Susan Clark and Maryah Padgett

Susan Clark, Maryah Padgett and Keith Rose (not pictured) chained themselves to U.S. Senator Roy Blunt’s office door in Clayton to protest Blunt’s support of Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Blunt said on the Senate floor that Kavanaugh would not have denied charges of sexual assault if he were guilty.

Last week was rough.

“We knew going in that it was going to be emotional, and it was going to be a rough week,” said Cori Bush, a recent congressional candidate and a frontline protestor during last year’s unrest in response to the Jason Stockley verdict. “But walking through it? The not knowing what was going to happen but being hopeful...”

Bush was one of the leaders of the #OccupyThe100 movement that began on October 2. For five consecutive days, people slept in tents on the sidewalk outside of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s office in Clayton – in opposition to Blunt’s approval to confirm U.S. Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

“If people have never slept out on the streets, it’s something people should experience because it’s definitely a humbling experience,” Bush said. “We had a lot of support on the ground, but we also had racists making their points known to us.”

On October 4, three people chained themselves to Blunt’s office door at 7700 Bonhomme Ave. At about 10:30 a.m., veteran protestor Keith Rose, locked himself with a U-lock around his neck and attached himself to the door. He was there for 20 minutes before police unlocked him and arrested him. Two women chained themselves to the door using a device that involved a plumbing pipe and a lock box. Police had to cut through the pipe to get to the chain, said Lt. Jerry Lohr of the St. Louis County Police Department (the friendliest cop at Ferguson protests).

The women, Maryah Padgett and Susan Clark, were finally freed and arrested at about 1:45 p.m.

“We want Senator Blunt to vote ‘no’ on the confirmation of Kavanaugh,” Padgett said, while she was chained to the door. “We don’t think a sexual predator should be a Supreme Court justice – or president.”

In a speech on the Senate floor last week, Blunt basically said he believed Kavanaugh over Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were both high school students.

“I don’t think [Kavanaugh] would have said, ‘I categorically and unequivocally didn’t do this or anything like it’ regarding the specific charge if he had,’” Blunt said. That is tantamount to Blunt saying he believes that denial of a charge is proof of innocence. Kavanaugh or any other judge in the nation would strike him from a jury pool as unfit to deliberate on guilt or innocence for uttering this nonsense, yet here he was confirming someone to the nation’s highest court for a lifetime.

Senator Collins ‘ripped us’

On Friday, October 5, U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) gave a speech on the Senate floor announcing that she would vote “yes” to confirm Kavanaugh. The people at the Blunt encampment were listening to the speech live.

“That ripped us,” Bush said. “That ripped us because we’re saying we’re out here fighting for survivors. Then for a woman to stand up and say out of her mouth that she met with several survivors but she still feels that this is the answer, it was a smack in the face to people who are already bleeding.”

Leading up to the Senate’s vote on October 6, the emotional toll had been high and the lack of sleep severe, Bush said.

“So when that answer came, it just all came pouring out of us,” Bush said. “That our country says openly that we don’t care about you. Yes, that’s what that was.”

Twelve people were arrested while shutting down Hanley Road, near Blunt’s office. Most were released within a few hours. Yet for protestors who were also survivors of sexual assault, those were more hours in jail than their abusers had ever spent for their attacks, Bush said. Organizers of the actions are now exhausted and trying to pick up the pieces.

“It’s one thing to get the answer, but it’s another thing to know that tomorrow we have to live this out. What’s coming? Is there about to be a real attack on Roe v. Wade? Is there about to be an attack on the LGBT community? What else is getting ready to happen? What are we being set up for? It’s terrifying, but as much as people think that what we are doing is not effective, we have to let our local community know that someone is fighting for you and you can fight for yourself. We don’t have to just sit down and take it. It’s about teaching the next generation that you can stand up. The way we make change is to start change.”

Public vote on airport privatization

Should St. Louis city residents get to vote on whether or not to privatize the St. Louis-Lambert International Airport, the city’s largest public asset with the best bond ratings?

On October 3, 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer spoke at the aldermanic Transportation and Commerce Committee’s public hearing on her bill, Board Bill 93, to require a public vote if city leaders decide to privatize its airport. 

Her speech was detailed with explanations on full privatization versus partial privatization, and she argued that a public vote was imperative.

In 1996, Congress established the Airport Privatization Pilot Program, she said.

“Participation in the program has been very limited, in part because major stakeholders have different, if not contradictory, objectives and interests,” she said.

Only two U.S. commercial service airports have completed the privatization process established under the program, she explained. One of those, Stewart International Airport in New York state, subsequently reverted to public ownership. Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is now the only airport with a private operator.

As of last year, there are three active applicants in the APP: Hendry County Airglades Airport in Clewiston, Florida; Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York; and Lambert.

Lambert is one of the most historic airports in the U.S., she said. In 1928, St. Louis city voters approved a $2 million bond issue for the purchase of Lambert and airport improvements, including runways, taxiways, hangars and support facilities. Because of this early use of tax dollars for the construction of the airport, we are grandfathered into a revenue-sharing program whereby the city enjoys almost $7 million a year in direct revenue from Lambert, she said.

“An income that is in serious jeopardy if we privatize,” she said. “And one that is spectacularly unusual given that just 12 out of the nation’s 457 municipal airports enjoy such an arrangement.”

St. Louis could partially privatize without losing this arrangement, she said. For example, it could sign more service contracts – many U.S. airports, including Lambert, outsource non-core operations such as landscaping, bus shuttles and concessions. Airports are also able to privatize financing, operation and maintenance services. Terminal 5 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Terminal 4 at New York John F. Kennedy International Airport are examples of this, she said.

Publicly operated airports  are eligible for federal grants to make major infrastructure improvements. Semi-privatized airports are eligible for these grants under certain conditions. However, fully-privatized airports receive lower federal support.

“This means we as a region would lose out on federal dollars,” Spencer said.

Under full privatization, rates can rise without cap with consent of 65 percent of airlines, she said. While increasing those fees could maximize profits, it could very well decrease use of the airport.

“We are asking: should we privatize our airport? But this is the wrong question to be asking,” Spencer said. “Rather than the short-term question of ‘Can we make a quick buck for the city,’ we should be asking, ‘How can our region’s aviation assets be used to maximize the growth of the regional economy?’”

So far the process of even considering privatization has been funded by conservative billionaire Rex Sinquefield – but this wasn’t about a lack of money, she said.

“When we asked ourselves if turnstiles would be good for MetroLink stations, we found $3.6 million,” she said. “Letting Sinquefield fund the study is about letting special interests ask the questions and then answer them. And we have all seen that the process has therefore been chock-full of conflicts of interest. This is not a process to be proud of. It has lacked accountability and transparency. And, most importantly, it has lacked public involvement. The current public engagement is a heavily funded door-to-door campaign designed to hedge off concerns, rather than provide real insight into the reasons why we are even considering this option and what St. Louisans might gain from it.”

The Transportation and Commerce Committee will hold two more public hearings on Board Bill 93: on October 13, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at St. John the Baptist Parish, 4200 Delor; and on October 15, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Greater Pentecostal Church, 6080 West Florissant Ave.

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