Monday, April 4th, was truly a glorious day in Oakland. The weather was fabulous with sunny, blue skies, around 80 degrees. It was the National Day of Action in commemoration of the day that Martin Luther King was assassinated while defending the rights of working Americans to organize and demand respect and improved conditions.
It was reported that there were at least 1000 rallies around the country on that day-not including those in other countries. In Oakland hundreds of people, mostly union members gathered at Frank Ogawa Plaza together to send a message to the giant corporations who seem to be running our country at this moment in our history.
Even our president who ran on the platform of change, hope, and a promise to walk the picket lines with us, now spends his days trying to prove to the tea party that he is willing to compromise and uses up his political capital on “saving Libyans” while Americans are wondering who will save them.
Unlike some of my friends, I don’t hold it against him personally. He had to buy into a corrupt system to run successfully; and since then, the Supremes have declared that the rich shall have as much right to determine who gets elected as their money can buy them (Citizens United).
That leaves only unions left to counter the power of multinational corporations. So all of our new Republican governors are taking the position that breaking the unions’ power to fund raise and organize is Job One.
Here in California our Democratic governor, facing the loss of at least 25% of our state budget is moving to strip union workers of their pensions or at least the pensions of future workers. That means California’s working people will be even less able to sustain a decent lifestyle much less pay their taxes.
But at least the Republican governors of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Florida are making it clear that it has nothing to do with budgets and everything to do with making sure President Obama is not reelected, not to mention wiping out the only countervailing force to the giant corporations.
Many folks, even in liberal Oakland, think that public workers receive pensions that are unsustainable. Maybe that’s true but then our police and fire forces, our tree-lined potholes, I mean, streets, our libraries, our businesses, our recreation centers, even our small businesses are unsustainable. We can’t have any of these without the infrastructure of a modern society which includes well-paid, well-prepared and educated public workers, at all levels. But maybe we have decided that we can’t afford to run a modern civilization.
We all know that there is plenty of money in California but now we are expected to beg the folks who have more and more of it to do their duty and consider help us regular folks fund a modern society. Well now I’m getting off this soap box to let some of the rank and file union folks who spoke so eloquently on Monday, tell you about it themselves in these short video clips.
It was a great day to catch up with friends, some of whom have been laid off, some of whom are waiting to be laid off, some retired, and some out on a quick lunch break between doing the job of two or more workers. I had brought an old friend with me who has difficulty getting out on her own as she is 81 and recently injured her knee.
She had asked for a ride since she didn’t want to miss this event, but there was one fly in the ointment of all this togetherness. We had parked in the city-owned garage on Clay Street. I had parked on the top floor to avoid driving around searching for a space on the lower floors. When I got back up there with my friend Margaret’s folding chair, I found a long, unmoving line waiting to get out of the garage.
During the next one and a half hours, I ran down the stairs two or three times to tell Margaret that it was going to take awhile for me to pick her up for the ride home. We even grabbed a bit of lunch. Many other attendees had seen the line and done the same thing so the line kept getting longer and did not seem to move or dissipate. One man was watching over the rooftop of the garage as the cars crept slowly out onto the street.
I had left my friend waiting on a bench but there was precious little shade for her to sit in, and it had been a long sunny afternoon already. As I sat blocked in by the car behind me (I hadn’t pulled out yet) and since that car was not moving, I made some calls. I called Rebecca Kaplan’s office as she is the Council Member whose jurisdiction is the whole city. I had seen her chief of staff at the rally.
I was told by the young staff person who answered the phone that no one was available to speak to me, and they couldn’t help anyway. Next I called a staff person in the Mayor’s office. I got him but he said he doubted he could do anything. He did offer to try and see if the line could be sped up.
I went downstairs again and asked the poor fellow working by himself if it would be possible to open the gate and let everyone out (collect some money or whatever. They had made quite a bit by then). He suggested I call the management which I did and talked to one of the owners of Douglas Parking.
In every case I reported that it had been 45 minutes then one hour and on and on since we had been waiting (at least on the top floor) and that I had left an 81-year-old woman waiting in the sun.
Of course, most spent the afternoon idling in the garage spewing very expensive gas into the garage and their lungs during this protracted period. A few minor arguments broke out as drivers tried to determine when to let another car enter the line they had been waiting in for so long. But all-in-all people were very patient.
Finally, after one and a half hours, I got released. Perhaps the owner finally elected to switch to a flat rate to get folks out faster, but not much faster. I paid only a couple of dollars more than I should have- had I gotten out when I wanted to. We were all expecting to pay the topped-out rate by then ($14), but we got off with $10. As for me, I will think long and hard before I let Douglas Parking hold me hostage again.
Bottom line, my friend was worried but okay and told me that she had been so inspired by the event that it had been worth it. That was enough for me.