Organizers of the pro-union protests in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday distanced themselves from what has become the signature moment for anti-union conservatives: the tearing down of a large tent set up by Koch-funded group Americans For Prosperity on the state Capitol lawn.
Eddie Vale, spokesperson for the AFL-CIO on the ground in Lansing, said his group does not support the tearing down of the tent, but also blamed anti-union protesters for goading the labor folks. He said there were more than 15,000 people at the Michigan capitol, and their protest was “almost universally peaceful and calm.”
“While of course we do not condone the actions taken by a small group of people, the disciples of James O’Keefe were attempting to instigate the crowd all day,” Vale said, referring to the right-wing, video-camera-wielding provocateur. “As soon as the incident happened our marshals worked with the police to move the AFP people through the crowd to safety with no injuries.”
As it did in Wisconsin and other states on the front lines of the Republican anti-union push since 2010, AFP has had a presence in Lansing since the protests over right-to-work legislation began. Last week, the group “blared speeches by Ronald Reagan” at the state Capitol and pro-union groups gathered there.
On Tuesday, as the protests swelled, some of those pro-labor protesters apparently had enough and they allegedly ripped the tent down, reportedly trapping AFP supporters and equipment inside. Here’s video, posted by MLive:
Some pro-union protesters were also arrested Tuesday in front of the George Romney state office building , where Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) office is located. There were reports of pepper spray being used by police at that protest. Vale noted the protesters were “chanting ‘give the police a raise,’” which he said showed “the actual spirit of the crowd.”
Conservatives are having a field day with the AFP tent video, as well as other footage purportedly showing pro-labor protesters being violent. Dueling YouTube footage of protesters running amok is a central part of any organized protest these days, but AFP said the incident with its tent endangered lives and crossed a line.
“I am saddened by union protestors’ complete disregard for safety and freedom of speech, tearing down an AFP tent and stomping on peaceful AFP demonstrators trapped under the tent,” AFP Michigan State Director Scott Hagerstrom said in a statement.
“Angry, violent union protestors are yelling, screaming, and physically assaulting citizens they disagree with all while chanting ‘this is what democracy looks like,’” he said. “That isn’t what democracy looks like, democracy is about free speech and peaceful assembly, not putting people’s well-being in danger just because you disagree with them.”