"Awake the State Rally" Protests Gov. Scott's Budget Cuts. listen03/09/11 Joshua Lee Holton
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Tuesday about a thousand pro-worker protesters marched to Gaslight Park in Downtown Tampa. Thousands more labor union workers, state employees, and teachers demonstrated in more than 30 cities across the state to protest the largest annual budget cuts to education in Floridaâ€™s history. The largest of the â€œAwake the Stateâ€ protests was in Tampa Bay.
While Governor Rick Scott may have run an election platform for job creation that insisted, â€œLetâ€™s get to work,â€ President of the local Central Labor Council Lynn Webb was joined by a crowd of more than 1,000 protesters in Tampa in asking their governor, â€œSo, Whereâ€™s the jobs?â€
"Governor Scott wants to cut 8,000 public service union jobs. His proposed budget will lay off 40,000 teachers and school employees."
Timothy Heberlein works for a local nonprofit called the Florida Consumer Action Network. He worked with the Central Labor Council to organize the rally.
"'Awake the State' was actually the brainchild of Ray Seaman from Progress Florida. He thought that we really need to respond to this. This cannot go unanswered. That our brothers and sisters up in Wisconsin and in Ohio and in Indiana, you know they are standing for the working class and that we need to do our part here in Florida and make sure that the budget cuts aren't coming off of the backs of the working class, that everyone's paying their fair share."
President of the Hillsborough County Parent Teacher Association Melissa Erickson said Scott is required by the Florida Constitution, to properly fund high quality education.
"And then he proceeded to propose $3.3 billion in cuts. That is unacceptable."
Despite growing anti-union rhetoric from Republicans, Lynn Webb points out that union workers are neither thugs, nor wealthy, but perform a wide range of services in the community.
"Your union brothers and sisters are your neighbors. They teach your children, they drive your busses, they care for the sick, they protect your neighborhoods, they install your cable TV. They construct your buildings, put out fires, maintain our streets and parks, build your homes, the list goes on and on. Now let me tell you who we are not. We are not the enemy."
Like other speakers at the rally Webb wants to hold Wall St. and CEOs accountable for the economic downturn, instead of passing the buck on to union workers.
"Despite what Governor Scott and some legislators would have you believe, union workers did not wreck our economy. Union workers did not bankrupt our state. Union workers were the ones who built this country."
One such union worker, Philip Garnett, works for the construction union. Having been laid off for a year, he laments the loss of Floridaâ€™s bid for a high-speed rail project, where he was almost certain he would have gotten a job.
"And I cannot imagine at such a bad time in our economy in Florida how he could possibly justify not accepting the money. You know that would put a few thousand people back to work, at least a few thousand which is a good number. A few thousand people back to work like, let's say, 24,000 people or even if it was only 10 or 12 would be substantial because things have been unbelievably dried up and they are coming back so slowly. This has been a prolonged, dragged out mess, what's happened to our economy."
Contrary to the claims of many fiscal conservatives, Rev. Charles McKenzie echoed Michael Mooreâ€™s claim at a Madison, Wisconsin rally that America is not broke, but that the budget is unfairly balanced.
"We are not out of money in this country. The working class and the middle class is out of money in this country. We are living from paycheck to paycheck. While the rich get richer the poor get poorer. We struggle from check to check and we are saying as we gather here today, 'No more business as usual. No more of the old stuff." We are ready to engage in a profound period of unrest across this state and if necessary a season of occupation ... "
Yesterdayâ€™s rallies coincided with the opening of the Florida legislative session, and to show solidarity with teachers and union advocates in Wisconsin. Pro-worker rallies were also held in other US states yesterday, including Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan, and Tennessee.