April 27, 2010
Thousands of transit workers gathered near the Capitol today in protest of the crippling service cuts and layoffs that are devastating transit agencies throughout the country.
The “Keep America Moving” rally, co-sponsored by the Amalgamated Transit Union and Transport Workers Union, aimed to turn up the heat for Congressional action on operating aid. One look at Transportation for America’s transit funding crisis map shows how dire things are, reminding us that the problem is bigger than any single agency, city or state. A national crisis requires a national response, and that is exactly what today’s event was about.
The mix of bus drivers, station agents and other industry workers came primarily from New York, although Washington, Atlanta and Boston were represented as well. Many carried signs with messages like “hands off my station agents,” “think before you cut” and another with “don’t cut the _____ bus route,” with workers filling in the blank. T-shirts distributed to participants bore the message “mass transit is America’s future.”
The rally built upon a recent series of high-profile events with similar objectives. In an unusual and provocative move, buses or trains targeted for deep cuts or elimination in Atlanta’s MARTA system were marked with large X’s last week to show residents the transportation options they’re slated to lose. Both MARTA and the neighboring C-Tran in Clayton County, Georgia — a system that was forced to close entirely — were cited by speakers today.
Congressman Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minneapolis, told the crowd he is committed to fighting for transit assistance this year. He reminded all the workers present that this issue isn’t just about them — the vital workers who keep our buses and trains running — it’s about the millions who depend on those buses and trains to get to work each day. With federal money to keep transit systems running, “we not only help save your jobs, we help you get other people to their jobs,” Rep. Ellison said. “I’m going to be fighting for you and telling your story right here on the House floor today.”
He was followed by Rev. Jesse Jackson, who got the crowd fired up and demanded hope despite the clouds on the horizon.
Calling cuts to bus service in Atlanta and elsewhere “an economic heart attack,” Jackson said “people with dialysis can’t get to the hospital, children can’t get to school, workers lose their jobs.”
Jackson called for broader partnerships to save transit jobs and halt cuts, saying “students must join the coalition, teachers must join the coalition, environmentalists must join the coalition. This is not just about the drivers, it’s about the riders, about health, the environment.”