Members of AFT Birmingham and Jefferson County AFT in Alabama gathered in Birmingham on April 4 for one of many “We Are One” rallies across the country. Photo by Jeff Roberts.
Thousands of people gathered at hundreds of events throughout the country on April 4 to kick off the "We Are One" Week of Action to support fairness, justice, democracy and workers' rights. Events continue throughout the week.
AFT president Randi Weingarten started the day in Trenton, N.J., at a morning symposium that connected the April 4 events to the ongoing, inseparable fight for civil rights, economic justice and a democratic society. The events were held in the days leading up to and following April 4 to honor the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated on that date in 1968 in Memphis, where he had gone to stand with sanitation workers demanding the right to bargain collectively for a voice at work.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman delivered the keynote address in Trenton to a standing-room-only audience. He said he was "the most hopeful I've been in a long time" because of events like the spontaneous grass-roots outpouring in Wisconsin—events that signal a growing American awareness that, in a democracy, basic rights don't come à la carte.
"Civil rights are not enough without economic equality—and at the core of that is labor rights and collective bargaining," said Krugman, who is a New York Times columnist.
The symposium also featured remarks from Weingarten, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.). Weingarten said the day's events illustrate that unions are "a huge tool for both quality and economic dignity. They are worth fighting for, and our obligation is to take this moment and turn it into a movement."
The April 4 momentum continued in Philadelphia, where Weingarten joined AFT members who were well represented among the labor, student, civil rights and other organizations that flocked to a high-energy "We are One" rally and march at Temple University. (Watch video at left.)
AFT Pennsylvania president Ted Kirsch, who is also an AFT vice president, addressed more than 1,000 cheering, chanting, sign-waving activists at the rally and stressed that the day's events "are really about democracy" and efforts to save voice and opportunity for the middle class through their unions.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president and AFT vice president Jerry T. Jordan also charged up the crowd, telling activists to "keep your eyes on the prize and fight for justice," even in the face of legislative battles now unfolding in states around the country.
One of those battles has erupted in Pennsylvania. Arthur Hochner, president of the Temple Association of University Professionals, described how Gov. Tom Corbett's plans to cut 50 percent of state funding to colleges and universities would have devastating consequences for Pennsylvanians. At a time when even more skills are needed to compete in a knowledge-based economy, "these cuts threaten the future" of the state, he said.
Among those who turned out for the rally was Ed Avery-Natale, a graduate assistant and union organizer. It was the second "We Are One" event he had attended that day, and the graduate assistant predicted April 4 mobilization would be an eye-opener for the politicians and special interests that have launched calculated attacks on organized labor and the middle class. "I don't think those who attacked us expected the level of opposition" the week of action is generating, he said.
Nor did the architects of these attacks anticipate another consequence of their power grab, Weingarten told the cheering crowd: They've managed to "bring the community and labor together like never before."
An event in Washington, D.C., drew a crowd of more than 2,000 marchers, who descended on the offices of billionaires Charles and David Koch to insist that the brothers stop funding anti-worker legislation in Wisconsin and other states, and support laws that benefit America's middle class.
Led by civil rights organizations, environmental and women's rights groups, and labor unions, the marchers included educators, students, parents, faith leaders and senior citizens. They chanted "we are one" and "shame, shame" as they rallied outside the Koch Industries' offices. A delegation led by Common Cause president Bob Edgar tried to present an oversized poster inviting the Koch brothers to "stand for working people and responsible corporate behavior," but was barred at the front door. (Watch video at right.)
Fairfax (Va.) Federation of Teachers president Steven Greenburg, who addressed the D.C. marchers, condemned efforts to take away the bargaining rights of teachers and other public employees. "When collective bargaining is taken away and teachers are removed from decisions that affect children, the children suffer," he said.
The nation should be "embracing diversity and attacking joblessness and foreclosures," asserted NAACP president Ben Jealous, who said his organization was joining in "We Are One" activities throughout the country.
In San Francisco, teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, nurses and psychologists from United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) and Community College Teachers of San Francisco were among the crowd of about 1,500 who gathered at the Bank of America just before 5 p.m. to add their voices to a solidarity rally and march to the Federal Reserve.
AFT secretary-treasurer Antonia Cortese addressed the crowd, pointing out that the nation is in danger of giving more to those who already have too much, but that we should choose instead to give more to schoolchildren, the working middle class, the unemployed and the sick. This is the choice our elected officials must make.
AFT secretary-treasurer Antonia Cortese addresses the crowd in San Francisco. Photo by David Bacon.
"For that answer," Cortese said, "I'll turn to the words of the great man whose life we're honoring today. "Martin Luther King Jr. said: 'He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.' That's why we're here today-protesting-because we refuse to stand idly by and cooperate with those who call for shared sacrifice but don't ask the richest among us to sacrifice anything. We refuse to cooperate with people who have benefited from all that this great nation has to offer, and are now refusing to pay their fair share."
Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and UESF president Dennis Kelly, who is also an AFT vice president, took part in rallies in the Bay Area. "In California, we are lucky," Shuler said, comparing Californians with workers in Wisconsin and Ohio. "We have a governor who will listen, who will bring workers to the table."
AFT members and affiliates were involved in numerous "We Are One" activities around the country, from New York and New Hampshire to Michigan and Montana.
Some good sources for additional coverage of April 4 events include the AFT's Facebook page, the AFL-CIO's Facebook page and the AFL-CIO Now blog. The AFT website also has a list of suggested actions that members can take during the week to show their solidarity. [Mike Rose, Roger Glass, Annette Licitra, Dan Gursky/video by Matthew Jones and Brett Sherman]
April 5, 2011