‘Survival’ rally raises awareness for middle class

Fest pushes unity, worker rights

Debie Brakke of Adrian raises a cheer during the second annual Middle Class Survival Rally in Monroe on Saturday.
Debie Brakke of Adrian raises a cheer during the second annual Middle Class Survival Rally in Monroe on Saturday.

MONROE — They came, they saw, they vented.

But after five hours on Monroe Charter Township’s Dog Lady Island, dozens of blue-collar workers who attended Saturday’s second annual event called the Middle Class Survival Rally likely went home with more questions than answers about their future.

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Sponsored by a cross-section of unions representing autoworkers, teachers, and others across Michigan and Ohio, as well as those supporting military veterans, the rally promoted a sense of unity while also having the air of a family festival.

There were hot dogs, chips, fries, and lemonade.

There were performances by a drum corps from Toledo’s Mecca Temple 43, Monroe-area Hula performers called Island Dancers, and a few musicians.

There were horseback rides, canoe rides, a visit from a Life Flight helicopter, and a variety of information booths promoting worker rights and affordable health-care options.

The focus, of course, was the biting rhetoric offered by a plethora of speakers fed up by what they see as attacks on the working class.

Many of those who spoke were from Toledo, including three who hope to defeat Mayor Mike Bell in his re-election bid.

Each focused on Mr. Bell’s support of Senate Bill 5, the measure pushed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich that would have greatly restricted the collective-bargaining rights of Ohio’s 350,000 public employees and been a blow to the union movement. Ohioans overwhelmingly repealed that law at the ballot box in 2011.

“Never forget [Mr. Bell] attacked working men and women,” Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, a Democrat who is one of the announced candidates for mayor, yelled into the microphone. “He is our No. 1 enemy. Are you ready to take out Mike Bell?”

Another of Mr. Bell’s opponents, Councilman Joe McNamara, also a Democrat, implored residents to hold Mr. Bell and Mr. Kasich accountable for Senate Bill 5 and for their budget cutbacks.

Councilman D. Michael Collins, an independent running against Mr. Bell, equated today’s labor situation to a diplomatic war.

“It’s a war on jobs,” Mr. Collins said.

Mr. Bell, also an independent, did not attend the rally.

He has stated on numerous occasions that his support for Mr. Kasich’s Republican-led reform measure was based solely on his belief that it would have been the best medicine for Ohio’s ailing economy, even if it was not politically popular with unions.

His spokesman, Jen Sorgenfrei, said in a phone interview Saturday night that the Toledo economy has improved and local unemployment has gone down without a tax increase. “To me, it rings false for [Ms. Lopez] to say we’re the No. 1 enemy.”

Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and Michigan gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer, a Democrat and former congressman, as well as several others seeking or attempting to remain in office.

Brenda Hill, Toledo Public Schools board president, said she was the first person in her family to attend and graduate from college because her father had a union job. “We all deserve the right to a decent wage to support our families,” she said.

Former middleweight boxing champion Bronco McKart of Monroe made a return appearance to this year’s rally, taking pot shots at Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

“We’re in a fight for our jobs, our livelihood. And every fight I get into, I intend to win,” Mr. McKart said.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.