Hundreds of people showed up for today's protest against Governor Rick Snyder and his endorsement of the Emergency Manager Act (Public Act 4). Folks streamed out of Washtenaw Community College's parking lots as they arrived around 4pm, making an impressive line from the campus all the way across the Dixboro bridge and up to Geddes Rd.
Everyone met up at Parker Mill Park for chanting, hot chocolate, some hard-to-hear speeches, and regrouping (I gather a few of the buses from Detroit were late). From there, the real march up Geddes to the governor's house began.
We had the street and were led by a group of five or so African American men. Dressed in their long dark wool coats and singing and chanting in preacher-style voices, it was certainly reminiscent of civil rights marches from Dr. King's day. They pulled me in, so I ended up at the head of the 1/2 mile up the hill to the governor's gated community.
"No justice, no peace."
"No democracy, no peace."
"Hey, hey, ho, ho: emergency managers have got to go"
"What do we want?" "Democracy!" "When do we want it?" "Now!"
Once there, folks grouped up to make some more speeches. Here a few other groups, dominated by Detroiters, used the Occupy movement's "mic check" tactics to relay their speeches. We lit our candles and made the mile or so walk back. Buses had arrived to shuttle those who needed it back to WCC.
It was a fine group of folks. Veterans of Benton Harbor protests were there, as were people from the tri-cities. High school kids were there with their teachers. UM students made a good showing as well. All were peaceful and reasonable -- even when folks from the gated community showed up to gawk.
I took my kids (9 and 12). They were surprised when I was the only (loud!) voice to answer the first bull-horned call of "Tell me what democracy looks like" with "This is what democracy looks like." But then others joined in and my kids relaxed (realizing I was not a wacko, but rather just slightly more "in the know" than those around us). The kids quickly got into the chants and sang "We Shall Overcome" as loudly as I did by the time we reach Parker Mill. My 9 year old even jumped into the front line with me and 'preachers' for a while.
While I have no hard and fast objections to MLK day being a day of service, I feel we, as a society, have softened its potential meaning a bit too much with this association. This is the first time I've taken my kids to a protest instead of a service project on this day, but it fostered good discussions for us. King and the civil rights movement in general have become sanitized and stripped of their confrontational and political messages. I wanted my kids to see this side of the movement and feel the responsibility to challenge as well as serve. My kids go to schools in Ypsilanti, a struggling public school system that is vulnerable to the emergency manager legislation. Their stake in what this governor and this legislature does is potentially greater than mine. Today gave me an opportunity to say that to them fairly directly. And they sang. And the chanted. And they felt the power of the group.
My daughter's favorite sign (sorry I don't have a picture of it) read: This is Martin Luther King Jr Day, not King Snyder Day.