Standing on the steps of the University of Toledo Student Union Wednesday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged the defeat of Issue 2, but he also championed other basic themes -- exercise your right to vote, fight for what you believe in, and work together.
"We have never lost a battle if we fought. We have never won a battle unless we fought," the fiery civil rights leader told a crowd of about 200 who attended a rally to hear him speak. "It's fighting time."
For some, Issue 2 on next week's statewide ballot is one of those fights. Holding up a "Vote no on Issue 2" sign, Marilyn Gee was in Wednesday's crowd, listening as Mr. Jackson preached that same message.
"I know what it's like to be a union member and be able to pick and choose where you want to work," said Ms. Gee, a custodial worker at UT. "You have more rights. You have someone to fight for you."
The warm, sunny day encouraged students, staff, and faculty members to stop to get a glimpse of Mr. Jackson and hear him speak. In the rallying style he is known for, he frequently asked the crowd to repeat after him, slogans like, "Save the workers. Now. Save the families. Now. Save the children. ... Keep hope alive. Vote. No on 2. Yes on justice."
Passage of Senate Bill 5, or Issue 2 on Tuesday's ballot, would ban public employee strikes, require public employees to pay a certain percentage of their pension contributions and medical-insurance premiums, prohibit supervisory employees from collective bargaining, and bar public-employee unions from negotiating for staffing and class-size levels.
Members of the 750-member UT chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which sponsored Mr. Jackson's visit to campus, said the law would hurt public employees from firefighters to nurses and teachers, and its impact would trickle down to students, too.
"Workers in higher education have been particularly singled out," Mark Sherry, an assistant professor of sociology at UT, said during a rally on the steps of the Student Union. "We will lose all of our contracts -- contracts that establish fair standards for the evaluation of our professional, teaching, and service activities. We would lose all of that.
"This will undoubtedly mean nepotism and maybe even discrimination instead of fair assessment of professors," he said. "And by giving all the power to administrators, it will mean bigger classes and a lower quality of education for all students."
During the rally, Mr. Jackson railed against the exorbitant amounts of money spent to fight wars abroad and to bail out banks, asking repeatedly, "Where did the money go?" Government now is saying it needs to balance its budget on the backs of public employees, he said.
"Students did not create the economic crisis. Why must you pay for it?" he asked. "Janitors on this campus did not create the crisis. ... Those who did not attend the party should not have to pay for the party they were not invited to."
Joining hands with local labor leaders, including members of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, Mr. Jackson said the right to collective bargaining is a hallmark of the United States, as is the right to vote.
"When they take away from you the right to vote, the right to collective bargain, they've under-minded the very promise and possibility of democracy," he said.
UT students Tenea Christian of Springfield and Da Jaunteye Hawkins of Toledo were excited to see Mr. Jackson but said they were registered to vote and ready to vote no on Issue 2.
"It's not allowing people to have a voice," Ms. Hawkins said.
Jason Mauk, spokesman for the pro-Issue 2 campaign group, Building a Better Ohio, called the state's current government financial state unsustainable, and added that "taxpayers at every level are paying more to get less." He said that while national figures such as Mr. Jackson are entitled to their opinions, rhetoric won't help cash-strapped communities.
"Reverend Jackson is a professional rally speaker," Mr. Mauk said, "but I haven't heard him present a plan for helping our communities balance their budgets."
Mary Jane Erard, executive director of the UT chapter of AAUP, said the vote in Ohio could have far-reaching impact.
"It's not just a state issue. It's a national issue. It's an international issue," she said. "[Mr. Jackson] is so widely recognized throughout the world as a civil rights leader and this is about civil rights."
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.