Monday, February 28, 2011

Guest Post: The Reawakening of Righteous Anger, For What It's Worth -- Scenes from the "Rally to Save the American Dream" (Chicago, Feb. 26, 2011) by a friend named Ken

(Note from Seth: My friend Ken, who I met through job search networking, has been out of work longer than anyone with his breadth and depth of experience should be. But in his 50's, Ken suspects there might be more than misfortune to blame, as the "salt & pepper" of his beard may not be the type of seasoning employers are willing to invest in anymore. 

Angered by the cannibalizing of the common good by Wall Street speculators, corporations, military contractors and other parasitic self-interests, on Saturday, February 26, 2011, Ken attended the Chicago edition of the "Rally to Save the American Dream," in solidarity with union interests in the Wisconsin budget battle. 

He wrote about the experience and asked if I would run his piece on my blog. I hope you find value in Ken's insights, ire and small sense of uplift, and should you know of any opportunities for a Systems Consultant/Project Manager with a strong track record within Fortune 500 companies, be in touch and I'll be sure to let him know. 
“There's somethin' happenin' here...”
-- "For What It's Worth" by Stephen Stills, 1967
Dateline: Chicago, February 26, 2011.....somewhere in the front lines of America's class war.

Today, a nationwide protest movement came to life. This is the story of one of its birth pangs.

In each state capital of the United States, protesters rallied to show solidarity in support of the beleaguered Wisconsin teacher's union, whose members are under siege in Madison.

In Chicago, the harmonious rumblings of discord started on the 'L.'

On the trains going into the city, they boarded, at each stop, in twos and threes. You could tell who they were by their red sweatshirts, jackets and hats. ( organizers had suggested that supporters wear the University of Wisconsin colors of red and white.) But even among those not impersonating Badger boosters, snippets of conversation revealed a subdued but discernible enthusiasm:

“Did your local ask you to show support?”

“I'm an electrician...”
“I'm a teacher...”

“You know the cops are next....”

“Gotta do something...I've got grandchildren..”

“Do you listen to Progressive news?”

The rallying point was the State of Illinois Building in the heart of downtown Chicago, more conducive to a large turnout than the remote Illinois Capitol in Springfield. Not to mention, historically significant.

I wonder if anyone is still cognizant of Chicago's Haymarket Riot, which happened just 8 blocks west 125 years earlier. Does anyone ever read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle anymore, about the brutal time at the turn of the 20th century when Chicago was Hog Butcher for the World? Some things never change.

As I turned a corner at Clark and Randolph, I expected to see a small throng. What I ran into, instead, was a mass of two thousand people.

They were all there: white, black, Hispanic...young and and women...adults and children...they were all there.

Photo: HCan Illinois, from
The unions were there: AFSCME, Machinists, Laborers, Construction Workers, Electrical Workers, Chicago Teachers Union, Pharmacists. They were all there. But it wasn't a union-only crowd by far.

I circled the tightly packed crowd taking my bearings and trying to put my finger on a feeling I had but couldn't name.

It didn't have the buzz of an impending rock concert, that sense of gleeful anticipation. What was it?

I wormed my way into the center of the crowd. There were signs everywhere. Some factual, some poignant, some acerbic and some funny.

“United We Stand, Divided We Beg”

“Pharmacists stand with Teachers”

“Hey Obama, want to borrow my shoes?”

“Courage: 14”

“This is what Democracy Looks Like!”

“People Before Profits!”

“Benefits Not Bailouts!”

“When Do The Rich Sacrifice?”

And some...profane:

“Walker is a Koch sucker!”

The crowd was not unruly. Conversations were political...erudite...well informed...heated but not hysterical.

The politicians started speaking at the podium, mouthing platitudes to which the crowd responded politely but loudly.

What was that buzz I was sensing? Tension? Excitement? Thrill?

The union officials were speaking now, trying to whip the crowd into a frenzy. it was starting to work. I could feel it start to build, like the feeling you get in your chest when a master musician builds a crescendo.

I kept looking at the faces around me. They were mostly middle aged. What was it about their faces?

It was the eyes...their tired, tired eyes.
I was looking into the eyes of the modern day grunts of the world. The people who make it go.
I wormed my way into the center of the crowd. There were signs everywhere. Some factual, some poignant, some acerbic and some funny.

Tired of endless bills that keep going up, tired of trying to make ends meet, tired of struggling, tired of the unpaid overtime, tired of more taxes, tired of benefits cuts, tired of extra burdens, tired of never enough, tired of too many hours, tired of insecurity, tired of astronomical medical insurance costs, tired of never ending layoffs, and tired...of being scared.

And all they ever ever the same: 'you don't produce enough, you don't compete enough, you don't work hard enough, you have to give more and more and more.' And now they hear: 'AND you make too much money!'

They didn't carry Gucci purses or wear Ugg boots, they're not the types to shop upscale. They were wearing nondescript gym shoes, cheap hiking boots, plain sweater caps and quilted jackets, most of which were probably made by urban peasants in east Asia. Our brothers and sisters?

These are the grunts of the world who meet their needs through family, love, kids, church, sports, ice cream, movies and once in awhile a few pizzas and beer in the back yard. They used to be America's middle class. And they're damn tired. They don't even care so much for themselves; just give the kids a chance.

It's starting to snow. A woman at the podium grabs my attention. Impassioned, she screams into the microphone, “I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!” Then she tells of her father, a steelworker, who laid down on the railroad tracks in South Works to keep the scabs out in 1935. She'll be damned if they bust us now. Some things never change.

I'm feeling it too, what's going on in the crowd, but now I can name it:  righteous anger.

Not indignation, not annoyance, not peevishness...pure, unadulterated, righteous ANGER.

I don't know what happened in Madison, but it's happening here. The dispossessed and disenfranchised now know they too are under siege in our own urban Alamo.

Now they're drawing a line.
Here we stand. We're tired of being afraid. You took our houses. You took our 401(k)s. You took our IRAs. You took our retirement plans. You took our credit. You took our future. You took our kid's futures. You took it all already. Now we're gonna fight. Now we're gonna fight like we haven't fought in the last forty years. We are all Madison now.
I remember Admiral Yamamoto's quote, after Pearl Harbor, when he said the Japanese had roused a sleeping giant. Am I part of that sleeping giant? Some things never change.

A student at the podium announces that every cop in Wisconsin has been asked to drive to Madison and sleep over night in the rotunda. Individual citizens from over 20 countries have donated money to buy pizzas to feed the 100,000 making a stand in Madison.

The crowd is worked up now. It's intense, but not a frenzy. These aren't kids fooling around or aging baby boomers looking to relive their lost youth. These are people whose anger has been tapped. A primitive survival anger. They really aren't gonna take it anymore.

And we all know isn't the politicians. They're all bought and paid for. It's the corporations. It's the corporations. It always was...for years and years...the corporations.

And next, for me, the pivotal moment of the whole rally is about to occur.

It's snowing pretty hard now and I can't stop shivering. But this is where I belong.

A middle aged, black-haired woman is at the podium. She is speaking passionately...with conviction...and that indefinable something. Call it...soul.

That mercurial something that sometimes occurs when another human being cuts through you and touches you and connects. And what she says next gets to me:
“...and I know some of you...some of you stand there....and don't have a union card in your pocket...and some of you...have never been in a union in your life....but I tell you stand here NOW...and have now joined the Labor Movement...YOU all are now the Labor Movement...and we are all in this together!! starting right here and right now let the corporations know...the battle is joined! WE ARE THE LABOR MOVEMENT!”
And in the midst of my shivering...a new shiver goes up my spine.



My mind flashes back to a dirt poor Tunisian kid, better educated than me, who was so economically downtrodden, humiliated, defeated and bereft of all hope he killed himself with a fiery death. Did that kid die for nothing?


Another mind flash: an Egyptian kid stands with a sign which says “Egypt stands with Wisconsin workers. One pain”. Jesus, even the Egyptians feel sorry for us.
The chant dies down.

The final speeches are made. The crowd disperses ever so slowly. But they don't want to disperse.

Something happened here. It happened in Madison. Maybe it's happened elsewhere.
We are the Labor Movement. Today, we found something..that something that the corporations have coveted and tried to take from us for hundreds of years: Hope.
In this life you don't get to pick your parents, your genes, your life circumstances, your luck, and not much of anything else.

But do get to make choices. You have to take where you find yourself...and choose.

What the gotta die somehow. I want to die fighting.

Some things never change.


Bob Rashkow said...

Excellent job, Seth and Ken. I probably could have gone, but opted not to. Two thousand+ isn't too bad. We'll need plenty more. We ARE the Labor Movement and we ARE what keeps this God-forsaken world going.

Anonymous said...

Very well written piece and it would surprise me that someone that can write that well couldn't find work, at least 'preaching to the choir'. Maybe Ken misses the obvious in that there are two rules for job interviews, one is don't wear a beard, the second is don't wear your marijuana leaf t-shirt. Everything else is flexible. Maybe it isn't the salt and pepper in his beard, but the salt and pepper in his ideas?