Joy and pain; 20th anniversary reflections on the Detroit newspaper strike

Once upon a time, this was us… Photo Credit: In These Times.com

Some things are hard to describe, but in the truest spirit of blogging – meaning  not being too fancy and letting the words flow as they choose because the words usually know best – I know I need to say something about the 20th anniversary of the Detroit newspaper strike, of which I was very proudly a part.

And painfully.

This past Sunday, my wife and I attended the Belle Isle family re-union picnic commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Detroit newspaper strike of 1995. It was a wonderful event, and it turned out to be a beautiful day after having been forecast as a possibility of thundershowers. I would have come anyway, as I’m sure the rest of the family would have, because anyone who endured that strike and came out  OK on the other side (relatively speaking) can certainly endure a little thunder and lightning. Especially when there’s food and beer.

In July 1995 when the strike began I hadn’t been at the Detroit Free Press much more than two years. I had come to the Freep in January 1993 from the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel to join the much-celebrated Free Press editorial board as its newest member. The Sun Sentinel was a great paper with a lot of great folks, but going to the Freep was most definitely moving in with the heavy hitters. It didn’t take me long to figure that out.

So I figured this was going to be my career launching pad. My ticket to the stars. After a four-year long detour in Chicago after graduating from college where I moved to pursue my dreams of being a musician and writer (something I’m still doing, by the way), I had returned back home to Denver and started an internship with a tiny weekly, the Littleton Independent, to see if I thought journalism was something I might enjoy as a career. My mother’s ‘suggestion’ after coming home from Chicago looking – and acting – like a wildchild just returned from Vietnam. Another story for another time, but a good one.

Anyway, yes. I enjoyed it. Like nothing I had ever enjoyed in life. Journalism and newspapers became my new heartbeat. And my career took off, leading me from the Littleton Independent to the Denver Post to the Los Angeles Times to the Ann Arbor News to the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel and finally to the Free Press. I even landed a nationally syndicated column with Universal Press Syndicate while I was there, not quite a year after I’d arrived.

So here I was. Make me a star. I’m ready for my close-up.

Then came the strike, and I had to make that choice. At the time it happened I was on leave working on a book project, so I was hoping and praying that somehow, magically, it would all be done, over with, and wrapped up tight in a pretty little bow by the time my leave of absence was over. But that ain’t life.

So I told my mother what was about to happen, which scared the daylights out of her, but she understood. And supported. Because she’s the one who taught me right from wrong. So how could she now tell me to do the wrong thing, even if it would spare me the pain that I’m still  sure she could see much more clearly down my road than I could?

And yes. There was plenty. I’ll leave it at that, only because I was hardly the only one and this isn’t a cry-fest. All strikers have their stories of pain and survival. All of us. That’s why we remain together to this day. Because we know what it was like, even if we don’t all know the particulars of what each of us went through – and continue to go through.

But we’re here. And God if we aren’t the strongest, most honorable (insert appropriate curse word here) folks I’ve ever known in life.

Understand that the strike changed my life like no other event in my life. None. My wife married me while I was on strike which, to me, makes my act of courage pale in comparison. I didn’t know what I was signing up for. She did, and she signed up anyway. And we’re still together 17 years later after it all. We went through a lot, lost a lot, gained more, but neither of us ever questioned the strike. There were debates about staying in Detroit, and about whether I should have returned after it was over when I had the opportunity because it wouldn’t have been crossing the line. But never once did we – did she –  ever question the strike.

Because there’s right, and then there’s wrong. And at the end of the day, I only want one of them to be the pillow I sleep on at  night.

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About the author
kaoblues
Writer and musician.

4 Comments

Eddie Hejka

2015-07-15 14:50:57 Reply

Beautiful story. There are a few times in our lives when we face decisions that show our true character. We don’t know whenthey will come and how we will act till that time comes. And when we get it right , we carry that pride with us for the rest of our lives.

    kaoblues

    2015-07-30 23:49:56 Reply

    Thanks much Eddie. I appreciate that.

salim

2015-07-18 05:52:32 Reply

right on, my brother!

    kaoblues

    2015-07-30 23:49:27 Reply

    Thank you Salim!

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