On a warm October morning in St. Petersburg, I pulled into the parking lot of the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) hall, hoping for any sign of canvass volunteers that might have shown for the event that we had scheduled.
We were in the dead heat of a nonpartisan race for the city’s mayoral and city council seats, and I was trying to remain optimistic thinking about what kind of turnout we might have. It was a Saturday morning in an odd numbered year’s election cycle, so I was trying to not to set a high bar in terms of expectations.
Our first volunteer was a brother from Plumbers and Pipefitters who had never campaigned before. He got out of his car, introduced himself, and asked a question which would prove to be a perfect summation of the situation we find ourselves in:
“Are we campaigning for a Democrat or a Republican?”
“The race is nonpartisan, but our union endorsed candidate is a Democrat.”
We ended up winning that race because of an outpouring of dedicated union volunteers like him. This was a huge local victory for workers in the wake of big legislative and electoral battles to come. But the palpable partisan tension during the race gave me pause as we enter a new and very important election year.
As a union, our cause is to stand in solidarity for the rights and dignity of all working people. However, that cause becomes clouded and disorganized when we make the mistake of prioritizing political mudslinging over fighting for the issues that affect all of us. Too often we carve lines in stone which we refuse to cross, or we check out of important debates all-together even when it means that the welfare of our sisters and brothers is put in jeopardy.
I had a teacher who used to tell me that one of the greatest obstacles we face today is “that we all expect our information in little sound-bites, and we never bother to look any deeper.” We see a tweet by the President, an ad by one of our representatives, or even a Facebook post by one of our friends or family members, and we often settle on the information that we see and tell ourselves that we are “informed enough.”
When a supporter of the latest GOP tax bill shares a blurb about how there will be extensive tax relief for working families, it fails to mention that any relief for us will expire in a decade, while the relief for corporations will remain permanently. How many of us were tricked?
As we consume media in the political firestorm we tread through on a daily basis, it is tempting to take a stance based on what we might easily see and hear. However, as we are surrounded by incendiary tweets, deafening debates on trivial issues, and the divides that erupt between us concerning our stances on social issues, we often fail to realize that we are being purposely divided.
It is difficult, because to all of us, these issues do matter. How a candidate positions themselves regarding topics such as: religion, diversity, and firearms should rightfully matter to us. But we must remember that while we are caught in the uproar of debates designed to divide us, important legislation that hurts the majority of working people in our state is being pushed through under the cover of darkness.
As 2018 begins (and we move on to 2020), I don’t have the answer as to how we might reconcile our differences on these issues. However, as the storm darkens, we must remember that above all else we are stronger together, and united is the only way we win. The time has come for us to look deeper and focus on the fight behind the noise. While we may not agree on everything, we all believe in economic dignity, prosperity, and power for us and our families.
The fight for issues that affect all of us like fair wages, affordable healthcare, and retiring with dignity, will be lost if we fail to stand together. We cannot afford to let ourselves be divided, or to only be engaged when a certain party or candidate is taking our side. In the months and years to come, we will have huge victories for working people if we continue to educate our friends and family, agitate those that seek to tear away what we have, and organize in solidarity, for the future of us all.