by John Tarleton, Clarion Associate Editor
Chanting “We are all Wisconsin”, a crowd of more than 500 people rallied outside Fox News’s Midtown headquarters early Tuesday evening to show their support for public workers in Wisconsin.
The Feb. 22 rally was one of dozens of solidarity events held across the country to show support for labor protests in Wisconsin, where Republican governor Scott Walker is seeking to effectively strip public-sector unions of their collective bargaining rights.
Union activists, local politicos and members of the “Wisconsin diaspora” were among the speakers who urged the crowd to build on the outpouring of support that has taken place since tens of thousands of Wisconsin public workers and their supporters occupied the State Capitol in Madison earlier this month. The event was endorsed by the New York State AFL-CIO.
“Public-sector workers are not the enemy,” said Hector Figueroa Secretary Treasurer of SEIU 32BJ, which represents 120,000 property service workers in eight states and Washington, D.C. Instead, Figueroa said, “we need to use this opportunity to organize” to improve health care and benefits for private-sector workers as well.
The rally was organized on short notice over the Internet by the Job Party, a newly-formed group that offers itself as progressive alternative to the Tea Party. Organizers chose the venue because of Fox News’s anti-union bias in its Wisconsin coverage. The event drew a cross-section of young and old who were inspired by the Wisconsin upsurge and the hopeful contrast it has provided to the divisive politics of austerity.
Justin Krebs, one of about a dozen protesters who follows the example of Wisconsin sports fans in wearing yellow, slice-shaped “cheesehead” hats, said that the Wisconsin protests were inspiring younger people who may not have previously participated in a mass movement. “It’s passionate, peaceful and persistent,” said Krebs. “And it’s not just for one day. It’s enduring.”
Many protesters also drew connections to recent popular uprisings in the Middle East, expressing hope that “people power” could block Walker’s anti-union measure. “We’re all standing in Tahrir Square in some sense,” said Hanna Lessinger, an adjunct at John Jay College.
“They [the Wisconsin protesters] have done what we should have done years ago,” added Lessinger’s friend Nadine Fishelson, a public school teacher in Brooklyn. “If we don’t do something now, this is going to happen to us here in New York.”
PSC Vice President for Part-Time Personnel Marcia Newfield said that being vocal and visible is especially important at this time. “Street action has always made a difference,” Newfield said, “and at this moment consciousness is running high.”
Job Party organizers say they will hold more Wisconsin solidarity rallies in New York City soon. They are supporting the “50-State Mobilization to Save the American Dream” on Saturday, Feb. 26, which includes rallies in NYC and Albany.
The PSC Delegate Assembly passed a resolution on Feb. 17 in support of public-sector workers in Wisconsin. The union has ordered 5,000 stickers that read “We Are All Wisconsin” for members who want to show their support. For more PSC coverage of the Wisconsin protests and info about other local solidarity actions, click here.
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