Time to occupy the Super Bowl

Labor and Occupy activists plan to be at one of the most expensive sporting events in the world, protesting Indiana's new anti-union "right-to-work" bill.

"Upsetting the Super Bowl--I couldn't care less. This is about my life and my family."
--Lou Feldman, IBEW local 668

THE SHEER volume of the Super Bowl is overpowering: the corporate branding, the sexist beer ads, the miasma of Madison Avenue-produced militarism, the two-hour pre-game show. But people in the labor and Occupy movements in Indiana are attempting to drown out the din with the help of a human microphone right at the front gates of Lucas Oil Stadium.

Columnist: Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin Dave Zirin is the coauthor, with John Carlos, of The John Carlos Story, and author of Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love and A People's History of Sports in the United States, as well as two collections of his sports writings, Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports and What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States. He is a columnist for TheNation.com; his writings are also featured at his Edge of Sports Web site.

The Republican-led state legislature passed a law this week that would make Indiana a "right to work" state. For those uninitiated in Orwellian doublespeak, the term "right to work" ranks with "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and "Fair and Balanced" as a phrase of grotesque sophistry.

In the reality-based community, "right to work" means smashing the state's unions and making it harder for nonunion workplaces to get basic job protections. This has drawn peals of protest throughout the state, with the Occupy and labor movement front and center from small towns to Gov. Mitch Daniels's door at the State House.

Daniels and friends timed this legislation with the Super Bowl. Whether that was simple arrogance or ill-timed idiocy, they made a reckless move. Now protests will be a part of the Super Bowl scenery in Indy.

The Super Bowl is perennially the Woodstock for the 1 percent: a Romneyesque cavalcade of private planes, private parties and private security. Combine that with this proposed legislation, and the people of Indiana will not let this orgy of excess go unoccupied. Just as the parties start a week in advance, so have the protests.

More than 150 people--listed as 75 in USA Today, but I'll go with eyewitness accounts--marched through last Saturday's Super Bowl street fair in downtown Indianapolis with signs that read, "Occupy the Super Bowl," "Fight the Lie" and "Workers United Will Prevail." Occupy the Super Bowl has also become a t-shirt, posted for the world to see on the NBC Sports Blog.

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THE PROTESTS also promise to shed light on the reality of life for working families in the city of Indianapolis. Unemployment is at 13.3 percent, with unemployment for African American families at 21 percent. Two of every five African American families with a child under 5 live below the anemic poverty line. Such pain amidst the gloss of the Super Bowl and the prospect of right-to-work legislation is, for many, a catalyst to just do something.

April Burke, a former school teacher and member of a local Occupy chapter, said to me:

I see right-to-work for what it is: an attack on not only organized labor, but on all working-class people...Because strong unions set the bar for wages, right-to-work laws will effectively lower wages for all. Rushing the passage of right-to-work in the state of Indiana on the eve of the Super Bowl is an insult to the thousand of union members who built Lucas Stadium as well as the members of the National Football League Players Association who issued a statement condemning the right-to-work bill.

As April mentioned, the NFLPA has spoken out strongly against the bill. When I interviewed Player Association President DeMaurice Smith last week, he said:

When you look at proposed legislation in a place like Indiana that wants to call it something like "right to work," I mean, let's just put the hammer on the nail. It's untrue. This bill has nothing to do with a right to work. If folks in Indiana and that great legislature want to pass a bill that really is something called "right to work" have a constitutional amendment that guarantees every citizen a job. That's a right to work.

What this is instead is a right to ensure that ordinary working citizens can't get together as a team, can't organize and can't fight management on an even playing field. So don't call it "right to work." If you want to have an intelligent discussion about what the bill is, call it what it is. Call it an anti-organizing bill. Fine...let's cast a vote on whether or not ordinary workers can get together and represent themselves, and let's have a real referendum.

But Gov. Mitch Daniels, who was George W. Bush's budget director, didn't get this far by feeling shame or holding referendums. This is the same Mitch Daniels who said in 2006, "I'm not interested in changing any of it. Not the prevailing wage laws, and certainly not the right-to-work law. We can succeed in Indiana with the laws we have, respecting the rights of labor, and fair and free competition for everybody."

In other words, he's that most original of creatures: a politician who lies.

As Occupy protester Tithi Bhattacharya said to me, "It is very important for all of us to protest this Sunday. We should show the 1 percent that the fate of Indiana cannot be decided with the swish of a pen by corporate politicians--the Super Bowl should be turned into a campaign for justice and jobs."

First published at TheNation.com.