Guys with business degrees don’t often hang with horn players from Parliament Funkadelic. So you got a sense that something special was happening at Baltimore’s November 17 Occupy action, where P-Funk musician Rufus Roundtree led a march of the 99% while Loyola MBA John Herron did TV interviews critical of the 1%.
That unlikely duo was just one of the many remarkable stories to emerge from the Occupy actions in Baltimore and Washington, cities where 1199 and SEIU members played key roles in the events marking the two-month anniversary of the Occupy movement.
The demonstration in D.C., where hundreds of protestors held signs along the crumbling Key Bridge, garnered solid coverage in the Washington Post. And in Baltimore, where public protests are much less common, all four local TV stations led that night’s news with stories on the Occupy action. (See the WBAL story here.
Baltimore’s protest centered on the Howard Street Bridge, which spans one of the city’s busiest commuter routes. With TV helicopters hovering overhead, roughly 400 protestors marched onto the bridge during the evening rush hour and dropped a banner saying, “Bridge the Gap, Jobs Not Cuts.” Many of the Occupy actions around the country were held on bridges, some of them structurally unsound, and highlighted the need for Congress to invest in failing infrastructure and put Americans back to work now.
Good Jobs Better Baltimore, the community organization co-founded by 1199, helped knit together the broad coalition of groups that participated in the Howard Street Bridge action, including MoveOn.org, BRIDGE, Transform Baltimore, SEIU Local 32BJ and, of course, Occupy Baltimore itself.
Just before marching onto the bridge, the coalition held a rally emceed by 1199 member Lisa Lucas-Alston, who’s now working full-time to mobilize other members to get active in Good Jobs Better Baltimore. Lucas-Alston also did multiple TV interviews, telling WBAL viewers, “We need to bring jobs back here to Baltimore City, we need to put Americans back to work.”
Terrell Williams, a Baltimore City special educator, spoke to the crowd about the urgent need for repairs in his school. “It’s extremely difficult to inspire young people when you’re doing it in a building that looks like a prison,” said Williams, who related stories about sinks falling from walls, sewage backups, and mold and mildew that teachers mask with disinfectants and deodorizers.
The marchers then took to the Howard Street Bridge and eventually stretched all the way across. It was an incredibly diverse crowd, with suburban MoveOn members standing side by side with inner-city schoolchildren. American flags waved next to homemade signs with messages like “Bridges need work, and so do we!”
What had been planned as a ten or fifteen-minute demonstration went on for roughly an hour, as no one wanted to leave the bridge. Finally, with the sun fully set and a chill setting in, P-Funk player Roundtree, who showed up at the action with his tuba, started playing a march and paraded the crowd back off the bridge.
But that by no means marks the end of 1199’s local support for the Occupy Movement. Just before Thanksgiving, rumors were swirling that Baltimore City was planning to remove the Occupy encampment in the city’s Inner Harbor tourist district. Leaders of 1199’s Maryland/DC Region, which has voted to support both Occupy Baltimore & DC, immediately reached out to city officials and restated our strong support for the movement.
Good Jobs Better Baltimore has also been donating food and supplies to the Occupiers. On Saturday, November 19, “Occupy the Highway” arrived in Baltimore. That’s the group of Occupy Wall Street protestors who’ve been marching from New York to Washington to bring their message directly to Congress. So on Sunday, Good Jobs brought breakfast for 100 to the Occupy Baltimore encampment.
Their fight truly is our fight, and we want to do everything we can to make sure that Congress gets their message. It’s time that Washington starts listening to activists from the 99% instead of lobbyists for the 1%.