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Friday, December 9, 2016

It was Monday, after school. Toni Coral and four of her fellow high school teachers in Hamtramck, Michigan, were finalizing plans for the next morning.

They would meet at 5:30 for the two-hour drive to the state house in Lansing. Republicans were expected to pass legislation on Tuesday that would cripple, if not eliminate, unions. Coral and the other teachers were taking the day off, as allowed by their contract, to join thousands of fellow union workers in protest.

“Bring a towel,” the more experienced teacher said to Coral and her colleagues. “Bring a bottle of water, too.”

“Why?” Coral asked.

“Because there might be pepper spray again,” he said, referring to an incident at the Capitol the previous week when Michigan police sprayed protesters trying storm the Senate chambers. “The wet towel will help you breathe.”

Pepper spray.

This was a first in Coral’s 17 years of teaching. She has an 8-year-old son. She loves her job, and her students. She had to think about what she might be getting herself into.

She drove home and made dinner. Her son was with his father, so she had the time, and the silence, to consider consequences. She got back into her car and headed to the neighborhood hardware store.

“I need a pair of goggles,” she told the woman behind the counter. Coral figured the woman to be about her age, 45. She explained why she needed eye protection, and the woman handed her one of the better goggles in stock.

“Use these,” she told Coral. “They’ll seal tightly. No gas will get in.” Coral nodded.

“I can’t believe this,” she told the woman as she waited for her receipt. “I can’t believe I’m a high school English teacher and I’m buying goggles because I might get pepper-sprayed.”

The woman shrugged her shoulders and smiled. “You do what you have to do,” she said.

For Coral, that meant bearing witness to the Republican majority’s power grab to break the rights and bludgeon the souls of hourly wage earners.

“Every year around the world, there are people trying to organize workers, and they disappear,” she said. “The least I could do was show up.”