LANSING, Mich. - Some 8,000 people rallied at the Michigan state Capitol here March 16, protesting the onslaught of 36 anti-labor, anti-people bills and a mean-spirited budget the Republican legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder are throwing at them. They came in response to a call issued by the Michigan AFL-CIO (and a letter from Michael Moore to his fellow Michiganders).
Billed as the Rally for Michigan Families, it was the largest and most diverse demonstration since protests against the GOP attack began here a month ago. Nurses, teachers, autoworkers, building trades workers in hardhats, students, environmentalists and peace activists chanted and cheered on the sunny spring day.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer told the crowd approvingly, "I've been to a number of rallies - this is the wildest one."
"The Republicans could never have a rally like this," said one participant.
After the spirited rally, protesters streamed into the Capitol and filled the three floors of the rotunda. The noise and chants were loud, continuous and energetic.
As they chanted "Tax the rich," and "This is what democracy looks like," the noise was so deafening that work in the House and Senate could not proceed.
With both chambers dominated by huge Republican majorities, it was no loss, many protesters felt: nothing positive would be accomplished anyway.
Of the 36 anti-worker bills, the one referenced often in the rally speeches was a bill just passed by the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate. It would allow the governor to appoint Emergency Financial Managers (EFMs) - with the power to void union contracts - for municipalities deemed to be in financial distress. Some 70 Michigan towns and cities are considered at risk.
Rally participant Sarah Gerk, a member of the graduate employees union at the University of Michigan, said the emergency financial manager legislation has "gone too far. It's really teetering on the brink of something that doesn't even look like democracy any more."
The crowd gave a roar of approval when Senate Minority Leader Whitmer announced to the rally that Democrats in the state Senate and House would work to add an amendment to the Michigan constitution which would "guarantee the right to join a union and collectively bargain."
To further applause Whitmer said, "We didn't start this fight, but we sure don't plan to lose it."
United Auto Workers President Bob King told the crowd, "This governor and this Republican Party want to take two billion dollars or more from working people in America and give it to the wealthiest corporations."
Republicans are doing a "reverse Robin Hood," he said.
"Are you angry about that?" King asked. "That's not right!" the crowd chanted.
Since demonstrations in Lansing began a month ago, one constant has been the large participation of UAW members.
UAW Local 22 members Rose Marie Bomar and Cassandra Ford came to the March 16 rally because, as Bomar put it, "Republicans are trying to break the unions, taking away collective bargaining, and taxing our pensions." Ford added, "We are here to say ‘No, we are not going to allow that to happen. You may be the majority, but the people are the majority and we care what is happening to our people.'"
Retired UAW leader and civil rights activist General Baker said workers did not cause this crisis. "I'm here to protest and raise a little hell," he said.
Long-time Michigan Peace Action leader Al Fishman explained why peace activists are showing up in Lansing: "The peace movement will not be able to win without the labor movement, and the labor movement needs the peace movement to help clarify the issues. The money for jobs is in two places: the tax breaks that the rich got and the military budget."