CLEVELAND - Thousands rallied in Columbus and hundreds in Cleveland Saturday to support efforts to repeal laws suppressing trade union and voting rights enacted by the extremist Republican administration of Gov. John Kasich.
Senate Bill 5, the union-busting measure stripping the right of collective bargaining from public employees, will appear as Issue 2 on the Nov. 8 ballot but now a new campaign has been launched to repeal a voter suppression measure known as HB 194.
"Did you ever think, in this day and age, we would still be fighting for the right to vote and for the right to have a union?" Arlene Holt Baker, national vice president of the AFL-CIO, told a crowd of several hundred in the auditorium of Cuyahoga Community College.
"They are trying to take away our voice at the bargaining table and our voice in the voting booth. But we are one. We are together and nobody is going to turn us around."
The event, sponsored by CAUSE (Community Affirming Unity for Social Equality), a coalition of labor, civil rights and faith groups, kicked off the campaign in Cleveland to repeal HB 194 aimed at reducing voter turnout in heavily Democratic urban areas.
Last week Attorney General Mike DeWine authorized Fair Elections Ohio, headed by former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, to circulate petitions to repeal the law. The group has until Sept. 29 to collect 231,147 signatures to place the measure on the 2012 ballot. Otherwise the law will go into force and affect elections beginning this year.
The law prohibits county boards of elections from sending mail ballot request forms to all voters and paying for return postage on the applications as well as the mail ballots. Since 2006 election boards in six urban counties have used this to encourage voter participation particularly in minority and low-income areas with historically low turnouts.
The law also sharply reduces the days for early voting, prohibits early voting in the three days before an election when voting has been heaviest, stops poll workers from telling voters where to vote if they are in the wrong precinct and creates new technical reasons to disqualify eligible votes.
Another bill requiring voters show state-issued IDs at the polls has been introduced.
"The 2008 election of Barack Obama sent shivers down the spines of the rich and wealthy," said William Lucy, founder of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and NAACP national executive board member. "They are trying to do everything they can to keep us from voting. They want right-wing radical control of our government."
"The banks, Wall Street and the corporations are loaded with money but won't create one job because that would help Obama." he said. "There is reason to be frustrated but there is no reason not to go out and vote."
Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, echoed this, saying "Bad politicians are put in office by good people who don't vote."
Meanwhile in Columbus a Stand Up for Ohio Music Festival at the State Fair Grounds drew thousands from noon to dusk to hear Grand Funk Railroad, the Ohio Players and other groups, poetry by Nikki Giovanni and speeches from both Fair Elections Ohio and We Are Ohio, the labor-community coalition to repeal SB 5.
"These issues are two sides of the same coin," said Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO "They are both key to the opposition's strategy to severely restrict our rights. By limiting the rights of voters, they can best assure that voters will not be able to successfully defeat attacks on workers at the polls. By limiting the rights of workers, they can remove the strongest organizational obstacle to complete corporate takeover of our democratic system. Without these rights, we cannot preserve democracy.
"To defeat SB 5 we need to stop HB 194 by signing and circulating petitions and to stop voter suppression we need to vote No on Issue 2."
Photo: The Ohio Songwriters in the Round, featuring former First Lady of Ohio Frances Strickland, perform at the Stand Up Ohio Music Festival, Aug. 20. Columbus Education Association