Saturday afternoon I was standing on the sidewalk downtown, trying to wrangle a protest sign that kept folding double in the breeze. There’s always so much wind down at the Statehouse. It has something to do with the tall buildings, maybe the Coriolis effect. I’m not a TV weatherman, but it’s hard to light a cigarette at a protest. And there’s always somebody playing Bob Dylan. In spite such hardships, I’d like to advance the hypothesis that this, Times They are a-Changin’ and all, is better than staying home on the internet.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The life of the typical Left activist is rife with disappointment. Half the time, nobody shows up to the rally or the film showing, and nobody but nobody cares that you got What’s Her Name from the Socialist Worker to come give a speech. You spend your time watching the politicians that ride the tide of working class disenfranchisement into office bend over backwards to please the Right Wing while the most committed activists spend their time trying to elect Democrats in an echo chamber of failure that passes for democracy. Most of your friends think they’re too clever for you because you never learned to take an ironic posture of tight-pantsed hipster blase toward the problems of the world. And even when you overcome these problems and get something like a movement going, the Anarchists start fighting with the Marxists and everything dissolves into a hundred splinter groups that only care about dumpster diving or some such nonsense.
So it wasn’t a surprise when we arrived at the Statehouse at 2:30 on Saturday to find only a handful of people gathered on the steps for the day’s “Recall Kasich” rally. Over 170 had responded to the notice on Facebook and said they would be attending, but that was before a ten minute downpour around 2:15 spoiled people’s appetite for justice. But those who had made it to the protest refused to be daunted by the low turnout and charged through the sticky humidity and ninety-degree sun to set up a PA on the platform at the west side of the lawn.
The rally had been organized by Mark Haynes, local religious leader and provost of the Eastern Union Bible College. Haynes is the driving force behind the recently initiated campaign to recall Ohio’s governor John Kasich. About a year ago, Kasich rode a wave of venal Right Wing backlash into the governorship and has spent the last seven months viciously attacking the Buckeye State’s already beleaguered working class. Like most of the Republican party (and a good portion of the Democrats) these days, punishing the poor and the workers for the economic disaster caused by the rich is the only idea he has to meet the current crisis. The centerpiece of his program to cure our state’s economic woes thus far has been Senate Bill 5, a satanically inspired bit of legislation which, like similar bills in states across the country, attempts to solve the budget shortage by robbing teachers and other public workers of their collective bargaining rights. As if Ohio’s workers weren’t in enough trouble, this half-assed Mussolini offers lower wages as a magic bullet for all our problems. As if Ohio’s schools weren’t already languishing in decades of underfunding and inequality, this Marie Antoinette with a two-dollar haircut suggests we cut our teachers’ salaries. In a hellishly cruel move that saves the State of Ohio absolutely no money but simply aligns with Kasich’s faith in the most wicked pronouncements of talk radio demagogues, Kasich sent $176 million in federal unemployment funds back to the federal government. One wonders what the government used that money for. Perhaps a payment on a tiny fraction of the federal debt or some more high-tech death to throw at people half a world away? Who cares, we needed that money in Ohio and he gave it away for no other reason than to prove that he was a hard ass.
Well, Kasich, you’re an ass, alright, and, as evidenced by the widespread protests against SB5, Ohio’s working class is tired of being forced to foot the bill for the problems that your corporate cronies and Right Wing cohorts have gotten us into. Saturday’s rally was the jump off for a grassroots campaign to remove Kasich from office. It was small, but then the Recall Kasich campaign doesn’t have the advantage of the corporate funding and media sweetheart status afforded to groups like the Tea Party. Recall Kasich could, however
boast the dedication of activists who apparently spent hours making enough hand-painted placards to go around in a much larger rally. The police showed up as soon as the PA and the instruments were set up to say that everything would have to be moved. Not even a gathering of around twenty people (my high estimate) could escape the repressive watch of the Columbus PD
if they hadn’t filed just the right permits.
The protest was forced to move to the sidewalk just outside the Statehouse lawn. It turned out to be a better place for the rally than where we had originally planned. If things had gone on where they were first set up, the statues on the lawn would have hidden the small crowd of protesters from public view. As it was, we were on the street, getting honks from passing motorists and spreading the good word. Dr. Haynes gave a speech emphasizing that this was only the beginning and stressing the need for determined activism as we move forward in the campaign to remove Kasich from office. Gahana High School
student Sam Campbell gave a moving talk that highlighted the real-world affects of Senate Bill 5 and the ways in which Kasich’s policies had disrupted education in his own school. An ad-hoc collection of local musicians (there was even a saxophone) played a set of protest tunes that, thank god, leaned more on the Lennon-Guthrie tradition than on the tired Dylan standards. They got a good sing-along going with “Power to the People,” a song that I always find is underused at rallies. It’s a solid protest jam, it’s politics are spot on and transcend the era in which the song was composed, and you don’t even have to know the words to sing along.
So the numerical aspects of the actual event were dwarfed by their electronic counterpart on Facebook. Still, I argue that, no matter how well attended the rally is, going out to the protest is better than staying home and signing a Facebook page. Maybe not in every way. For instance, raising your voice in support of something someone says in a speech or a song might be more visceral than liking a comment, but it disappears the second it escapes your lips. Nobody knows you liked it and you can’t start a thread. You can’t keep the people you meet in a protest in an easily accessible menu with pictures matching the names to remind you who they are. I hate that about real life. But the powers and principalities of this dark world will never listen to a Facebook page, no matter how many RSVPs it gets, no matter how many people repost it. To make a difference to the self-satisfied, power-mongering liars and thieves who run the government, you need to show up with a big mob of people who look like trouble.
That’s why I’ll be there for the next rally, at the State Capitol, 3pm on September 17th, and why you should be there, too. Maybe we’ll never have the votes to recall Kasich. But enough of us making enough noise can frighten those swine into listening to us.