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Vision: Across the Country, People Are Rising Up to Fight for Change

“Small acts

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can quietly become a power no government can suppress, a power than can transform the world.” -The late people’s historian Howard Zinn (August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010)

Over the years, Milwaukee Labor Press editor Dominique Paul North has covered a “heck of a lot of protests” in Wisconsin. Last summer, a peace rally in Wisconsin’s inner city drew about 100 people calling for the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan. “There was no media coverage,” he says. “I was the only reporter there.”

The next day, 40 people attended a tea party event in Wisconsin and every local media outlet was there to cover it. “This is what we’ve been seeing over the past year. If there’s a peace rally or a worker’s rights rally, it’s ho hum. You might find a reporter or two. The tea party would gather five people on the corner and there would be coverage.”

So while it was disappointing, it came as no surprise when most Wisconsin and national media outlets ignored the state’s first anti-inaugural rally on January 3.

Over 700 people gathered outside the Wisconsin State Capitol to protest the inauguration of newly-elected Republican Governor Scott Walker.

The Milwaukee Courier did report that “such a mobilization of popular discontent at the inauguration of a new governor is unprecedented in recent Wisconsin political history,” but Paul North says it deserved far more attention. “This is very unusual for an inaugural. I went to look at history books and couldn’t find any anti-inaugural events. There wasn’t a single story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the biggest paper in Wisconsin. I didn’t see any local TV news coverage in Milwaukee, but there was a lot of coverage of his inaugural.”

Participants waved signs saying “Then They Came for the Trade Unions,” “Christmas Sucked, Thanks Scott,” and “We Need Good Jobs NOW.” Demonstrators said they want jobs that are family-sustaining and pay a living wage, not minimum wage. Governor Walker has promised to create 250,000 jobs in the next four years.

“Today isn’t about Scott Walker, it’s about the people standing up to say we need good jobs now,” said Roderick Caesar, an unemployed Milwaukee worker, in an interview with the paper. “I’m college educated and I want a job so that I can support my family.”

Organizers from churches and groups including the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and Voces de la Frontera, also expressed opposition to the Governor’s decision to kill the proposed 110-mph Madison-Milwaukee high-speed rail line. They say the derailment of the federally funded train line will cost the state 13,000 jobs.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently withdrew an $810 million grant from Wisconsin and divided it among other states, including California and Florida. According to the Journal Sentinel, Walker called the grant withdrawal a “victory” because he believes the rail line is a symbol of excessive governments spending. “The Madison-to-Milwaukee train line is dead,” he said in a statement.

“I think it’s an absolute travesty that the man who is about to take the governorship of the state of Wisconsin would find victory in giving away $810 million dollars,” said Sheila Cochran, COO of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council. “Aside from becoming the laughingstock of the rest of the nation, a lot of us just can’t understand why you’d give away a grant.”

“It was good news to see such a diverse mix of people brave chilly weather on a week day to stand up and push back,” writes Gary Storck, co-founder of Madison NORML. “The one silver lining to Walker’s policies is they are so extreme they have united a diverse array of citizens willing to brave even a January day to stand up for the real Wisconsin we all know and love.”

Hear what Milwaukee residents have to say about what their state is facing.

Here’s a summary of a few of the other actions you may have missed last month (unfortunately not all important could be included):

— On January 8, hundreds of Ohioans gathered outside a pre-inauguration event at the Columbus statehouse in subfreezing temperatures to send a message to the newly-elected Republican Governor John Kasich. According to People’s World, it was so cold, the bullhorns wouldn’t work, but that didn’t stop citizens from denouncing Governor Kasich’s plans to repeal the state’s collective bargaining law for public employees, raise tuition at colleges and universities, and privatize Ohio state prisons.

Citizens chanted, “We don’t care about the cold, Ohio can’t be bought and sold.”

“We’re not going to sit idly by and watch our state get sold to corporate interests,” said Deb Steele, and organizer with Columbus Jobs with Justice.

Like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Governor Kasich also refused federal stimulus money for a 258-mile high-speed 3C rail project linking Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, calling it “one of the dumbest ideas” he’s ever heard.

The $400 million project had the potential to create at least 225 immediate construction jobs over two years, and approximately 8,000 indirect and spin-off jobs, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. The rail service was projected to attract 478,000 passengers a year, and save up to 15,000 gallons of fuel a day by reducing automobile use. Over time, Ohio could have become an interregional rail hub connecting the Midwest and Northeast, which would generate $3 billion worth of economic development and support 16,700 jobs, according to the Illinois PIRG Education Fund.

At his first news conference after the election, Governor Kasich, another Republican climate change denier, said, “Passenger rail is not in Ohio’s future. That train is dead.”

“It’s unbelievable these states would send back $400million and $800 million in free money. It’s mind-boggling,” said Mike Pracht, CEO of US Railcar Co, a Columbus-based railroad-car manufacturer, in an interview with the Columbus Dispatch. “The only thing I can compare it to is the interstate-highway program back in the ’60s. Where would Ohio be today if it opted out of the interstate highway system? To suggest passenger rail would be any different is naive.”

At another action on January 14, more than 400 people attended a candlelight rally outside City Hall in Cincinnati to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and express their support for healthcare and childcare providers. They also condemned Governor Kasich’s anti-worker plan to strip them of their bargaining rights and get rid of wage rules, which mandate union-wages for public projects.

“Why is John Kasich singling me out and trying to take away my voice? I struggle everyday to make ends meet in this tough economy,” said longtime home healthcare worker Teresa Laws. “I do this work, not for the money, but because I love the patients I take care of. It frustrates me to hear that Gov. Kasich is trying to take away my voice and make it even harder for me to support my family and the clients I assist.”

“We want to say to Governor Kasich that these workers and all workers deserve the right to join a union if they so desire and once they have that right, we should be talking about helping them to advance the quality of their life, not diminishing it by taking away their rights,” said organizer Pierette Talley in an interview with Fox 19.

Campus Progress reports that “when Republican lawmakers like Kasich deride unions for giving their members lavish lifestyles, they are talking about workers making $60,000 (including benefits) and a difference of $5000 in compensation between the public and private employees. In comparison, Kasich made nearly $1.4 million in 2008, including $587,175 from Lehman Brothers, where he worked until the firm collapsed that September.”

Watch video from the rally here.

— On January 9, more than 300 people gathered in New York City to mark the second anniversary of the Israeli government’s assault on Gaza, which killed over 1,400 Palestinians and wounded 5,300. The action was sponsored by more than 20 groups including The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, Columbia University Students for Justice in Palestine, and New York City Labor Against the War. The Socialist Worker was one of the few outlets to report on the action, which was held to bring attention to the ongoing and often forgotten siege of Gaza where 1.5 million people don’t have access to basic necessities. More than 60 percent of the population is unemployed and 80 percent live in poverty, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

— In San Diego, more than 100 people marked the anniversary by marching through the city’s tourist center and reading the names and ages of the 325 Gazan children who were killed.

— On January 10, demonstrators across the state of California gathered in front of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s offices to oppose his budget proposal, which calls for $12.5 billion in cuts affecting everything from higher education and healthcare for the poor and disabled to childcare and in-home supportive services.

California’s Health and Human Services Network compiled links to local coverage of the rallies.

On that same day, over 1,000 grassroots activists joined 500 members of the California Health Professional Student Alliance for their annual lobbying day. They rallied on the steps of the State Capitol to call for a Medicare for All system, which would consolidate thousands of different health insurance plans into a single system run by the state government. The California Universal Healthcare Act passed the legislature in 2006 and 2008, but was vetoed both times by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Single Payer Now rally comes just a few months before Blue Shield of California plans to increase rates by as much as 59 percent. “I have California Blue Shield, I have private insurance, and now they have just raised, said they were going to raise rates this year by 50.5%, and I am now paying $2,800 a month for private insurance with a $1,500 deductible. I can’t do it anymore,” said single-payer advocate Eleanor Clarke in an interview with KALW News.

Amanda Forman, an occupational therapist at the California Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles, told California Healthline that the national healthcare bill fails to address the problems she sees every day. “As a clinician, I see patients come into the ER all the time because that’s the only way they can see a doctor. And of course, it’s the most expensive.”

Almost one in four Californians under age 65, or 8.2 million, have no health insurance, and 5.7 million Californians lack job-based health insurance, according to UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research.

See photos of the event.

— On January 11, human rights activists gathered in Chicago, Washington DC, Berkeley, CA, and San Francisco to call on the Obama administration to close Guantanamo. On the ninth anniversary of the prison’s opening, activists wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods rallied in front of the White House to represent the 173 prisoners who remain in custody, then marched to the Department of Justice to hold a silent vigil. Sixty anti-torture activists blocked three entrances to the Department for an hour and a half. No arrests were made.

Organizers from groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, and September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows are calling on the Obama administration to either put Guantanamo detainees on trial in federal court or release them.

“Approximately 30 men could be released from Guantánamo tomorrow but for a fear of torture or persecution in their home countries,” said Pardiss Kebriaei, Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney representing men detained at Guantánamo. “These men appeal to the international community for help in offering them safe havens and a chance to rebuild their lives. People of conscience in the world cannot let yet another anniversary of Guantánamo pass without doing something to help close it. Offering resettlement is a key part of the solution.”

The Washington Post was one of the few corporate outlets to cover the rally. Watch coverage from The Real News Network.

Demonstrators in Berkeley marched from the Old City Hall to the Berkeley Marine Recruiting Station to mark the anniversary and call for the release of Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army intelligence analyst who’s been held in solitary confinement at a maximum security military prison in Virginia for over eight months. On June 6, 2010, he was charged with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice for allegedly passing a massive trove of U.S. state secrets and video showing American soldiers killing unarmed civilians in Iraq to Wikileaks. He faces 52 years in prison if convicted.

— On January 17, a group of protesters in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, gathered outside of Combined Systems Inc. (CSI), the company that sells tear gas to the Israeli, Tunisian, and Egyptian militaries.

“The owners of CSI treat their workers like slaves, and they treat the Palestinians like target practice,” said Werner Lange, of the Coalition for Peace in the Middle East, in an interview with WKBN. “We want this gross injustice to end, and we want it to end now.”

This protest followed a January 11 action at the offices of Point Lookout Capital Partners, a New York-based investment firm that owns a majority interest in CSI.

According to Adalah-NY, “Jawaher Abu Rahmah died in a hospital a day after she was engulfed in a cloud of tear gas and collapsed at a protest in the village of Bil’in. Additionally, Israeli soldiers have shot directly at and hit at least HYPERLINK “”18 protesters with tear gas canisters over the last two years in the villages of Bil’in and Ni’ilin alone. No one from the Israeli military has been held accountable for the deaths and injuries caused by shooting tear gas canisters at protesters.”

See photos here.

CNN recently ran a piece about CSI’s tear gas also being used on protesters in Tunisia and Egypt. On January 17, Lucas Mebrouk Dolega , a 32-year-old photographer for the European PressPhoto Agency, died three days after being hit by a tear gas grenade at close range.

— On January 19, approximately 200 union workers shut down a Mortgage Bankers Association conference at the JW Mariott in Washington DC for about 10 minutes, taking over the stage to protest the Pulte Group, one of the largest homebuilders in the country, before leaving peacefully.

According to the Huffington Post, protestors from the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, the International Union of Painters, and Allied Trades, many wearing overalls and hardhats, burst into the crowded conference room shouting, “Where is the money? Where are our jobs?”

Organizers held the action to hold the Pulte Group accountable for the $900 million in government tax breaks it received to help spur job creation and avoid layoffs.

“This is the second time we have attempted to get answers from Pulte executives about how they spent the money. Wherever they go, we will follow until there is accountability for those taxpayer dollars,” said Saundra Williams, president of the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO. “We bailed out the auto companies. We bailed out the banks. We bailed out Pulte. It’s time for them to show us the money that was supposed to create jobs. There needs to be accountability here.”

Watch CNBC’s coverage.

— On January 30, from Portland, Oregon to Queens, New York, thousands of people took to the streets to express solidarity with the people of Egypt and to call for the dictator Hosni Mubarak to step down after 30 years in power and unfettered support from the U.S. government. They also called on the U.S. government to end all aid to Egypt. Check out a compilation of photos from MRZine.

—On January 30, police in riot gear arrested 25 people for trespassing as over 1,000 protested outside a four-day meeting in Rancho Mirago, CA held by the billionaire tea-party funders David and Charles Koch, conservative activists, and politicians including House Republican leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

Jeff McCall, 67, a retired teacher told the LA Times he was there to express opposition to the Citizens United ruling. “It’s putting American democracy in the hands of people like the Kochs and others,” he said. “It’s not who you vote for, it’s how much money you’ve got.”

“I want to zero in on Medicare and Social Security, as these are programs that the Koch Brothers want to destroy,” said DeAnn McEwen, a Long Beach nurse and co-president of the California Nurses Association.

Politico’s Kenneth Vogel reports that the Koch brothers have hired a team of public relation professionals to “quietly engage reporters to try to shape their Koch coverage.”

The Koch brothers are worth a reported $21.5 billion each. According to an August New Yorker piece, the Koch brothers have quietly given more than $100 million to organizations and think tanks that lobby for personal and corporate tax cuts, social service reductions, and deregulation. The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control 4,000 miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns a wide range of products including Brawny paper towels, Dixie Cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra.

Rose Aguilar is the host of Your Call, a daily call-in radio show on KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco and KUSP 88.9 FM in Santa Cruz, and author of Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey into the Heartland.

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