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I went down to the demonstration to get my fair share of abuse.  I wore my hard hat and safety glasses in case someone thought I needed a bigger portion.  Poor Governor Snyder had sucked so much Dick DeVos (the successful Amway bizillionaire and failed 2006 Michigan gubernatorial candidate) and Koch brother’s ass, had blown so much smoke up the public’s coulee that his lips were chapped.  His fevered embrace of Republican right-to-work legislation had prompted over 12,000 workers to gather in opposition on this cold December day.

The Republican majority in a lame duck congress stampeded like frisky elephants, passed two RTW bills in less time than it took God to create the universe.  They looked upon the law and said it was good, so good that the bills leading to it hadn’t even needed to go through committee or have public hearings.  They tied it to a puny little one million buck appropriation bill which excluded it from a referendum.  No vote from the citizenry allowed.  Snyder vowed to sign it.

Once in Lansing I went directly to the Americans for Prosperity tent to get some answers.  I had heard that these folks were constitutional scholars, able to explicate the document and its amendments, tease the nuances from the Bill of Rights. Perhaps these anti-tax savants could explain how and why leeching off of unions was a good thing.  

The union crowd around the tent was angry.  The AFP was flying the Don’t-Tread-On-Me flag, a crudely rendered, open-mouthed rattlesnake, fangs bared.  Alongside, a sign featuring a gluttonous swine proclaimed “Stop Feeding the Union Pig!”  This was either intentionally inflammatory or simply stupid.

The group claimed to have over eighty thousand activists in Michigan. I found only about a dozen AFP’s in attendance.  I assumed the others couldn’t get the day off from Wal-Mart without the fear of losing their jobs.  Or maybe these few were the best and brightest, the sweet, intellectual cream that had foamed to the brim of the tea cup.

I posited a hypothetical question to an Americans for Progress spokesperson, Brian:  “So, you’re going to apply for work with a corporation that has a representative union and that corporation will negotiate a contract separately with you?”  “Yep,” he responded.  “And you’ll do better for yourself than the union could do?”  It was “Yep” again.  “What about the two hundred other people with the same skill set who interview for the job and are willing to work for less?”  “The company will hire me.”  “Why?”  “Because I’m better.”  Of course you are, Gump, of course you are.
I asked the same question of another AFP:  “You’re going to negotiate individually?”  “Individually,” she replied, “but in a group.”  “That’s not individually,” I said.  “That’s collectively.  Collective bargaining, like a union would do.” “I would never join a union,” she assured me, outraged.  “I would be an individual!  In a group!

I was begging Scotty to beam me up citing the No-Intelligent-Life-Here protocol, when one of Ayn Rand’s Men of the Mind caught my ear:  “See that?”  He indicated the pissed-off rattlesnake flag.  “People think it’s a Tea Party flag.  But it’s not.  It’s a Michigan Battle flag.  It’s the flag we marched under when we attacked Bunker Hill and kicked British Buttowski!”

Now I was really pissed.  I had grown up in Michigan and attended public school here.  I had served a three year apprenticeship as a union iron worker, learned first aid, CPR, how to work safely, to prevent injury to myself or others.  I had earned union wages and put myself through a four-year public university without borrowing a farthing from Mom, Pop or The Nanny State.  And not once had I heard any so-called educator mention Michigan’s illustrious role in the Revolutionary War! I had been duped.

This is some funny shit but it’s nothing to laugh about.  Clearly the Tea Party movement appeals to emotion rather than reason, fiction rather than fact.  These people had been hoodwinked and hornswoggled, bewitched, bewildered and bamboozled and remained defiantly, intransigently proud of their ignorance.
I saw the tent come down, the misappropriated flag trod upon, the fearful, fangless few in full flight and the baser part of my nature applauded.  These events were symbolic, ironically prescient. These dumbasses were incrementally dismantling their own protection as workers.  Their symbol should have been a cartoon character merrily sawing off the tree limb he sits upon.  With this law they had managed to weasel their way under the protection of the union tent, set it aflame and somehow expected not to be burned as it collapsed around all Michigan workers.

In not too many years they may find themselves discarded like used, dripping condoms.  “How’s all that Ayny Randy, socially Darwinismy stuff working out for you?” one might be tempted to ask.

The bills were voted on and affirmed.  Our legislators paraded out of the capitol.  It was somewhat less than triumphal.  Oddly, for men who claimed the law to be good for workers, not one of them made eye contact with the workers assembled there.  They crept along like perps leaving the scene of a gang rape, slinking away before the roofies wore off and the crumpled figure on the floor regained consciousness.  

The law was delivered under a State Police escort from the capitol building to Snyder’s office in the Romney Building. (In 1965, Republican Governor George Romney, little Willy Romney’s dad, signed a bipartisan bill granting public unions the right to bargain collectively, strengthening that right for private sector unions as well.  This building was named in his honor.)

The police were dressed in riot gear, helmets, face shields, semi-auto side arms, pepper spray, brandishing big-assed billy clubs. They looked like they should be fluent in Russian; perhaps mid-twentieth century German.  Sadly they spoke American Midwestern English.  A couple of little SWAT dudes all in technical black clothing carrying weapons that looked like something out of Star Wars, flitted around.

They all looked unhappy.  Snyder and the Republican legislature had stuffed them in the trick bag, making them the targets.  Police and firefighter unions were “carved out” of the law.  It would have been tough for Republicans to gut these unions and expect their support.  Being union members themselves but in thrall to the man castrating all Michigan’s other unions the police had conflicting allegiances.

These poor bastards would probably have rather been out chasing bad guys.  Instead they faced the prospect of clubbing and gassing their fellow union workers.  Like a sweet, twenty-five year old, still idealistic English teacher—“Destroying America’s children teaching one transitive verb at a time”—she told me.  Or the guy who hooked up their telephone.  Or the mother of five who works on the line at Chrysler’s Sterling Heights Assembly Plant.  Or any of these people they might see at a Lion’s game, have a beer with in a bar, sit alongside in the bleachers at a little league game.

I hoped they wouldn’t whale on the nurses too much or the female doctor marching in support of the unions.  Trained medical help would be welcome after the frenzy of the beat-down had ebbed.

And some of the police would likely get hurt.  We weren’t all gray-haired grannies.  There was a funk of testosterone in the crowd from young and middle-aged men with tough, dirty, dangerous jobs—iron workers, pipe fitters, millwrights, boilermakers—men who worked daily at thankless, unforgiving work and were not afraid to fight for what they believed to be right, even if it meant fighting the wrong people.

The State Police stood, cold, nervous, shoulder to shoulder stretching the length of the Romney Building, seeing but not looking, trained not to make eye contact, not to look at the person contained in The Other.

Where I stood the crowd was thin, almost nonexistent.  It was getting colder, the wind picking up, blowing the detritus of the day along the street in front of the capitol.  I scrounged up some garbage bags, started snagging the Starbucks cups and Domino’s Pizza boxes blowing around, crunching and stuffing them in a bag.

“Want a hand?” I looked up. A young kid in his twenties, dressed for office work, probably just finished for the day. Two clear, blue eyes, unafraid to look directly into my own.  “Sure, Brother.  There’s plenty of trash to go around.”  I handed him a bag and another guy asked for one and the three of us started cleaning the street.  Meanwhile, my brother union workers railed at my brother police officers, my brother Americans for Prosperity licked their wounds, my brother Republican legislators sat in their offices and prepared tomorrow’s bills--laws to make it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion, harder for citizens to recall legislators and governors, a law to allow people to carry concealed handguns in public schools, churches and day care centers.  In his office high in the Romney Building my cowardly little brother waited for us all to go away so, without fear of getting his bottom paddled, he could sign the law he had promoted so artlessly, shamelessly.

You don’t get to pick your family.  And we belong to Homo sapiens sapiens, a tribe so fucked up and dysfunctional even Jesus and Muhammad, The Buddha and Doctor Phil couldn’t fix us in a three hour television event.

With two other guys I picked up my own trash and the trash of others and somehow felt cleaner, lighter than I had all day. I was finally doing some good, acting on my own rather than reacting to the greed and ignorance of others.

Originally posted to Reasonable Doubt on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 11:33 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, Michigan, My Michigan, DFH Local No 420, and Community Spotlight.

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