At the height of Occupy last year, I was talking with a dad at my kids' school and he said, "can you believe that some parents take their kids to PROTESTS?"(He didn't realize he was talking to a union mom whose kids' hands are calloused from holding picket signs).
I wanted to explain that protesting hadn't always been so, well, so UNSAFE as it was proving to be in October/November of 2011. I also wanted to point out that it was, in fact, still a legal right.
But legal or not, the image of riot police at every show of dissent is psychologically chilling. I'm sure that that's the point. And I'm sure that many parents as well as many individuals are thinking twice about showing up.
So far, I haven't seen union picket lines getting the same riot police treatment as Occupy. But, yesterday, when striking Walmart workers and their community allies staged a peaceful protest, riot police were sent in.
This is beyond disturbing: These workers and community allies are exercising their right to free speech. And the workers were exercising their right to protected concerted activity when they spoke up about the dismal working conditions, wage theft and discrimination they face on the job.
The warehouse workers who went on strike work for a key distribution center for Walmart in Illinois. They were incredibly brave for speaking out about working conditions and non-payment of overtime and regular wages. For background read the article by Erica Smiley on the Jobs with Justice Site.
It seems like as working conditions get worse and people protest, the police repression ramp ups even further to protect the interests of companies like Walmart - even as they break the law by not paying wages! I think we have to start doing what the community allies are doing in Illinois and stand with Walmart workers and all workers who are bravely pushing back - union or non-union. We have to exercise our right to free speech, protected concerted activity, and decent working conditions for every worker.
The statewide coalition I work with is hosting a Community Meeting with Walmart workers in Northern California this week to find out how we can support them in their fight. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or e-mail me for more information. You can also go to the Jobs with Justice website above to find out about local actions and events where you live. This is such an important fight and such an important time to stand together.
Remember - solidarity is our right and protesting is not a crime. Go to one this week. See you there!