I came to the Washington, D.C., area in 1965 to help ensure Black children in Prince Edward County, Virginia, would have equal access to quality public education. They only had that opportunity because then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren and other justices did their job by demanding that public schools be opened to all children.
Some 53 years later, I shared these memories with hundreds of Americans of different ages, races and backgrounds at a rally opposing Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. Weeks later I stood in the halls of the U.S. Capitol with my fellow SEIU members and other working Americans demanding U.S. senators oppose his disastrous nomination.
Today’s Supreme Court does not have the wisdom or the integrity of the Warren Court. But we are going to turn the tide back towards working people and we’re going to start at the ballot box.
Something I learned during the 1960s is just as true today: the fastest, most efficient way for Black, White and brown people to fight back, change the course of our country, empower our communities and improve our families’ lives is to vote. People who don’t vote like to say that their vote doesn’t count and doesn’t matter. If that were true, the rich and powerful would not spend so much money trying to buy it, influence it and suppress it.
Next month’s elections we can elect new congressional leaders, governors, state representatives and mayors. We need leaders who are committed to ensuring all working people have the opportunity to thrive. And their top priority should be making it easier for us to stand together in unions.
Working people, through the unity and strength they have from joining together in a union, played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s like Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign. Dr. Rev. William Barber carries on that tradition today through his renewed Poor People’s Campaign. He is calling for more working people to have access to unions because they are a bridge between working people, especially Black and brown people, and to economic opportunity.
Like other means of supporting working people, union rights are under attack by billionaires and corporate CEOs, who don’t want to pay family-sustaining wages or treat working people with dignity. Many of my peers are working well past the retirement age because of their low wages and lack of retirement benefits. I know parents who are barely able to spend time with their children because they have to string together income from two and three jobs just to make ends meet. Meanwhile young people are struggling to pay back student loans for the college degree they were told they needed to get a decent job.
We have the power to reverse this devastating trend and build an economy that works for all families by electing champions who will make it easier for working people to stand together in unions
When I went to Virginia in the 1960s, I wanted to help make changes that would ensure that all children had an opportunity to have good jobs in the future. This November, we must continue this fight. I’ve been talking with my coworkers, friends and family members about making sure they have a plan to vote this November. Even people who don’t usually vote in midterms are energized and ready to cast their ballot to send the message that our elected officials must raise our wages and expand our ability to form and join unions. We are making our voices heard and are ready to begin building an America where that vision is reality.
Judith Howell is a security officer and rank-and-file member of 32BJ SEIU. She resides in Washington, D.C.