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Monday, March 1, 2010

Marching Muni Drivers Overwhelm 'March Against Muni'

Posted By on Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 6:59 PM

click to enlarge March Against Muni organizer Jared Roussel looks on as Muni Drivers' union boss Irwin Lum snatches away his bullhorn and addresses the crowd - ALL PHOTOS   |   JOE ESKENAZI
  • All Photos | Joe Eskenazi
  • March Against Muni organizer Jared Roussel looks on as Muni Drivers' union boss Irwin Lum snatches away his bullhorn and addresses the crowd

View more photos in "March Against Muni: Anti-Muni Protest at City Hall."

"March Against Muni," the odd amalgam of largely young, hip people deeply incensed at rude Muni drivers, paper Fast Passes, and other maladies were scheduled to have their big march through downtown today. But that's not exactly what happened. Instead, an event occurred that their protest material seemed to decry as impossible: The Muni drivers showed up early.

Ten minutes before the marching portion of March Against Muni was set to commence, a far larger, louder, and more spirited contingent of Muni operators strode onto the scene, and drowned out the novice protesters' wails. For those keeping score at home, the marching Muni drivers out-marched March Against Muni. And this was no mass movement; perhaps 200 drivers showed up compared to 50 to 100 March Against Muni folks. The lot of them would have fit in an articulated bus. 

click to enlarge Cable car driver Eric Williams leads the assembled Muni drivers into a 'march-off' against 'March Against Muni'
  • Cable car driver Eric Williams leads the assembled Muni drivers into a 'march-off' against 'March Against Muni'
So March Against Muni wanted to proceed to City Hall. Well, that's

funny -- the drivers wanted to march there, too. What were the odds?

"We're going to march in front of them," said Transit Workers Union

president Irwin Lum. "Not with them." This he proceeded to do.


drivers proceeded to eat March Against Muni's lunch in every

conceivable way, shape, and form. MAM's odd message was, in person,

even more vague, superficial, and Utopian than the "demands" circulated via its Web

site and Facebook page.

At times, organizer Jared Roussel bellowed pablum like "We

deserve a functioning transit system" or "We're not going to put up

with this nonsense" into his bullhorn. All right. Or you'll do what?

March again?

The union side, however, had a winning game plan. Rather than make

obtuse complaints about the state of Muni, they stayed on-message: This

is all management's fault! Speakers again and again assailed Muni

management for burning through money, and scapegoating the union

drivers. If you're still scoring at home, this was the first winning

bit of PR the Transit Workers have engineered since this whole Muni soap opera began. If they were looking to put forth a face for the public other than money-grubbing, concession-spurning goldbrickers -- which is the image that's getting a good airing right now -- well, mission accomplished. Bluntly sticking to the message, a confrontational attitude -- do we hear Eric Jaye's music?

click to enlarge A couple of gents from the March Against Muni crowd, and their little friend
  • A couple of gents from the March Against Muni crowd, and their little friend
When the marchers stopped across the street from Muni's headquarters at 1 South Van Ness, the bullhorn-wielding Roussel made an odd strategic decision. Facing a skeptical and largely unsympathetic crowd, he chose to play the "Muni drivers are rude!" card. Wrong move. Eric Williams, a cable car operator and the lead marcher, replied "You've got to understand -- we are hard-working mothers, uncles, and grandfathers. Most of us grew up in this city. Our issue is about the budget -- and you the public are being misinformed!" Guess what? It's management's fault! Point to Williams.

When the marchers stopped on the City Hall steps, Roussel and Williams squared off like men engaging in a poetry slam via bullhorns. This slam would go the union's way -- and even if Roussel wasn't hooted down by the pro-union crowd, he certainly was emasculated when he allowed union boss Lum to make off with his bullhorn and start addressing the crowd. The March Against Muni organizer then lost it for good when he asked the gathered not-quite masses why drivers can't "love and support us" and then inspired near-bedlam by asking "what's it take to get a smile?"

That's why you brought everyone out here on a march? To ask why the Muni drivers can't flash you a big grin when you step on the bus? At this point, Roussel was in danger of being gonged.

And then the protest had its very own People's Front of Judea-Judean People's Front moment when self-anointed community organizers, March Against Muni folks, and the ubiquitous protest-mongers of International ANSWER began arguing amongst themselves. ANSWER's speakers, astoundingly, pledged full and uncompromising support for the union workers. Which is odd -- considering it was ANSWER who last year declared extended parking meter hours an "assault" on the proletariat, though they kept their mouths shut when Muni hiked fares and slashed services. Extended meter hours are one of the many revenue measures the MTA Board has not taken up to offset  the financial crunch that has even disabled and senior passengers poised to pay higher fares. In short, ANSWER's logic doesn't make any goddamn sense.

click to enlarge march_against_muni_057.jpg
In the end a March Against Muni was instead successfully appropriated by the drivers, who methodically drummed out an attack against management and "Gavin Newsom and his cronies on the MTA Board," in Williams' words.

Chalk up March Against Muni as the latest folks to get run over by Muni drivers. 

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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