Protesters of Senate Bill One rally to teach legislators a lesson in Frankfort

KY United We Stand, a Facebook group of thousands of government employees, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), the Kentucky Education Association, the Public Pension Coalition and many other organizations held a rally in Frankfort protesting Senate Bill One (SB1) on March 12.

“We’re here today to say to our elected leaders that we have to protect our pensions, the state has to honor its commitment to its employees, or we’ll never be able to attract the police, the firefighters and the public educators that we need,” Brent McKim, the president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said.

Brent McKim addresses protesters. Photo by Phoebe Monsour.

In 2017, KY United We Stand organized Fund Our Pensions, a similar rally, in protest of a special session about pensions on Nov. 1. Due to its success, organizers of the March 12 rally, such as Katie Hancock, one of the founders of KY United We Stand, believe their voice will make a change.

“I feel like we had a really big influence in stopping the special session which kept being threatened,” Hancock said. “But I believe — I strongly believe — that with our commitment, our passion and fighting that has caused us to stop that special session.”

“We had a lot of numbers out this time. It seemed like a few more than last time. I’m hoping that’s going to translate into some actual action within the senate,” Jonathan White, a speaker at the rally, said.

Hancock created KY United We Stand when she heard about Governor Matt Bevin’s pension plan. Hancock said that she “got really mad.”

“I’m pretty much a lifelong civil servant at this point. I’ve been here almost 17 years, and it’s kind of hard to start over from scratch,” Hancock said.

She started the Facebook group KY United We Stand, and it rapidly gained support.

There are two of these groups, one public and one “secret.” While the public group has less than 3,000 followers, Hancock said that the secret group is much larger with about 15,000 people.

KY United We Stand, according to Hancock, is an advocacy group, and the organization does not pay its members to organized the rallies.

“We’re just doing this in our own free time in between kids and work,” Hancock said.

The rally against SB1 gained support beyond teachers and other government employees.

Kevin Short, a 16-year-old student from Corbin High School, spoke at the rally.

“The issue of funding pensions might not seem like one that would interest young people quite as much as other topics, but I’m here to tell you that many of us do care. We care because we spend most of our days in classrooms with teachers; we see how hard they work,” Short said. “Teachers deserve to be paid well and compensated fairly because I need them to prepare me for the future.”

Kevin Short speaks at the rally. Photo by Phoebe Monsour.

The organizers of the rally reached out to Short because they wanted a speech from a student perspective and he is the youngest member of the KFTC’s economic justice campaign.

“It was my duty as a student and a citizen to speak out,” Short said.

McKenzie Cantrell, who represents House District 38, the south of Louisville, attended the rally for the same reason: a feeling of obligation.

“I represent a lot of teachers, a lot of police officers, and it’s my job to care about this,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell also has personal connection to the bill, as her mother has been a public school teacher for 28 years. “This is our livelihood, these are our families. This is our ability to care for our families,” Cantrell said.

The protesters wish for their activism to result in action against SB1 in the Kentucky Legislature.

“This is the democratic process, and I think it hopefully leads to the elected leaders rethinking the direction they’re heading,” McKim said.