“Ground Zero”

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It’s a sad little town.

The week The Beatles were first introduced to American viewers in February of 1964, I began what was to become an extended relationship with Flint, Michigan.

Having left my hometown of Syracuse, I joined the air staff of WTAC radio as nighttime DJ during Flint’s halcyon era as the city enjoyed global recognition for being home of the highest paid industrial workers in the entire free world.

Virtually every entity in town was organized, many affiliated with the mighty United Auto Workers, whose struggle for economic justice won a milestone victory in 1937 after a historic sit-down strike at Flint’s Fisher Body #1, leading to the eventual signing of the first contract ever between General Motors and the union. That next year, UAW membership grew from 30,000 to 500,000.

Workers in other organizations quickly followed suit.

The National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians represented every radio and TV station in the market, including WTAC. NABET Local 46 President, Clair Bowser, was control operator during my shift — meaning he ran all the technical equipment and I just talked.

We enjoyed such benefits as free health care with dental and vision fully covered, paid life insurance, guaranteed wage increases, unlimited sick days, up to four weeks of annual vacation time and similar perquisites as a matter of honest exchange. We weren’t “entitled.” It was earned.

I left the air after joining management in 1974, promoted up through the ranks to become president of the station in 1979. But for most of 1974, I was still “Peter C.” and all the kids at Flint Southwestern High listened regularly.

Little Lou Werbe was calling for requests and dedications all the time back then, but I was amazed a few months ago when he contacted me anew. Lou is now the 6’5 Chief Operating Officer of a major Los Angeles general contracting firm with a client list which includes dozens of America’s top companies. He wondered what it would take to have “Peter C.” as DJ at the 40th High School Reunion of the Flint Southwestern Class of 1974. I told him such an event would be my first time back in Flint as a disc jockey in 40 years, but if he’d send me the plane tickets, I’d be there. He did and I was.

Last Saturday night, the Flint Country Club rocked way past midnight with hot music turned up loud as the Class of 1974 celebrated the moment and each other with loving kindness, caring and affection now extended throughout their lives. It was obvious. Some things you just can’t fake.

And you can’t ignore the sad realities of Flint today.

General Motors employment in Flint has dropped from 80,000 in 1978 to under 8,000. Correspondingly, the city’s population has plummeted from 200,000 in 1964 to under half of that in 2014, the first time it’s been under 100,000 since the 1920s. Buildings, factories and former homes have been abandoned by the thousands. Entire blocks rest in ruins. Poverty is omnipresent.

There’s an important connection Flint has with Oakhurst.

Jery Stewart Lacayo passed away only weeks ago.

Quoting my friend, Les Marsden, in this month’s issue of “The Mountain Democrat: “It’s unimaginable that any other person so greatly influenced the course of organized local Democratic institutions in these mountains as Jery Stewart Lacayo.”

Jery’s grandfather was the legendary Wyndham Mortimer — firebrand leader of the early UAW. It was Mortimer who ignored threats on his life and organized Flint’s Sit Down Strike — a true tipping point in the American labor movement, then personally negotiated the first General Motors — UAW agreement.

Michael Moore’s Uncle LaVerne was another major strike organizer and participant. It’s been a full quarter-century since the release of Mike’s landmark “Roger & Me,”gaining ever-increasing recognition as being powerfully prophetic. In 2013 the film was added to the official National Film Registry, a unique distinction.

Twenty-five years ago, Michael showed us the future. Work was crossing borders. Free trade had no barriers. The free market economy only provided freedom to those able to pay for it. Money and power became concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

Flint was ground zero for the beginning of our American middle class decline.

A visit there brings sorrow.

And commitment to a better tomorrow.

That’s what I spoke about at Monday’s Flint Chamber of Commerce Luncheon, encouraging entrepreneurial leadership and individual initiative, but most of all, thanking those in attendance for staying so long when so many others have left.

Striving for the day when so many things can once again be made in America.

And shared by all.

3 Responses to ““Ground Zero””

  1. Jeffrey Gerlach Says:

    I too, will be voting for Art Moore. At this time, change is required.

  2. Jeffrey Gerlach Says:

    Hello Peter,

    Yes there is much to do! Starting with reposting this comment on the correct blog post. This time including the link to the press release. Will be in touch again soon.

    -cheers

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