Saturday, February 26, 2011

Save a middle-class dream

Organizers and members of the crowd estimated 3,000 demonstrators showed up on the Colorado Capitol steps Saturday to rally to Save the American Dream, an Internet-driven demonstration supporting organized labor, Wisconsin public employees, the nation's dwindling middle class and the power of people in a democracy.

Since this blog on Wednesday suggested it was time for Coloradans to vote with their feet in support of the middle class, and Move and a large coalition of other organizations called for noon rallies across the nation to do the same, I went to check out the crowd and add my large body to it.

Two Denver television stations reported the crowd as much smaller, and frankly, as a lover of crowds and a reporter assigned to cover a number of them, the 1,000 figure seemed more accurate to me. 

Zoe Williams, an organizer who led "Power to the People" chants from the speakers' podium, said she obtained the permit for the rally even though she is not formally connected with Move On, and then gave over the rally to Move On folks.

The crowd was predominantly people over 35, and largely people over 50, who make up the middle class that has been decimated over the past 20 years, as has organized labor in the private sector, and the power of people in all of America for that matter.

Williams identified her chants as drawn from the Sixties although she was not old enough to have chanted them then. It's a wonder the words have not been forgotten.

But that has been the way America has gone since the Sixties. Buttoned up, free-market, anti-labor if not necessarily anti-people, unless the people are undocumented immigrants. It's just that many of the people of the Sixties have gotten rich, turned Republican and think that all their neighbors have done the same.

Peaceful despite significant police coverage, the tone taken by speakers at the rally was liberal to activist. One member of the Denver firefighters' union took after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is trying to strip collective bargaining rights from many public workers in his state. "Mr. Walker, you awoke a sleeping giant," the firefighter said. "We are the people."

Back in the Sixties you wouldn't have seen a white firefighter take to the podium during a demonstration. Today, first responders of all sorts are as much under the anti-labor, free-market gun that is aimed at any unionized worker, but most especially at public employees, who make up the majority of the few unionized workers who still have jobs in America. Private-sector union workers are almost extinct.

Signs are always the most entertaining element of a demonstration in America. "I am not a serf," read one homemade poster. "Of the Corp., Buy the Corp., For the Corp.," read another.

Cars honked in support of the rally, and so did the big air horns on cement trucks pulling away from the construction site where a new court building and history museum are being built. The drivers, from the private-sector, probably would like to be unionized.

And for all the business opposition to unions in Colorado, battles most Colorado business people believe have been won for good, the rally might signal to future middle-class prospects -- the great number of college graduates walking around without jobs in their field, for example -- that the power of unions and union-negotiated wages also fuels a state's economy.

Many people at the rally believe there would be no middle-class in America if unions did not organize a third of the workforce after World War II. That post-war era, the Sixties, still represents one of the most prosperous eras in the nation's history. But that lesson has been lost on most people who oppose unions.

It's not been lost on what's left of the middle class.

1 comment:

  1. Great work Bob. I'm glad you were able to get to the demonstration. Remember when we were in Denver at the Capitol, and there was a rally for legalizing pot. We all got our pictures with the organizers! Mary Halloran