State address to a huge expected crowd.
This day, however, belonged to the workers.
The walls of the Statehouse literally shook, as thousands of workers, in hard hats and gear, marched to the Capitol grounds behind a delegation of bagpipes and drums. They were there protesting the attempt by Kasich and his fellow Republicans to take bargaining rights away from public workers in Ohio, via Senate Bill 5.
Chants of “Kill the bill” and “We are what democracy looks like” swept the crowd. Local union flags and banners, many dating from the founding of the locals, dotted the length of the march.
Diana Jackson, who formerly worked for the soon-to-be-privatized Ohio Development Commission, said she had had “no idea how strong we are, together.”
Speaking of the governor’s effort to destroy collective bargaining for state workers, she said, “I just cannot believe that the people of Ohio will sit ultimately let this happen. We’ve worked too long and too hard to develop decent living standards for our people. This guy just wants to give it all away to billionaires!”
Signs included “Hitler broke the unions in 1933, Kasich wants to do it in 2011,” “Collective bargaining brought you the middle class,” “Kasich is makin’ me sick,” and the now popular “Walk like an Egyptian.”
Nine-year-old Mike Hunley and his friend Ty were on the stage among the speakers. “We’re here for our teacher,” Mike said. “And not just for the rich,” Ty added. “They want us all to grow up poor,” the two said.
Dawn Hunley, a teacher in Nelsonville, Ohio, and Mike’s mom, said the two boys were “here making history!” She added, “I didn’t have to drag them here, they really know that this is an attack on us all.”
Democratic state Reps. Mike Foley and Nickie Antonio were circulating in the huge crowd, shaking hands and wishing the protestors well.
SB 5 is “an outrage,” Foley said. “We have the greatest redistribution of wealth in history, up to the rich, and they want to break unions and destroy the middle class. We will defeat this power grab, no matter how long it takes!”
“Let people know that the Democratic caucus stands with them,” Antonio said.
Rev. Tim Ahrens, from the First Congregational Church in Columbus, was speaking to the rally as Kasich’s rambling speech began to come over the outdoor speakers. The governor’s words were greeted by thundering chants of “Recall, recall,” and “Kill the bill,” drowning out the speech. Finally, to the pleasure of the crowd, the huge speakers were cut off and Rev. Ahrens resumed his own remarks.
“Kasich wrote a book in which he states that the people are a great symphony, but later he states in the same book that he doesn’t listen to crowds,” Ahrens told the crowd. “Well, Mr. Kasich, this is a huge symphony of the people. This is what democracy is! Kasich only wants to listen to certain notes, and then only the ones played by the wealthy.”
“We are the symphony of the people, ” Rev. Ahrens said to huge cheers, “and we WILL be heard!”
The Ohio AFL-CIO is running phone banks seven days a week in Columbus, talking to Ohioans about why they need to protect workers’ bargaining rights and defeat SB 5.
The labor federation is urging volunteers to come and help: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. on weekends, at the Ohio AFL-CIO, 395 E. Broad. Parking is available in the rear in designated spots, entrance in rear, hit #1, say you’re there to volunteer.
Photo: Thousands gather to say “Kill the bill” (Senate Bill 5) on March 8 at the Ohio state Capitol in Columbus. Ohio AFL-CIO CC 2.0