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Benton Harbor protesters refute ‘Astroturf’ claim

When people from around the state announced their intention to converge on Benton Harbor during the Blossomtime parade to protest the takeover of that city’s government under the new Emergency Manager law that he’d sponsored, state Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) dismissed them as hired guns.

“It is truly unfortunate that some groups have decided to send in professional agitators by the bus load to try to create a political sideshow,” he said.

Pscholka’s assertion got wide coverage but people who traveled to Benton Harbor to protest at the parade led by Gov. Rick Snyder say that they paid their own way, that Pscholka has smeared them, and that their stories and motivations have not been represented in coverage of Blossomtime and other events.

“I was one of almost fifty TC citizens who paid for a seat on that bus,“ said teacher Kevin Skarnulis of Northport. “We were organized in an authentically organic, grassroots fashion. We were no more ‘professional agitators’ than Benjamin Braddock visiting UC Berkley in the film The Graduate.”

Skarnulis said that the unfair and undemocratic treatment of the people of Benton Harbor is what compelled him to participate.

“I believe that when one of our citizens or municipalities is treated badly, we all have a responsibility and moral obligation to stand up and speak out for those who are mistreated. As a society, I believe that we must be empathetic and show up when it is not convenient, act when it is not comfortable, and speak up when our conscience compels us.”

Amy Kerr Hardin of Acme, a member of the steering committee for Reject Emergency Mangers, said she is offended by Pscholka‘s comment about paid agitators.

“I would like to know where he got this bad information, and if this is the kind of ‘research’ he applies to his legislative decision-making process? His lack of professionalism is troubling in an elected official, and it may be slanderous/libelous in nature.“

“We went to Benton Harbor because we are fighting for a basic principle of representative government and democratic process,“ said Betsy Coffia of Traverse City. “No matter where you live in Michigan, you don’t deserve to lose your voice in your community to an unelected, unaccountable, highly paid businessman who has been handed the keys to your town by Lansing to do with as he or she pleases. This law is badly written and a threat to anyone who cares to have a voice about what happens in their own communities.”

Deni Scrudato of Traverse City, 58 years old and unemployed, said that Pscholka’s the allegation that people where paid to protest is preposterous.

“I am driven by the recent legislative changes that are being shoved down our throats. I am doing my small part to get the message out: Snyder is wrong for this state and PA-4 as re-written and recently passed is dangerous,” she said. “I hope the rallies send a message to the general public to wake up and start paying attention.”

“I understand that many cities, towns, and schools are experiencing horrible financial trouble, but that does not mean our government should have the ability to send in an individual that can strip elected officials of all powers or fire them,” said Kaylee Grettenberger, a recent college graduate who bussed to Benton Harbor to protest. “No one was paid to protest this injustice, we did it because we care for the future of our state and all Michiganders.”

“I believe that the Emergency Manager Law, P.A. 4 of 2011, is a dictatorial and illegal effort to take citizen rights away and impose the will of the Governor, the current Republican conservative ideas, and to destroy the ‘commons’ — the wealth of the public resources, local government, and local public schools,” said retiree and demonstrator June Thadden. “I wanted Governor Rick Snyder to know that I am one of many ordinary people who do not support his actions.”

“Most of the “corporate media”, i.e. ‘the main stream press’ are ignoring the many protests,“ she said. “Perhaps when we have succeeded to solicit the needed number of signatures to repeal this unjust P.A. 4 they will have to report the story.”

“I believe in democracy, and what Gov. Snyder and Rep. Pscholka have done to our state is unbelievable,” said Cindy Tomlinson, a paraprofessional reading instructor for at risk children at Kingsley Elementary. “Gov. Snyder’s education budget will effectively devastate public education in MI. We will have a ‘lost generation’ of children who will not receive the education they are entitled to. I chose to go to Benton Harbor to personally make Gov. Snyder aware that citizens in Northern MI are effectively organizing to protest his actions and show my support for Benton Harbor.”

Asked during a recent interview who he thought paid the demonstrators that lined the streets during the Blossomtime parade, Pscholka fingered the Kentucky-based group Heartland Revolution.

“Look at their website,” he said. “It says ‘where issues are being debated, we will utilize our resources to spread the truth.’”

Pscholka said that he interpreted this statement as meaning that the group would pay demonstrators.

Heartland Revolution founder John Walz said that his organization has received contributions from unions or corporations, that he gets no salary and that there are no paid professional protesters involved in any of the rallies and protests the group has endorsed.

“What we mean about deploying resources is to initiate recalls, advertisements, and organizing communities to empower them with the tools to regain and maintain their democracy.“

Walz said that all of the people at the Benton Harbor protest were there of their own accord, attracted by fliers, Facebook posts and face to face appeals.

He called Pscholka’s comment about professional agitators “a weak defense for someone who has no wiggle room to defend his undemocratic policies.”

On June 18, people will again gather in Benton Harbor to protest the suspension of local government powers.

Dave Warren of Traverse City said that he is organizing to fill a 56 seat bus to the event.

Warren said that in addition to a rally people are planning on marching to the home of Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), who is an heir to the fortune of the locally-headquartered Whirlpool corporation that hasn’t paid income taxes in three years.

He says that the protesters will also circulate petitions for a recall of Al Pscholka and a repeal of the Emergency Manager law, canvas door-to-door, and register voters.

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