A few weeks ago we asked our readers to share their stories about the fight of Senate Bill 5 and Issue 2. We received dozens of wonderful stories and images from which we chose 4 at random to recieve a copy of Professor John McNay’s book on the SB5 fight.
You can read those stories here.
This week we will be sharing some more, like this great story by Robert Heltzel about Kasich’s visit to Youngstown and a showdown between protesters and supporters of the Governor’s plan to destroy collective bargaining rights in Ohio…
The cold day bit at my bones on that 24th day of February as I drove down state Route 193 towards my destination, a little airport I hadn’t been to for years. It would be receiving a most prestigious last-minute visitor today, but not someone looking to catch a flight. Rather, the Youngstown-Warren Regional airport on this day would be receiving a man forever on a flight of delusions: Ohio’s newly seated Governor John Kasich.
The governor would be heralding Senate Bill 5, his union-busting proposal, at the airport on this day after being frightened out of appearing at Leo’s Ristorante in nearby Howland. After purportedly being deemed unsafe the last-minute switch was made to an airport hangar that was far more remote and lockdown-friendly than the delicious confines of Leo’s. Rumor had it some of the managers at Leo’s had wives that were in teacher’s unions or somewhere in the public sector, a possibility of conflict that didn’t sit well for a governor that had recently announced he wanted to gut the collective bargaining abilities of public employees.
Whatever the reason our quaint little airport-that-could was his new place of proselytizing today, and the moody sky overhead was perfect for the temperament of the gargantuan crowd at the gates outside. The only kind of weather that could have captured the restrained outrage better would have been flaming clouds spouting lightning. One thing was for sure: I had never seen this many people at the unfortunately underused Youngstown-Warren airport.
And they were mad. Very mad.
While I’d never been in a union myself I had realized in my 25 years of living in Trumbull County that public sector union jobs were, along with what was left of the steel and auto industries, some of the last decent-paying gigs left in our part of Ohio. These folks outside, lined up the road for what seemed like forever, definitely knew that too and did not seem to take well to the proposal of Kasich’s that would see their wages downsized and their benefits slashed.
Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, his face lined and showing some age, walked back and forth across a platform set up for the occasion, leading chants and asking the crowd if they were going to stand for the behavior of Kasich’s union-busting. “What’s disgusting?” the lawyer Betras yelled into the megaphone. “UNION-BUSTING!” the crowd roared back each time the chant was summoned, again and again. They were livid. And it was a contagious energy so I had to be careful.
This gathering was the kind you wanted to stay on the good side of.
So of course it struck me as odd that a group would then present themselves to further antagonize the already agitated union crowd- especially without any sort of barrier to protect them. But then again the Tea Party never was one for thinking out its actions.
Led by Anita Fraser of the Tri-County Patriotic T.E.A. Party a small band of about a dozen bagheads (I have an endless supply of nicknames for these people) formed their own little phalanx to demonstrate in support of Senate Bill 5. As I approached them with my hand-made sign complete with crass message (“Smoke Crack. Join Tea Party.”) I drew their ire and offended them with my silly words. “Why would you make something like that?” Mrs. Fraser angrily asked me. “Because it’s true,” I responded. The time I had to chit-chat with my Tea-lightful pals didn’t last long as the union rally began to come to a close and some of them started walking down the highway to their vehicles. Most of them had to walk right past me and the Tea crowd while en route. This is where things started to escalate.
Glaring at the much smaller group of counter-protesters the union folks advanced towards them, not with the intent to attack but certainly to rail off pieces of their minds. Bellowed at in deep, frustrated voices of mostly angry men the Tea crowd tightened their little circle in preparation for the people that were now taking notice of them. I stood out front, facing the union folks, some of whom mistook me for one of the Tea creatures. “Ha, you’d have to be on crack to join the Tea Party!” one young off-duty police officer bemusedly yelled at me. It was unintentionally hilarious to receive jeers from people that are on the same side as you- a post-modern moment of sorts, in retrospect.
But as the pro-public sector crowd realized I was mocking the Tea Party they quit paying much attention to me (more than a few took pictures of my sign), their focus instead turned to the people that were legitimately there in the spirit of downsizing unions. A group of Warren firefighters that had been milling in the drive-up area eyed the slightly alarmed Tea affiliates with a mixture of disbelief and scorn. Eventually one of them broke from the group, a burly guy that looked to be in his early 50’s, and thundered a line at the Kasich supporters I’ll never forget, concise as it was:
“YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING. YOU HAVE NO IDEA….
WHAT YOU ARE DOING.”
And that firefighter got it right.
I loved that moment so much, quick and raw as it was, for a simple reason: it perfectly captured the destruction of the Tea Party’s ignorance. The aggravated bite in that furious man’s words was so cutting as he effectively told the sanctimonious group of saps “You are taking food out of my mouth. You are taking food out of my family’s mouths. What are you doing to us? What the hell is wrong with you?”
And the Tea mongers had mostly said nothing in response. Just downward-cast eyes, some full of fear and maybe a bit of shame, not capable of mustering a rebuttal. “Why are they all missing so many teeth?” a woman remarked in disgust as she took her man’s arm and waltzed away from the counter-protesters. “Yeah, that’s exactly what you have to say for yourselves- nothing,” another man remarked gruffly. It was kind of sad in a way, watching the bag-headed Americans demonstrate in support of taking other Americans’ rights away. But it was the reality of the situation and the oblivious crusading attitude of the Tea-ology mired in the brains of its people did not allow the cult to see its own follies.
The rallies for that day eventually ended without any violence and I, one of the last remaining people there, began walking back to my Ford pick-up truck down the way. Over the course of the year I’d go to the Columbus rallies, sign the referendum that would bring Senate Bill 5’s repeal up for a vote, canvass to rally support for its undoing, and write letters to the press proclaiming that the death of Kasich’s union-busting legislation was nigh. So I kept at it.
Ultimately the face-off outside the Youngstown-Warren airport between the unions and the Tea Party was the one memory that stuck with me the most. Those “libertarian” types and the Tea Party always like waving that “Don’t Tread On Me” flag with the snake, but when it comes down to it the elemental nature of this world possesses nothing more fierce than a wronged human being seeking justice.
Senate Bill 5 would go down in flames when November arrived, biting the dust after a mighty blow from the enduring force known as organized labor.