Amalgamated Transit Union honored the life and sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a national day of action to defend public transit April 4 - the 44th anniversary of King's assassination in Memphis Tennessee - kicking off a massive Occupy Transit campaign targeting politicians who have failed to make necessary reforms to sustain local bus and rail systems.
"Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers seeking union recognition" said Angela Walker, legislative director for ATU's southeastern Wisconsin Local 998. His work had emphasized access to jobs in his last years, paying wages sufficient to support a family. Union transit workers, and thousands of their passenger in every local community across the United States, who rely on public transit to get to available employment, consider this campaign a fitting memorial for Dr. King's life, work, and death.
Sally Prefontaine, a veteran bus driver on the Milwaukee system, highlighted that "taxpayers are subsidizing oil companies, while the price is going up, but the government has docked transit," when the U.S. is supposedly trying to reduce dependence on imported oil.
Dan Lecoco, a rider on the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) who is blind and must get to several meetings a day, told the April 4 rally at the Local 998 office on North 26th Street "I use public transit because it is the most reliable way to go. I don't use paratransit, because I need to get to appointments on time. I talk to people with disabilities who say, if they can get a ride, they will come to an event. Without transit, I'm justa guy waiting at home hoping for a ride."
For passengers such as Lecoco, said local ATU president Al Simonis, and many seeking work who cannot afford their own car, "Milwaukee cannot survive without quality public transit." While Milwaukee got another one-year breathing spell from funds released by dissolving the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Agency, the $10 million in transit cuts from Governor Walker's budget bill hurt systems in Appleton and Wausau immediately, said Walker.
Walker recently spoke to a state senate committee in support of a renewed bill authorizing local voters to approve regional transit authorities by referendum. She didn't note much response. Transit supporters in the Fox Valley, she reported, have sharply criticized Republican efforts to centralize power in Madison, a Big Government approach that destroys local community self-government in developing transit solutions.