ANNAPOLIS, Md. - More than 10,000 union members and supporters swarmed the State Capitol here to protest proposed changes to teacher's pensions and to respond to the recent attack on unions in Wisconsin.
The rally began at 6 p.m. as people began filing into Lawyer's Mall in front of the Statehouse, arriving from all corners of the state. When the mall was full and barriers broken down, people resorted to climbing trees to fit in.
That's when the marchers arrived.
Another 7,000 or so people came marching from the main boulevard. Standing at one end of the rally it was not possible to see the end of the procession that packed the whole four-lane street. The police ended up blocking traffic for blocks to accommodate the crowd that was far more than twice what they had expected.
A local veteran of the labor movement at the rally said, "I've been coming to labor rallies in Maryland for over 25 years and I've never seen anything like it." He mentioned how the atmosphere was "totally different than any labor rally I've ever been to in Maryland." Another participant was a self-described "conservative" debating the merits of capitalism and the free market. Still, he was so energized by the recent movement by labor that he wanted to come support it.
Bells and other noisemakers were roaring and even in the cold people were ready to stay out and be heard.
Speakers from the local labor movement pumped up everyone, leading up to the headliner, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.
Trumka's trademark style of energetic speaking was perfect for this electric crowd.
"Together we're a movement," he said, "We stand for all working American families!"
The labor president then praised the electorate, saying, "You've done everything right here in Maryland, you've got a governor and legislators that know the value of working families but nobody is immune to what's happening in the rest of the country."
"This is bigger than pensions, bigger than health care costs, pay cuts and furloughs, as painful and as unjust as they may be.," Trumka continued. "This is about the corporate CEO agenda of more, more, more for them and less, less, less for us!"
Trumka had "a message for those who support the CEO agenda, warning, "Madison is just the beginning, Cleveland is just the beginning. This right here tonight is only the beginning!"
Opposing the scapegoating of teachers and public workers, Trumka argued that "Maryland has the best education in the world," saying this was "because of unions."
The evening was closed by none other than Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley himself - who is working on the budget that is being protested. Attending the rally to speak (especially following Richard Trumka) was a gutsy and appreciated move by most. He was welcomed - but clearly put in his place when the crowd felt it necessary. For instance after a cheer that was equal to or possibly greater than any the crowd gave to any speaker that night, they then began to chant "Keep the promise," referring to the proposed pension changes.
Gov. O'Malley opened with, "My name is Martin O'Malley. I serve the people of Maryland and I don't like this budget either." The governor then affirmed, "We have some tough decisions ahead of us and nobody has all the answers but ... we are committed to staying at the table and figuring this out and moving together as one Maryland."
"You will not find in Maryland this Midwestern repression that goes on in places like Wisconsin," he added. "You will not find in Maryland the type of Midwestern repression like in Ohio where they're taking away collective bargaining rights!"
He did say that Marylanders would have to "pay a little more," which was answered with mixed boos and scattered chants of "Tax the rich!" The Baltimore mayor-turned- governor then left the stage to a mix of cheers and chants.
The rally could be a signal to Maryland's tea party movement, who also showed up - 20 strong - that labor is just as passionate, just as organized - only far bigger. The counterdemonstrators, calling themselves Code Stink, all dressed - fittingly, some would say - as pigs and chanted things like "Walker! Walker! Walker!" in a reference to the Wisconsin governor and tea party favorite. After about an hour, they quietly retreated from the crowd of over 10,000.