The Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Andy Balaskovitz.
Wednesday, March 16 — At about 12:45 p.m., some of the thousands of protesters on the Capitol lawn, after speeches from United Auto Workers President Bob King and Sen. Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, moved inside to the rotunda.
Chants of “Recall Rick,” “This is what Democracy looks like” and “Who’s house? Our house” made the Capitol rotunda sound like a political rally in a packed gymnasium.
Downtown Lansing, today, is nothing short of being in frenzy.
Tiyi Schippers, a Cadillac City Councilwoman, was walking around with a “Walk Like an Egyptian” sign outside and ringing a cow bell inside. She said the rallies in Lansing are more than about union busting.
“This is reminiscent of my youth,” she said. “This is not about union bashing. It’s not about the budget. It’s about power grabs from the top.”
The other side of Schippers’ sign was a quote from folk singer Woody Guthrie that said: “Some men rob you with a six-gun. Others rob you with a pen.”
Schippers said she was in Lansing a few weeks ago in support of the protests in Madison, Wisc. She said she expected the rallies in Lansing to grow as large as they did.
“I expected it. When you kick a sleeping dog it’s gonna kick back,” she said. “This is an attack on the middle class, not just unions. People are waking up.
“They (referring to Republicans) can strip away union power, but they can’t strip away people power,” she said.
Standing with Schippers was her son-in-law, Dominic John Davis, who plays bass for the local band Steppin’ In It. Davis is a member of the American Federation of Musicians, which he says is based in New York and is especially beneficial for traveling musicians like himself.
“We (musicians) get paid more because of (AFM),” Davis said. Last month, he played shows with his friend Jack White of the White Stripes and rockabilly star Wanda Jackson on David Letterman and Conan O’Brien. Davis said being a member of AFM helped secure a better paycheck for those gigs.
“For musicians, it’s good to have a wage scale so you know for sure what’s fair,” he said. “It’s not like we’re plumbers and know exactly what fair pay is.”
Bill Farmer, a member of the AFSCME public employee union, came from Kalamazoo this morning. He’s been in and out of Lansing protesting for the past few weeks.
“These rallies are getting bigger (here),” he said. “There’s nothing like being part of a social movement for social justice. It’s been beautiful.
“With that growing solidarity, this social movement will affect concrete change,” he said.
While solidarity was on the protesters’ side, a brief incident out in the street left a local attorney arguing with a student group that blocked traffic on Capitol Avenue outside of City Hall. Cars backed up past Allegan Street.
Mike Shallal, who was helping hold a sign for Students and Workers United, stood in the middle of Capitol Avenue for about five minutes. Some joined him; others shouted from the sidewalk to get out of the road. Shallal said union leaders have “been on the take.”
“Almost immediately, other protesters were telling us not to do it (stand in the road),” he said. “I argue that the way unions have been handling the situation with the government for decades hasn’t gotten anything done. It’s concerned men about union dues. They’re really doing a disservice.”
After a few minutes of blocking traffic, Linda Henderson, a Lansing-based attorney, shouted at Shallal and his group of about 10 to get out of the road. Henderson was at the Capitol to protest the Snyder administration.
“They (Shallal’s group) want a revolution. We said it wasn’t helping,” Henderson said. “We’re all on the same side. The bottom line is we’ve gotta get organized — not just mad.”