Dispatch from Lansing: Unions Prep for Protest at the Capitol

by Jillian Kay Melchior

Lansing — The Lansing AFL-CIO office is buzzing this afternoon. Tomorrow, Michigan lawmakers will almost certainly make Michigan a right-to-work state; tomorrow is the big protest day for organized labor. Today is the day for preparations.

AFL-CIO let me in to take a look at their office, even after I told them I was writing for a conservative audience. The staffers looked surprisingly young — many were in their 20s. Several were from out-of-state. Some cited experience campaigning for Obama. Some were eating delivery Chinese food while they coordinated activities.

The AFL-CIO office is a five-minute walk from the state capitol, and protest signs are already neatly stacked, the nicer ones printed professionally, but several more written in marker on poster board. Union organizers are manning the phones in shifts today. Staffers told me they expects “thousand and thousands” of anti-right-to-work demonstrators to show up tomorrow. “It’s all hands on deck,” one union organizer told me.

Today has been a warm-up for organized labor. Small demonstrations have taken place all over the state, drawing a couple dozen at each. Protesters will make a showing in Detroit at 5 p.m., and at 5:30; others plan to Christmas carol outside the governor’s home in Ann Arbor.

Charles Dickens — oops, I mean a union advisory release advertising the caroling protest — stated that “while Michigan families struggle, Governor Snyder’s neighbors hope that the Christmas spirit will reach through the gates of his Superior Township mansion and move the Governor to reconsider his support for extreme legislation backed by corporate CEOs and the ultra-rich, leaving working families behind in the process.”

Meanwhile, the capitol is pretty silent today. Tomorrow will be a different story, and all sides are telling me they hope the demonstration stays peaceful — there’s the sense that this could get out of control fast. Last week, after protesters tried to rush the senate chambers, police arrested eight demonstrators and had to use pepper spray on one. 

The unions have appointed “marshal teams” to ensure the protests don’t get too rowdy, and they’re also coordinating with police to ensure their marches proceed on approved routes. The Detroit Free Press also reports that union members have attended civil-disobedience training in Motor City.

The police seem prepared for the worst. When I walked around the capitol around 11 a.m. today, men in blue were the majority in the lobby. Most had batons, and some had heavy-duty vests. They are equipped to use teargas if the demonstrations escalate. A spokesman said that state police have come from all around Michigan, though he declined to give me a number because “it would take away [our] tactical advantage.”

Still, I found the police attitude reassuring: “This is the people’s capital, and everybody has a right to come here and voice their constitutional rights,” said Gene Adamczyk, assistant district commander of the Michigan State Police. He noted that “the pending legislation is a very emotional issue for a lot of people,” adding that he was there to ensure all sides got their say.

“While we are in uniform, we have no opinion,” Adamczky said. “We are here to protect. . . . That should be a feeling of security regardless of where you stand.”  

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