Elections make a difference

By Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO President

In 2010 we learned that elections make a difference.

That year, too many voters believed their votes didn’t matter and decided to sit out the election.  The aftermath was a game changer. Ultra conservative candidates swept the U.S. Congress and state legislatures, first attacking the right to join unions and collectively bargain, then cutting budgets with a chain saw — unraveling our social safety net, taking from the middle class, the poor and the sick, all while giving their corporate cronies tax breaks and enriching them through back room deals.

Over the last six months the conservative attacks have increasingly targeted women’s rights. To keep themselves in power, conservatives in state after state have passed legislation that will deny millions the ability to exercise America’s fundamental right: the right to voice your opinion through a vote.

The right to vote is part of America’s DNA. Having a say in political elections is what this nation was founded upon. We live in politically divisive times, and another 2010 —where working Americans don’t vote or volunteer — will hand the reins to candidates who believe that government shouldn’t benefit the people – through programs like Social Security, Medicare, or assistance for the very poor or sick. Public education will continue to be underfunded, pushing those who can afford it into private schools with more resources and leaving those who can’t further behind. America will continue down a path that attacks women, immigrants, and folks of color, the poor, and workers. Our country will break into islands defined by wealth, color and power — quite possibly losing middle-class America altogether.

Personally, I support candidates of any party who fight for fairness, equality, and the opportunity for anyone who works hard and plays by the rules to join the middle class. Thankfully, this is a view I share with the Oregon AFL-CIO, which has endorsed candidates who will bring a worker’s perspective to our government.

A few months ago I wrote about Sen. Jeff Merkley and Jennifer Williamson, candidate for House District 36, as examples of candidates whose roots run deep in Oregon.  Williamson’s father farmed and her mother worked as a union nurse.  With six kids to raise, times were often hard. Jennifer worked her way through college and law school. She has worked in education and advocated for workers and the environment in the Legislature. She has never forgotten where she came from. Candidates like these will fight for the middle class. But they won’t have the opportunity if we think we don’t matter.  Our votes matter.

In a few weeks, primary ballots will arrive in your mail box. Hundreds of Oregon union members will knock on doors and make calls to educate voters on issues and to encourage them to put that ballot in the mail.

To get America and Oregon back to work, back to focusing on an agenda that connects us and not divides us, we all must be engaged.

At a minimum, vote. But to succeed we need more of your help; get educated on the issues; talk to your family, friends and co-workers; and volunteer at your union phone banks and canvass. Call our office at 503-232-1185×114 to find out more.

Our state needs you to stand on the side of worker-friendly candidates.

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