Something About Me

Bernie Sanders took time out from his campaign to walk the picket line and encourage striking workers in New York City today (The Communication Workers of America). It was exactly the right thing to do. Workers need to know that someone in Government is willing to walk the hard walk with them. I know from experience. It made me smile with a memory.
I was running to be the Democratic Party candidate for Governor of Michigan. I got into the race a month late and more than a dollar short on campaign funds and political support. It would be a guerilla campaign.
The UAW had a designated candidate, Larry Owens. I should say the UAW leadership had a candidate. Most of them had never heard of Mr. Owens. Many rank and file felt a need to get militant and respond. The Democratic Establishment wanted to play nice… appeal to the “middle ground” and make a pitch to the people of Michigan that was intended to look like a palatable alternative to the personality of John Engler, rather than a challenge to very first stages of an attack on labor. Mr. Owens was a nice man who had earned his political shot. He had raised a lot of money for the Party. He knew all the players, all the rules, and had made all the deals. He was known by everyone in the Party and very few else. I couldn’t stand it. In a moment of inspiration, or sheer madness (I still don’t know which), I decided to announce and run.
The Establishment did not like the idea of someone like me jumping in. I was not one of them. I was outspoken – meaning I said what I thought and didn’t mince words. I was not controllable. I sued Insurance Companies, Corporations on behalf of victims… in other words, I sued their contributors. I was initially dismissed, but when I produced a series of commercials that were very successful, it got their attention. The attacks from Republicans started, but so did the attacks from Democrats. Nothing new for me after representing Dr. Jack Kevorkian. I started driving around in a minivan and learning how to organize events, just walking neighborhoods… it was a guerilla campaign. I was on my own.
I remember the morning distinctly. We were walking out of the door to my Law Firm, about to get into a Pontiac minivan, and going over the schedule of stops when I noticed a headline in the Detroit Free Press – a plant was closing in Flint because GM decided to move the business to Mexico. The UAW was picketing even as they were pulling the machines out of the plant to ship to Mexico. “Those sons of bitches, this is what it is all about. We are cancelling the schedule and we are going to walk the picket line with them”. I had a friend, a driver and a “political advisor” with me at the time (someone who had run a few campaigns before and charged more than I did by the hour). The advisor and driver told me to keep the schedule. My friend told me “let’s go get a picket sign”. We went to Flint.
When we got there, I talked with a few workers on the line. I asked if I could pick up a sign and walk the line with them. After an hour or so, some UAW leader types arrived and said I couldn’t walk the line. Owens was their candidate. The workers on the line got in their faces and asked where Owens was and told them to pick up a sign. End of discussion, and the moment (I believe) I won the nomination.


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