Posted In: ALEC, Educator Voices, Pennsylvania, Voter Protection

Bus tour with teacherken: Pittsburgh and African-American heritage

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Ken Bernstein is a recently retired National Board Certified Social Studies Teacher who was a 2010 Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher. Nationally known for hisblogging as teacherken at Daily Kos and elsewhere, he served until his retirement as the lead building representative (NEA) at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt MD.

Saturday Oct. 6 was a day to spread the message of the “Stop the Greed Agenda Bus Tour” as part of the celebration of African-American Heritage in Pittsburgh. We began the day by participating in the 25th Annual African-American Heritage Parade.

Here you see Patriot Majority’s Mariah Hatta getting the driver of the care for WAMO, the local hip-hop station, to sign up for Patriot Majority:

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and here are Mariah and Paul Woodson carrying our banner in front of our bus during the parade:

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A few pictures of some other organizations participating in the parade:

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APRI – the A. Philip Randolph Institute, would also play a part in our final event of the day.

During the parade, which as it continued saw ever-larger crowds (the photos above were taken at the beginning of the route before the crowds had built up), we got responses as people saw the messages on the side of our bus. We handed out lots of brochures to those viewing the parade as well.

This was an important opportunity for visibility.

So was our second event, which took place at the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture:

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The event was a rally about protecting voter rights, and was organized by the United Steelworkers, the Communications Workers of America and the Pittsburgh chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. As people came in they were urged by APRI to sign up to help with election protection:

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It is worth noting that the efforts to restrict voting through things like picture ID laws are a key part of the Greed Agenda – if all Americans participate it is much harder for the likes of the Koch Brothers to implement their agenda: their favored politicians, such as those who participate in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) will not have as much sway over the legislative agenda.

It is also important to remember, as we were told at the rally, that voter-id laws are but the latest attempt to disenfranchise African-Americans, a pattern that his included the Grandfather clause, literacy tests, and poll taxes among previous iterations of obstacles to African-American participation in this most important part of a democracy, voting to select those who will govern all of us.

200 volunteers will be fanning out to polling places to ensure that all registered voters are able to vote. When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard the appeal of the original Court decision allowing Pennsylvania’s restrictive Voter-ID law, none of the 6 Justices were happy about it. Two wanted to flat out declare the law unconstitutional, the other four remanded it (sent it back) to the District Court with directions to ensure that people were not being unfairly denied the right to vote. In the rehearing, the Judge decided that election officials could ask for a picture ID but that no registered voter could be denied a regular ballot for lack of such an id. The election protection volunteers are to ensure that no properly registered voter is discouraged from voting.

Some highlights of the rally.

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard

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spoke twice, was blunt and salty in his expressions. For example,

We’ve come too far to let those guys try to steal this election from right under us!

He talked about “True the Vote,” the Tea Party effort to try to intimidate voters by challenging them. He told those assembled that if Rep. Elijah Cummings can get the evidence of violations of law by True the Vote USW will file the lawsuit against them.

Gerard is a man passionate about justice. He may be white, but his sense of outrage at all injustice spoke loudly to the largely African-American audience. He reminded us that Martin Luther King Jr. had advocated for the right to vote (and we later saw a video that included his famous “How Long? Not Long?” address in Selma when the March to Montgomery was allowed to proceed under a Federal Court order and with armed Federal protection). He reminded us

When they left John Lewis for dead on the bridge, he was fighting for the right to vote.

He reminded us as well of the high price paid by many so that all of us could vote.

And he gave us – Patriot Majority – a shout out:

That bus that’s out front says it all!

I remind you of what you see on the side of “that bus” – IMG_0960 It is that Greed Agenda that we can stop if we all are registered and all vote.

Among the others that spoke before the keynote address were Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, CWA Local 13000 Western Region Vice President Andy Miller, Don Jones of Patriot Majority, Sala Udin, interim co-director of the August Wilson Center, and Pennsylvania ACLU Legal Director Witold “Vic” Wolczak, who won the case against the voter id law. Here’s Vic:

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Since Don Jones represented the Bus Tour, I should tell you he is a longtime voter rights advocate based in Philadelphia. He grew up in a working-class family in the City of Brotherly Love. He reminded us how Pittsburgh was built with the hands of many union workers. For those who might not have known, he made clear that the Greed Agenda of the Koch Brothers is to take everything and turn it into something from which they are their fellow greedy friends can make money – privatize Social Security, making money; turn Medicare into vouchers, – making money. And relevant to this event: change voting laws so we can’t stop them – making money.

It was not all speeches. There were two videos (and you will be able to see the second below). We also had a stirring performance by local rapper Jasiri X:

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If I might, Jasiri and I have known one another since we were both Democracy for America scholarship winners to Netroots Nation 2011 in Minneapolis. We also participate in a discussion list of several hundred very active progressives across the country. He is someone who very much connects with young people, as those who saw him last night quickly grasped. Later after the event I had a chance to introduce him to my fellow bus travelers (Don Jones already knew him), and he told us he was the first rapper to do a song against the Koch Brothers. I will tell you he had a good portion of the crowd out of their seats. Among the songs he performed were “What if the Tea Party were Black?” and songs on Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin. His final song used the words of President Obama saying “not just ballers and rappers” and partway through brought an Obama lookalike on stage, which brought down the house.

Just before the keynote speaker, we had another short video, from L.O.V.E (where the V is a red check mark as in voting) – that stands for Let One Vote Emerge, an organization intended persuade people to vote. Here is the video we saw.

The keynote speaker and main draw was the Rev. Al Sharpton:

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He told those assembled that minorities and union leaders must remain vigilant about protecting voters’ rights even though the controversial voter identification law has been delayed.

This a critical time if ever there was one. It is no coincidence to me that we have seen a series of events that are meant to try to disenfranchise and in many ways erase what civil rights achieved 40 and 50 years ago.

I remind readers that the family of Trayvon Martin turned to Rev. Sharpton for his help after their son was murdered by George Zimmerman. His National Action Network organized the rallies that raised awareness and caused enough pressure for Florida authorities to move forward against Zimmerman – remember, originally Zimmerman was not arrested nor charged.

Zimmerman may yet assert Florida’s Stand Your Ground law as a defense. That law is a product of the Koch Brothers’ founded and funded ALEC, and there are similar laws across the country. Those of us in education note the similarity of the title of the law and that of the recent Parent Trigger movie, “Won’t Back Down.”

Since getting his own MS-NBC television show, PoliticsNation, Sharpton has become an increasingly important voice in focusing attention on areas of injustice and of dishonesty in government and politics.

Because Sunday is an off-day for the Bus Tour, I am not going to add anything specific on education to this post. I will offer a separate piece continuing discussion of issues about education, especially in Pennsylvania, when I next post.

The rally had a focus on voting.

The Greed Agenda threatens public education.

To stop the Greed Agenda people first must be aware of it.

Then they must take action.

The most important action we can take right now is ensuring that we and all our kith and kin and circles acquaintances get out there on November 6 (or earlier if your state allows) and vote.

I am not going to tell you for which candidate or party you should vote.

I am going to tell you that you do not want to vote for those who support the Koch Brothers and their Greed Agenda.

Stop the Greed Agenda.

Now.

Vote.

Peace.

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