People holding banner
"We're here today because we want all Americans to have the opportunity to succeed, to take care of their families, to improve their communities," said Ohio AFL-CIO secretary/treasurer Petee Talley on August 21. Talley was speaking to a crowd gathered at McFerson Commons in the Arena District to protest the Defending the American Dream summit at the Columbus Convention Center. The summit was held by Americans for Prosperity, a group sponsored by the Koch brothers.    "Americans for Prosperity don't speak for working people. The American Dream is not for sale," Talley said. "We here to let folks know that we are the defenders of our American Dream. That is a dream for economic and social justice for all people."   At 3,200 strong, it was the largest such rally since the Ohio Senate Bill 5 protests of 2011. The Ohio Education Association, UAW, SEIU, AFSCME, and other unions and pro-labor groups from across Ohio were represented. ,  "We're here to expose Americans for Prosperity for the the front group that they are, run by billionaire industrialists, said Ohio AFL-CIO president Tim Burga. "Their track record is clear. Their mission is to pressure politicians to enact laws that will further enrich corporate CEOs and the super wealthy, and take power out of the hands of working people.    "Their policy priorities include Right to Work and elimination of prevailing wage," Burga said. "This is designed to keep people down and keep power in the hands of the fortunate few at the very top. Americans for Prosperity has no moral authority to make claims about the American Dream.    "If you want to know what the American Dream is and how to get it, ask a bus driver or a bricklayer. Ask a neighborhood block captain or ask a church leader. Don't rely on billionaires to tell you what it is."   "We shouldn't have to struggle to make ends meet, having to choose between paying our rent and buying our kids shoes," said Artheta Peters, a home health care worker from Cleveland who is involved with the Fight for 15 movement. "I shouldn't have to stand in a food bank line every month because $8 an hour doesn't stretch to feed my family for 30 days. It's not fair that providers who work hard every day to make people's lives better  have to live like this."    Peters was drawn to home health care when she provided home care to her father when he had cancer. She saw how important it was to her father to live out his days with freedom, independence, and dignity. "We do it because we care, because we love our clients," she said. "Just because we chose this field doesn't mean we should have to live in poverty. It's not fair that the rich stay rich on the back of hard-working people like us.    "Today, CEOs are making 330 times what the average working person earns," Peters said. "5 percent of Americans now control over 80% of all the wealth in our country. This might be the American Dream for those at the very top, but what about the rest of us? We deserve a shot at the American Dream, too."   As a member of Students Against Sweatshops, Lainie Rini works in solidarity with factory workers overseas and with low-wage workers at Ohio State University. "Our generation is trying to partner with all workers because we a looking for a secure foundation to start building our future," she said. "We millennials are getting excited about coming together to get organized around labor justice.   "We are entering the workplace after a great economic recession," Rini said. "The corporate CEOs want us to believe the 'new normal' that we will be entering means low wages, low benefits, and no say at work. We are not going to accept this new normal."   After an hour, the rally transformed into a march to the Americans for Prosperity event at the Columbus Convention Center. Visual elements included a gigantic representation of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as a Koch brothers puppet.  

~~ Steve Palm-Houser is a freelance journalist, full-time technical writer, and chair of the Justice Action Ministry at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus.