Last week I had a friend ask me if I was ready for whatever changes would be thrown at us in 2012. Such a question prompted me to think about the tumultuous year we have had in 2011. Was I ready for everything that happened last year? Were we ready for the all-out assault on public sector workers that was launched by Kasich and the Ohio GOP? A year ago, I would have had no idea how to answer that question as the notion of such an attack on workers was completely foreign to me. But now?
A line from a book I’m reading captured the idea of what happened in 2011 for me:
“Sometimes . . . the only way you find out you’re ready is that when you have to be, you are.”
(The Paperboy, Pete Dexter)
As I reflect about this year’s events, it occurs to me that we the public sector workers, especially union members, did not know how drastically we would be challenged in 2011. We did not know about the major rallies at the Statehouse or the smaller events we would be hosting in our local communities. Most of us had never been involved in the collection of signatures for any type of political campaign. Until 2011, we had never engaged in defending our daily work to strangers on the street, on their doorstep, or on the phone. And while many of us financially supported our unions and local charities, rarely have we had to engage in any political fundraising.
And yet in 2011, we collected over 1.2 million signatures and $42 million in a collective effort to repeal one single piece of legislation.
Were we ready?
Unions across Ohio organized members using the communication networks that were already in place to share important details about the legislation. Thousands of people repeatedly converged from around Ohio at the Statehouse in unprecedented rallies demonstrating their fierce opposition to the GOP’s bill. Teachers replicated the skills they use every day in their classrooms to articulate their positions as they collected signatures at fairs, parks, races, farmer’s markets, and even the Statehouse steps (and copied book after book of petition signatures in a hidden bunker). Police officers and firefighters used their vastly undervalued communication skills as they spoke to members of their communities in an array of different settings. And people like me, who didn’t even know where to park in downtown Columbus, suddenly found ourselves offering opponent testimony in front of the Senate and House committees who were holding hearings on Senate Bill 5. I will never forget the shocked (and impressed) looks on the faces of the House committee members when a petite high school senior from Columbus lit up the hearing room on a cold, rainy evening with an educated, impassioned argument against SB5. I still consider myself lucky to have heard her speak. Her poise was impeccable and her performance still gives me chills to this day. On that evening, she spoke of her goal of becoming a teacher. For now, she is an aide in the office of one of those very committee members (a wise hire, in my opinion).
Were we ready?
Personally, I was an infrequent user of any social media, did not read blogs, and had never heard of Plunderbund. In fact, (way back) on January 1, Plunderbund had 321 followers on Facebook. I wasn’t one of them and most of you weren’t either.
As a result of top-notch writing about Kasich and Senate Bill 5, and through the sharing of this information via social media through the expanding network of public employees, including the newly formed networks across occupations (thank you, Mr. Kasich), Plunderbund has 4,800 Facebook followers and public sector unions are stronger than they have been in decades. New friendships have been created within and among the various unions as the work we were engaged in brought us side-by-side.
I’m not being self-congratulatory in those statements – my first post on PB wasn’t until April 20. By then, PB had already grown to 2,900 followers. I became an avid reader before I was writing posts thanks to the recommendations of fellow teachers.
Were we ready?
I believe my personal turning point this year was March 2, the day I was at the Statehouse to witness the Senate pass SB5 on a 17-16 vote. That evening, I posted my thoughts as a “note” on Facebook – mostly as a cathartic outlet for my emotions about “wrongness” of that day. I was subsequently surprised later when people read and shared the post, especially when my brother, himself a firefighter, mentioned to me that other firefighters referenced it. I still can’t quite wrap my mind around the significance of that moment. Before SB5 had even passed its second phase in the House, the members of the public sector unions were effectively conveying meaningful information about our collective efforts through social media.
We all know that the story of 2011 ends with SB5 becoming Issue 2 and suffering a landslide defeat on election day thanks to the efforts of thousands of dedicated Ohioans who had no idea what they were capable of accomplishing until they were asked. And on election night this year, I sat in the bleachers during the Ed Show with police officers, firefighters, fellow educators and other union employees from Ohio. I witnessed Brian (Modern) sitting right next to State Senator Nina Turner on the set during the live broadcast as Ed covered Ohio politics that night. And after State Representative Armond Budish revealed the results of the election, my fellow teachers and I celebrated with firefighters, police, countless other union members and full-time politicians and campaign workers. This was our victory.
Were we ready for 2011? Apparently we were.
Are we ready for 2012? Keep reading. We’ll find out soon enough.