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Transit Advocacy

Rev. Jackson Joins Labor, Enviro Groups in Call for Transit Funding

11:02 AM PDT on April 5, 2010

At a rally last week headlined by Rev. Jesse Jackson,
a new coalition of labor unions and environmental organizations stood
together to demand more funding for transit agencies across the
country. With service cuts afflicting bus and train riders in dozens of
major cities, the "Keep America Moving" coalition
is focused on securing funds to maintain transit service. Their first
goal is passing legislation in Congress that would make federal
operating aid for transit permanent. 

JesseJacksonPhoto.JPGFrom
left to right, TWU Local 100 president John Samuelson, Rev. Jesse
Jackson, Congressman Charlie Rangel, and Congressman Greg Meeks. Photo:
Noah Kazis.

The star of the rally was Jackson,
introduced by Congressman Charlie Rangel as someone who "not only
brings a political stimulus, but answers to a higher power." Calling
the budgetary woes of the nation's transit agencies part of "the heart
of the urban crisis," Jackson told the crowd that "we must now bail out
from the bottom-up," beginning with urban transit. 

Jackson
added that the coalition's fight "may end in a massive March on
Washington," linking the coalition to the history of the civil rights
movement.

Keep America Moving increasing operating funds for the nation's transit systems. Nationally, the coalition is pushing to pass Missouri Congressman Russ Carnahan's bill
to allow cities with more than 200,000 residents to use federal dollars
on transit service, not just capital projects. Transit systems across
the nation are facing huge budget deficits
as a result of the recession. Multiple speakers at the rally questioned
the wisdom of buying new buses if you can't pay anyone to drive them, a
situation that gained widespread attention when the 2009 stimulus bill emphasized funding capital projects instead of maintaining service.

Members
of the Keep America Moving coalition are not just looking to the feds.
Streetsblog asked John Samuelson, the new head of New York's Transport
Workers Union Local 100, whether the coalition would also target state
and local governments. "In a word, yes," Samuelson answered. "We have a
full-scale lobbying effort in Albany." Samuelson didn't specify what
the TWU is asking for in Albany, but he did refer to his union's
support for shifting flexible stimulus dollars from the MTA's capital budget to pay for operations.

The
two founding partners of the coalition are the major transit unions,
the Amalgamated Transit Union and the TWU. Some of New York's most
powerful labor groups, including the SEIU, DC 37, and RWDSU also came
to show their support. The rallying cry of the afternoon was "jobs,
jobs, jobs," repeated by the heads of union locals and elected
officials, including Rangel and Congressman Greg Meeks.

The
coalition also includes environmental organizations: Cecil Corbin-Mark
of the West Harlem-based WE ACT for Environmental Justice and Dan Miner
of the New York City Sierra Club connected the need for more transit
funding with the imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and
improving air quality. Other speakers included Gene Russianoff of the
Straphangers Campaign and Kate Slevin of the Tri-State Transportation
Campaign.

Yesterday's event was the second rally by Moving America Forward, following a Chicago event last Saturday. 

Russianoff
saw the formation of the coalition -- and the participation of a public
figure with Jackson's stature -- as a major step forward for
transportation advocacy. "The momentum has been growing," he said after
the rally, adding that the coalition is just getting started. 

"You're going to see a lot more of us," promised Warren George, the president of the ATU.

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