Back in August, I described here how AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka took on the issue of race and the elections head on. Trumka’s speech to the United Steelworkers has, in turn, sparked a debate within the union movement that has been carried forward by other union leaders, including AFSCME President Gerald McEntee and AFGE President John Gage.
But Trumka’s words have resonated well beyond union halls. The video clip, in which Trumka describes how working people can, and must, combat the racism of those who say they will not vote for a black man as president, is now the 66th all-time, top-rated YouTube video in the news and politics category. The extent to which his words have spread beyond the union movement highlights how hungry the nation is for an honest, open dialogue about race. In this election, we look in the mirror and see we are not the "post-racial" society we imagined ourselves to be.
The staggering economic disaster brought about by Bush and his corporate cronies has amplified Trumka’s call for working- and middle-class workers to look beyond race and vote for our pocketbook interests. But despite the positive poll numbers for Sen. Barack Obama, there is much work to be done. Because no matter how badly the stock market eats into our 401(k)s, or how many of us lose our homes to foreclosures, too many of us are willing to vote away our own interests and those of our family and our future, rather than vote for an African American for president. We cannot stop now.
As Trumka puts it:
Between now and Election Day, we need to make it personal. We need to make it our business to educate those folks. We need to tell them that if they care about holding on to their jobs, their health care, their pensions, and their homes; if they care about child care, pay equity for women workers; if they want to leave their children a better, fairer, more decent America than the one that was given to us; there’s only going to be one candidate on the ballot this fall who’s earned their votes. And his name is Barack Obama.