Report from Columbus
UPDATE: Now with pictures instead of "broken link" icons!
Yesterday I was in Columbus to join in the rally against SB 5, the Ohio GOP's implementation of the assault on collective bargaining. Even before we got there it was clear Republicans were trying to discourage attendance: as the bus approached Columbus we were told the doors to the Senate building had been locked. When we arrived there was a large crowd outside making lots of noise (along with a firefighter's bagpipe group that I couldn't see but sounded wonderful):
Since our trip was sponsored by the county Democratic party our trip coordinator was in contact with a few of the state senators. Getting inside from the front was not going to happen, so we were directed to the parking garage. Once we got there we were turned away by state troopers. Phone calls ensued; we were told to go to the rear of the building for admittance. One of our group was a woman with osteoporosis and a walker; we had to slowly and carefully usher her up the stairs and bring the walker as well. Not being able to use an elevator was a noteworthy obstacle.
We slowly started up the stairs, and as the first of our group got to the top we were greeted by security. This was in an outdoor area; it was on the way from the parking garage to the outdoor entrance of the building. Yet we were stopped on a single flight of outdoor concrete steps and told we would have to turn back. Which, for someone with limited mobility, is no trivial thing. Together with the locked doors, we had two instances in the first ten minutes of the kind of cheap, antidemocratic harassment that would be characteristic of the day.
Anyway, more phone calls ensued, and after another delay we were able to actually use the stairs. From there we got to the back of the building, where the following sign greeted us:
Those feet you see belong to members of our group ignoring it. Note also: more steps to climb. If the building is technically handicap accessible it certainly wasn't yesterday.
When we got to the top of the stairs there was another delay as troopers told us no one was allowed to go in. More phone calls, this time around fifteen minutes. Now remember, we are in touch with a state Senator inside the building who is expecting us and has even laid out a really nice spread of subs for us:
And as invited guests of one of the Senators we were still denied entrance. Finally State Representative Representative Teresa Fedor, the most fabulous person in the world, showed up, opened the doors, and told the troopers "This is the people's house. Lobbyists use this door. Arrest me if you want." Here is Representative Fedor:
(I misidentified her in my Twitter stream yesterday; my apologies for the error.)
Once inside it was easy to see the results of the state GOP's efforts. The rotunda should have looked like Madison. Instead it looked like this:
It would have looked a lot more impressive if some of the people who had every right to be inside were allowed in:
Signs were also being confiscated at first. Here are some that were discarded in a bathroom:
Democrats quickly arranged a press conference; here is Fedor shooting daggers at some asshole Republican (OK, maybe I'm taking a little license with that):
Minority Leader Armond Budish then showed all the petitions that were being ignored. Here is how the process is supposed to go: Ordinary citizens can fill out a form to address the hearing and submit it. If there are a lot of them, a handful will be chosen. Those people then get three minutes to address the Senators. It's supposed to be an opportunity for those without a direct line to the Senators to be heard. I actually filled one out on the way there and gave it to our trip coordinator. I've never addressed a legislative body before and I would have been incredibly nervous, but I was willing to give it a shot.
Guess what? Republicans decided that all statements had to be submitted by last Friday. It was a nakedly cynical ploy to prevent those involved in the protest from being heard, and it worked. Here is Budish with the stack:
Those who got in before the doors shut for good gathered in the atrium:
The hearing began around 4:10 PM and was piped in via loudspeakers. Those gathered reacted frequently and boisterously to the proceedings. Around 5:30 the local AFSCME folks laid out what looked like a couple hundred boxed dinners, free for the taking for anyone who wanted it. No limit, either.
My one regret for picture taking was not turning 180 degrees after snapping this and getting a picture of the scene just steps away: a schmoozefest for representatives and lobbyists. Some industry with business before the state laid out a spread with free food and booze, and were delicately (but emphatically) cordoned off by velvet ropes. Ah well. Just imagine it.
When it was time for us to head back to the bus there were still protesters outside:
And even at that late hour - with most of the protesters gone - security was still not letting anyone in. The trooper presence was overwhelming; far beyond what public safety required. There was a riot truck, canine, and a couple troopers were actually wearing full riot gear. The pretty clear intent by the GOP was to scare people away, and I'm happy to say they failed. But it still contributed to the unfriendly environment, and it's instructive that this is how the GOP really thinks of democracy. They'll welcome throngs of their supporters, but authoritarians do as much. The test is when it's the other side on the march, and on that score Republicans showed their true colors yesterday.
And just for the record, here's roughly what I would have said, had the process not been rigged against ordinary folks and had I been lucky enough to be selected:
I'm not in a union and not a public employee; neither is my wife. Strictly speaking I don't have a dog in this fight. But I deeply object to the attempt to remove collective bargaining for public employees. We've tried supply side economics long enough, and the money hasn't trickled down. To the extent that we have a budget crisis it's because the rich keep paying less and less of their fair share. We gave them all the tax cuts and abatements they wanted. They didn't reinvest it, they sat on it. That's why unemployment has been so high for so long. Giveaways to the wealthy take productive capacity out of the economy and increases unemployment.
Higher unemployment means more stress on social services along with fewer taxpayers, and both of those factors strain budgets. But the solution is not bust the last large group of middle class workers that can resist the transfer of wealth to the rich. The solution is to get lots of people back to work and paying taxes. If the way to do that is to disgorge some part of the outsized gains that the most well off have enjoyed, then to coin a phrase: so be it.
Ohio doesn't need more employers hiring part time workers to avoid having to pay benefits, or more people working multiple part time jobs because they can't find a full time one. I am happy to have part of my private sector paycheck taxed at a rate that allows for the modest compensation, benefits and pension currently enjoyed by those in public sector unions. I don't want them forever being nickel and dimed, begrudged every penny and constantly pressured to voluntarily join the ranks of the working poor. I want to know that we're doing right by the people who work for us, that they receive the simple and basic job security and dignity that every worker deserves.