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

8:16 AM PDT on April 2, 2010

At a rally yesterday 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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