Friday, May 16, 2008

‘Vote for Change’ registration drive kicks off in 50 states

By John Bachtell
People's Weekly World
May 17, 2008

CHICAGO — Turning its attention toward the November general elections, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign kicked off a massive 50-state voter registration campaign on May 10.

Thousands of volunteer activists, including many first-time volunteers, gathered in more than 100 locations across the country to launch the “Vote for Change” campaign. The goals, according to national co-chair Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois, are to “get millions of new voters registered and engage and motivate millions who are registered but don’t participate. This is about the change we will bring, not what Sen. Obama will bring alone.”

With polls showing an overwhelming rejection of the Bush ultra-right agenda, the kick-off signaled the Obama campaign’s intent to expand the electoral map and challenge Republican nominee John McCain in states thought to be reliably Republican, while expanding Democratic majorities in the U.S Senate and House. The campaign aims to partner with local political and community organizations and elected officials around the country.

Nearly 300 volunteers gathered in Plumbers Hall here to become deputy voter registrars before heading out to register new voters. They were pumped up by area elected officials including Mayor Richard Daley and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.).

It is estimated that 3.5 million new voters have been registered so far in the primaries. This includes 200,000 new Democratic voters in Pennsylvania, 165,000 in North Carolina and 110,000 in Indiana. Registration is up particularly among African Americans, Latinos, women and rural and city dwellers.

Carmen, a blogger at the Washington Post website “The Trail,” reported from Los Angeles, where she helped register voters, “It was amazing to see 400 others in a parking lot at 9 a.m. on an unusually chilly Los Angeles morning. It was truly inspiring.”

Over 50 local volunteers showed up for the Chattanooga, Tenn., kick-off and then registered 140 new voters.

At the Nebraska event, Sen. Ben Nelson noted, “Apparently there are 14,000 more Democrats since before the caucus.” Volunteers like Patrick Cavanaugh hit the streets there, armed with voter registration forms. “Every vote does count and we want to make sure we include everybody in the process,” said Cavanaugh.

In Birmingham, Ala., two dozen Obama volunteers went to store parking lots and city neighborhoods to register 92 new voters. “We had one person born in 1942 who had never registered to vote before in a presidential election, which shows you the excitement Barack Obama is generating among new voters,” said volunteer Melissa Thomas.

A multiracial group of several dozen canvassers met at the Busboys and Poets CafĂ© in Arlington, Va., before heading out. “If Obama is elected, Lord have mercy, this country is going to change,” said volunteer Gene Kippins, as they canvassed a housing project. “This country is going to be the country our forefathers intended it to be.”

While the campaign intends to bring millions of new voters into the process for November, the Democratic primary is still an ongoing battle that isn’t being ignored. Chicago’s rally speakers emphasized staying positive and uniting to beat McCain.

Responding to charges Obama lacks experience to be the president, Illinois State Senate President Emile Jones told the Plumbers Hall gathering, “I didn’t know that Sen. Obama had more experience than one of our greatest presidents — Abraham Lincoln — before he was elected president.”

In a subtle rejection of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s move to racially polarize the electorate by claiming only she could attract working-class whites votes, Jones said Obama has refused to be pulled into the mud and muck of negative campaigning. “Barack has always kept the campaign at a high level, because he trusts the people,” Jones said.

He recounted an experience when he traveled with Obama in southern Illinois during his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2004. They went to a farm near rural Gillespie where Jones, Obama and an aide were the only African Americans in a crowd of 3,000 residents. Obama received an incredibly warm reception and, deeply moved, an 84-year-old woman told Jones, “I hope I live long enough because this young man is going to be president and I want to be around.”

Asked about the use of racism by the Clinton campaign, Bean told the World, “I don’t want to comment on Sen. Clinton’s motivation. She can speak for herself. We have to keep focused on keeping involved in the process.”

The Vote for Change campaign is also a response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding Indiana’s restrictive voter ID law. The law, along with similar efforts in other states spearheaded by Republican right-wing forces, is widely seen as aimed at disenfranchising millions of voters, using a groundless claim of voter fraud by immigrants. It is seen as reflecting an acknowledgement by the Republican right that it cannot win on the issues but only through mass voter suppression.

Other national Vote for Change co-chairs include Change to Win Chair Anna Burger, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Maria Elena Durazo, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and musicians Melissa Etheridge, Dave Matthews and Usher Raymond IV.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The science of struggle and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr.

By Dee Myles

The quagmire of the Rev. Wright is media-generated. They mercilessly crucified him by spinning big lies about his sermons. The effect included threats on his life and family and bombing threats on his church. His congregation, 8,000 strong, is being hounded and church services are disrespected.

Wright is a Chicago icon and Trinity United Church of Christ is a pillar of active struggle in the Black community and within labor circles. Chicago cannot afford the destruction of either.

Clearly there is an attempt to use Wright, and whatever else can be mustered up, to upset the Obama campaign. The central question is: can the science of struggle help us derail the attempt to derail not just the Obama campaign, but the movement for social progress in this country? This movement impacts the entire world, so this matter is of supreme significance.

Looking at his recent series of public appearances, some believe that, no matter what Wright said, it would be twisted for nefarious purposes.

The Bill Moyers interview pulled Wright into trying to defend himself and his relationship with Obama. Five years from now that information would be interesting to read in a book, but in the current context the media used it to raise questions about Obama’s veracity.

The Detroit NAACP dinner had Wright presenting his view of issues he thinks are pertinent. What is needed now is promoting the unity necessary to move forward. Wright spoke about building unity, but it was not his main message. Today’s dire situation requires more.

Then came the National Press Club event, organized by a Black minister (female) who is reported to be a media consultant and Clinton supporter. Wright packed the audience with his allies and then forgot or got confused about being in the middle of the lion’s den. His behavior, normal for his style in the pulpit, in the national media spotlight setting created a cultural disconnect for some.

The science of struggle is decisively useful here. Is the ultimate goal the cleansing of Wright, or the election of Obama, or the provision of a platform for various forces in the African American, and every other, community to voice their concerns about numerous issues both big and small? Or, is the ultimate goal the realization of the greatest democracy in every aspect of life in this country and the reverberating impact such a development will have on the rest of the world? Surely it’s the latter.

Everything we do should be subordinated to building the movement that can bring the highest advancement of social progress possible at this moment. The defeat of the ultra-right — preferably by the campaign that has the best understanding of the importance of engaging the masses in governing and in building a movement toward that end — is the most important task at hand.

Some forces will contribute to achieving the overall goal but are not engaged in the science of struggle — though even those engaged are not immune from making big mistakes. Wright made a mistake by thinking his courage was all that was required, when in fact what is required in addition to courage is everyone’s subordination to the advancement of the overall cause, with full consideration to strategy and tactics. Such an advanced orientation, even in the interest of the poor and downtrodden, does not evolve out of the natural course of life.

We all should despise cultural oppression and domination. It is not broadly recognized that the great swath of the American people are victimized by it, including and especially people of color, other nationalities, women and all ordinary working class folk (“middle class” and the downright poor). The media are the great purveyors of cultural oppression and domination. Anybody who has watched what Obama is being forced to go through should be able to bear witness to the shame of it all. But the hurt and anger evoked will not move us forward unless properly channeled.

Not only do we need to invest in further developing the science of struggle, but we also have to find ways to get that caliber of analysis into the hands of those who want to help but don’t always know exactly how. Building avenues to engage them in exploring and developing the science would be even better. Everybody is not the enemy, but the real enemy can make use of anybody who allows it, consciously or not.

Dee Myles is a Chicago social justice activist.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The May Day tradition: ‘Through unity we find our strength’

By Pepe Lozano

CHICAGO – It’s a May Day story my mother never let’s me forget. Both my parents, avid community activists at the time, were lead organizers of a local march and rally for international workers’ day and immigrant rights in the Pilsen neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side. The year was 1977 and it was scheduled for May 1st.

That morning, my mother, who was pregnant with me, began to feel labor pains. She thought it was nothing to worry about but the pains became sharper and she decided to have my father take her to the hospital.

It was morning time and my father was responsible for making sure the sound system and speakers were at the rally for the May Day action, which was set to begin at noon. My mother insisted that my father stay with her at the hospital. In those days no one had cell phones and you couldn’t call someone to pick up the equipment instead, recalls my mother.

After the doctors checked my mother they found my heart rate was low and told her they needed to do emergency c-section surgery to get me out right away. They asked if there was someone waiting outside the room. “Yes my husband,” she replied. Little did she know that my father had left building. “Oh boy, that was your father for you,” says my mother.

My mother became worried and anxious. “Do anything you have to do, just save my baby,” she said. All of a sudden she felt the urge to push. “I need to push, I need to push,” she told the doctor. “Are you sure mother?” the doctor asked. “Yes!”

They wanted me to wait but I couldn’t and the doctor literally caught you, my mom tells me. Around 1:05 pm I was born and my father, the late Rudy Lozano Sr. was marching down the streets of Chicago for the rights of workers and immigrants.

My parents decided to give me the middle name Alberto after Albert Parsons, one of the labor leaders who fought for worker unity and for the eight-hour workday in Chicago back in 1886. Along with other leaders, Parsons was rounded up and executed after being accused of inciting a riot with the Chicago police at Haymarket Square. Parsons and his comrades are remembered as martyrs that sparked an international movement for working class unity and they, and the history of the U.S. labor movement, are honored worldwide every May 1st.

Reclaiming May Day
On March 10, 2006 Chicago rocked the nation when nearly 500,000 people stopped traffic and marched to Federal Plaza for the rights of undocumented workers and immigrant rights. It was the largest turnout ever in recent U.S. history for immigrant rights. The massive outpouring was to protest the anti-immigrant and reactionary anti-worker Sensenbrenner bill HR-4437, which was introduced in Congress that year.
A couple of month’s later nearly two million people throughout the U.S. marched for the rights of workers and immigrants on May 1. A sleeping giant had awakened. The spirit and history of May Day was reclaimed and in 2007 almost 300,000 people took over the streets of Chicago again on May 1.

May Day 2008
In it’s third annual May Day demonstration since 2006, over 20,000 people marched for immigrant rights throughout the streets of Chicago last May 1, including 100 Latino, labor, community, student and religious groups. African American, Arab, Asian and LGBT organizations throughout the area also joined the massive demonstration. Mayor Richard Daley and a number of elected officials made appearances as well.

A moratorium on immigration raids, the reunification of immigrant families and comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to legalization for the estimated 12 million immigrants living in the U.S. were major themes. The rights of immigrants and all workers in the workplace, the right to unionize and the passage of the Employee Free Choice act, fair wages, an end to the occupation of Iraq, equal access to education and universal health care were also stressed.

Esther, 46, is a legal resident and originally from Guerrero, Mexico. She came with 20 of her mostly immigrant co-workers from the La Condesa restaurant. “We wrote a letter to our boss saying that we were not working on May 1 in order to be here,” she said in Spanish. “Through unity we find our strength and when we unite we could win more advances,” she added. Esther and her co-workers hope to form a union at their worksite. “We want a union at work to help us and to protect our rights,” she said.

Patricia Hernandez, an electronics factory worker has been living in the U.S. for twenty years and came from Waukegan, Illinois to march. “I came to support my friends and families who don’t have papers and to say enough to the war in Iraq,” she said. “It’s time to bring our troops home,” she added.

Marlene Cervantes, 24 is a resource coordinator at Kelly High School and came with 80 students. “The students wanted to come, they’re interested in standing up for immigration reform and passing the Dream Act,” said Cervantes. Many of these kids are the leaders and at the forefront of their families, said Cervantes. “It’s important that adults listen to youth and that their voices are heard,” she added.

Another important issue was the fight for health care, according to John Viramontes, 56, an accountant by profession and leader with the Northwest Neighborhood Federation. “It just doesn’t make sense for our economic system to profit off people who are sick and need medical attention,” he said. “It’s disgusting and outrageous and never should have started that way,” added Viramontes. “I have been to all the marches since 2006 and I feel it’s important to stand up for people who don’t have a voice and call attention to the fact that families are being separated and innocent people are getting caught up.”

Gabriela Lemus is the national executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and spoke at the Federal Plaza rally where the march ended. “We are all here marching together on behalf of all workers,” she told the World. “Today’s economy is on the downturn and workers are being impacted the world over,” she added. “The value of the human worker is being lost while the value of corporate profits continue to increase, and that’s a problem. It’s important that today’s actions be transformed into political action and to get out the vote especially for the voiceless, the undocumented worker,” she said. “We have to make sure we vote.”

AFL-CIO Midwest Regional Director Todd Anderson with the Politics and Field Department joined the rally in downtown Chicago. “We are here to join with our coalition partners to unite workers and turn around America,” he said. “Health care is a right not a privilege and we are here to stand together for a better health care system. And we need the economy to reward all Americans not just the elite and we in the labor movement are focused to develop an economy that works for all.” Anderson said the AFL-CIO is determined to “restore the right for workers to freely organize unions.” He added, “The whole world is watching Chicago this May Day and President Bush better get out of the way come this November, because it’s time for a change.”

As another historic May Day tradition comes to an end, a new fever has been heating up throughout the country. Millions of voters since the beginning of the year from New York to Los Angeles, from Seattle to Dallas and in every town and city across the U.S. are fired up for change. The American people see real hope that our chance to decide a new political direction for this country, and make history, is in our hands.

One of the reappearing slogans throughout this past May Day was, “The vote is power,” and many supporters said they are hopeful that their vote will show the power for change to defeat the Republicans in the White House and in Congress next November. As presidential hopeful Barack Obama so eloquently said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

This past May Day I turned 31 years old. My father was only 31 when he was gunned down 25 years ago. He is remembered as a loving son, brother, husband and father. He dedicated his life to passionately fighting for social justice, labor solidarity and the equal rights of all people. He believed in building the broadest possible unity among all workers with or without documents, and he lived a life committed to the values and traditions of May Day history. If he were alive today I know he would have been proudly marching along side my mother and my two brothers this past May first. I am also confident that he too would be marching toward November and ensure that we make voter history in this country and reverse the Bush policies. I know in my heart that every May first my father is smiling somewhere in heaven thinking of my mother and sharing a May Day story he will never forget with angels.