CHICAGO - It was a long bus ride to Washington for the 55 riders on Chicago's Community Bus #2. After a rally at Teamster City here, hundreds of area residents had boarded a half dozen buses to be part of the Oct. 2 One Nation Working Together march. The racial, ethnic and age diversity of the bus riders was striking, and many took note of its importance. (Video below.)
As they traveled the 16-hour trip to D.C., between watching DVDs bus riders told their stories about why they were making the journey. They had job creation and racial unity on their minds. They were marching for "hope, not hate."
They also had another challenge in mind: apathy.
Bus captain John Gaudette urged riders to continue organizing after the march, and to get people out to vote for the November 2 midterm elections. "There are 400,000 first-time voters from 2008 in Illinois," he said. "You have to bring your friends and family to the polls. Indifference is the enemy."
Bill Iaccino, a railroad worker for 30-plus years and member of the Machinists union, spoke with passion about the danger of the "right-wingers" and tea partiers in this election. He said he was disgusted by the attacks on President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
"These are the same people who claimed you couldn't say anything about George W. Bush, but they trash this president and his wife," he said.
But what scares him most, he said, is not the attacks by the right-wingers, it's the apathy he sees.
"People in this country are way too apathetic when it comes to midterm elections," Iaccino said. "They think, 'Somebody else will vote, I don't have to' This is what scares me."
Also on the bus were newcomers to protests and politics who said they were determined to share what they learned at One Nation with their friends and family.
Sixteen-year-old Josh Kielley said his teachers and friends were impressed he was going to the march. It was going to be his first time at a national march, and he said he wants his friends to be more aware of politics and the economic situation.
"They think it's cool we have a Black president, but they don't pay attention to much else," he said. "I want to help them be aware, and people are getting together to try to help this current economic situation. That this is for more power to the people."
Janet Edburg spent 32 years packing and filling orders in a metal fabricating factory, until she got laid off Oct. 17, 2008. "I'll always remember that date," she said.
A resident of Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood, Edburg saw a sign in the window of a local building that said, "Unemployed Action Center." "So I thought I'd check it out," she said.
That step led her to a transformational journey. She met people who helped her work out problems she was having with her unemployment insurance. "I was feeling worthless," she said. "Why didn't I do something better with my life? I was scared maybe I won't get back in the workforce."
But a successful trip to the unemployment office with Bill Mackovich from the center "gave me confidence to keep going."
"I want to give back to others now," Edburg said. "My son told me he was very proud of me for what I'm doing."
Other bus riders, some employed, some not, wanted to raise awareness on issues like public education and teachers, senior citizens and Social Security, the mentally ill and substance abusers and treatment, living wages and the desperate need for affordable child care.
Cezar Simeon told his fellow bus riders that the "big lie" about public education is about teacher tenure. He said Oprah and others are saying teachers get a job for life because of tenure. "That is not true!" said Simeon. "What tenure gives teachers is due process. Teachers without tenure can get fired without cause. Teachers with tenure can still get fired but there has to be due process."
Vietnam veteran Benny Espinoza said the last time he was in Washington was in 1968, on leave from the Army for a few days. This was his first national demonstration. "People need jobs," he said. "They don't want handouts. They want jobs."
Espinoza helps out at a local center where people can apply for federal money to help pay for heating and cooling expenses. Espinoza said he sees so many people who need help paying their utility bills, and jobs are the answer for them. "We need to do whatever to keep jobs in the United States," he said.
Espinoza said so many people have serious economic problems that prevent them from doing anything else. "When you listen to their stories you can tell no one's paying attention to them," he said. "I can't not help."
Photo: One Nation Working Together (John Gaudette)
Video: (John Bachtell/PW)