Marchers plant flags for laid off employees


Jason Howell

Beka Parker Murphy, owner of Jazzercise in Charleston and board member of the Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce, speaks to the Red Flag March participants on the steps of the Coles County Courthouse on Wednesday. Murphy said the ripples of the budget tragedy will affect the business community.

Analicia Haynes, Administration Editor

Silence loomed over the presence of more than 100 Eastern and Charleston community members Wednesday while they solemnly planted 261 red flags in honor of laid off employees.

The red flags, though small, contrasted against the muted backdrop in front of the Doudna Steps and the Charleston Courthouse and left a mark on the community by drawing attention to the struggles and sacrifices individuals are now forced to endure.

The silence was broken by chants and several inspiring speeches charged with words of hope and support for those who lost their jobs.

Jeannie Ludlow, coordinator of women’s studies, introduced the speakers and, with a megaphone in hand, she kicked off the demonstration with a memory.

“In September, on the day of the first layoff, I ran into a coworker who told me he was one of the people being laid off,” Ludlow said. “He said don’t be angry for me, because I’m not. Then he said, ‘I’m really worried for my family, they’re scared.’”

Ludlow paused, and nearly in tears she said each flag represents a job, a person, a coworker, a friend and a family.

She said sometimes two flags represent two members from the same family.

“Today we mark, in a very visible way, the effects of our politicians’ game playing on real peoples’ lives,” Ludlow said. “We are here today because we refuse to ignore the realities of the lives (Gov. Rauner) is changing.”

After checking out umbrellas from Booth Library to combat the drizzle that tried to ruin the demonstration, participants finished their speeches in the Library Quad and peacefully marched to the Courthouse where they planted 261 more flags.

Though the layoffs took place at the university, speakers made it clear that the nearly nine-month-long budget impasse did not just affect Eastern but the entire community as well.

Ludlow said the march demonstrated the relationship between the community and Eastern and how they will stand together and not be pitted against each other.

“What happens at Eastern doesn’t just stay on the other side of Lincoln Avenue,” Ludlow said. “It affects all of us and we wanted that to be very clear.”

Donna Wieck, a Charleston resident who retired from teaching in the Charleston School District, said it is difficult to see this happening to Eastern, where she also graduated from.

She said what has been happening at the state level is ridiculous and as a result many have been affected.

Many of the teachers in the Charleston School District have a relationship with Eastern, Wieck said, whether it is with student teachers or students who come for a practicum.

She said there are also financial difficulties at the Charleston School District as well and Eastern and the city, as well as surrounding communities, need to be unified.

Marchers, huddled together in front of the courthouse, cheered for the speakers, school, community and laid off employees.

Beka Murphy, who was born and raised in Charleston and is the owner of Jazzercise in Charleston, spoke on behalf of the community members.

Murphy said she and others feel the pain that those who will not return next Monday are experiencing and many are afraid of what will happen next.

“We know that the ripples of this tragedy will affect the financial future of our local businesses, especially our small businesses,” Murphy said. “If pain were kindling and fear were ignition then certainly the flame that we burn will be anger.”

Murphy asked the audience to hang on to the hope and passion that thrives on campus and in the community despite the anger that has evolved in the recent months.

“I love our community and I love Eastern and it is that love that inspires our hope, and our hope that inspires us to continue to support you, continue to gather, speak and fight for the community and Eastern,” Murphy said.


Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]