The University of Minnesota’s Labor Education Service prepared this report about Wednesday’s service workers protest of poverty wages at the MSP Airport.
Yesterday, at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport, cabin cleaners, wheelchair agents, baggage handlers, and other service workers joined the millions across the country to say enough. They join fast food workers whose employers advise them to supplement their income with welfare, Walmart employees seeing their own stores holding food drives for employees impoverished by their Always Low Wages, and retail janitors who clean Target stores in Minnesota, tired of Target pushing the absurd lie that they have no control over the cleaning subcontractors they hire. We are all asking: shouldn’t a person working 40 or more hours a week expect at a minimum to not live in poverty?
At MSP yesterday, workers sought not to make passengers traveling to see family feel guilty. In fact, quite the opposite. They know the average flyer is not traveling first class and is frustrated by airlines so brazenly putting profit over all else. Passengers paying ticket prices kept high by Delta’s virtual monopoly at MSP, paying ever-increasing fees for baggage, some of whom can no longer get free water on a flight, wonder when they’ll start charging us for the air we breathe. We should all also ask where all that money is going when the airlines insist on paying poverty wages to workers who keep airplanes clean and safe, who help disabled passengers get from plane to gate.
And when large, profitable corporations pay poverty wages with no benefits everyone is hurt. Just like that McDonald’s employee urged to go on welfare by his own employer, the companies paying poverty wages at MSP shirk their responsibilities onto the rest of us. At Local 26, the union these airport workers are organizing to join, we did a study of the impact of poverty wages at the MSP Airport.
The combination of low wages and no health coverage means that many of the families of airport workers must rely on taxpayer-funded safety net programs in order to survive. The report estimates that $1.7 million a year is spent on public benefits because these contractors pay poverty wages. The MAC prides itself on being able to raise enough revenue that it does not require general tax support, but in the case of these passenger service workers, taxpayers are subsidizing the contractors through things such as public assistance, medical care, food stamps, and low-income housing.
Today I am thankful for the courage of these workers joining their voices to the chorus of discontent in this country. They have had to fight for the simplest things, like being provided with more than one pair of hygienic gloves while cleaning airplanes. Think about that. Until recently, workers were forced to use the same pair of gloves to clean those often filthy airplane bathrooms when they cleaned the rest of the plane and replaced the pillows and blankets you wrap around your body. Their employers finally began providing more gloves, hoping perhaps that would quell their demand for decent wages and benefits. But they fight on.
During today’s holiday and tomorrow’s “Black Friday” shopping frenzy, let us all remember the workers who make holidays happen. Like you, they are being asked to do more and more for less and less. While their employers, like yours, become richer and richer, they live in poverty. And all of us, together, must fight on.
Local News Coverage of the MPS Protest
St Paul Union Advocate: At MSP Airport, workers use heavy travel day to rally for better wages
The current issue if the Twin Cities Business is an “interview issue” where the magazine “goes one-on-one with 28 of the region’s key CEOs, public policy power players, thought leaders, and Fortune 500 execs. The result: an unprecedented collection of candid commentary on the state of Minnesota business and our broader society.” They asked me about immigration reform, SEIU, and the future of the labor movement more generally. Some excerpts below.
An academic-turned-labor-leader, Morillo represents 6,000 janitors and security officers in commercial real estate, and runs one of four SEIU locals in Minnesota. We examine the current long-term crisis in the union movement.
You and several members of Congress were recently arrested during a demonstration pushing for immigration reform legislation. What did you accomplish?
Every day, immigrants in this country are facing a crisis, and the only way we’re going to get legislation passed is for people in Washington to feel the crisis. So we have to escalate. There’s a common wisdom that, because Congress is so dysfunctional and because of the shutdown, immigration could never get done. I actually am quite hopeful. What we’re hearing from Republicans is that there will be a vote. That’s the reason of an escalation, to say, “Those of us who’ve been fighting this fight have certainly not given up.” And that’s how you make things move in Washington, by not giving up even when everyone else says something is dead.
In 2012, union members accounted for 14 percent of Minnesota workers, down from 16 percent in 2011. Have you bucked that trend?
Local 26 represents janitors and security officers in commercial office real estate. In our last contract negotiations we renegotiated for downtown security officers and added about 1,000 new members in suburban security. A year ago we had about 5,000 members, and we added 1,000 more.
How have you defied the trend?
Nationally, we are now less than 7 percent of the private industry work force, union members. When you compare that to a time in the century when 35 or 40 percent of private sector workers were in unions, that is a dramatic fall. We are in a crisis, and we think it’s extremely important for people in the labor movement to not only acknowledge we are in a crisis but act like we are in a crisis. We can’t do the same things we’ve been doing.
What we’ve done in Minnesota is to work differently with a broader set of community organizations—not unions—to put bigger demands on corporations like Target and U.S. Bank. Right now, there’s a worker center organizing retail janitors who are non-union . . . when we win that campaign, those members will be joint members of Local 26 and the worker center. What we all need to be doing in the labor movement is thinking beyond traditional collective bargaining as the only path to worker empowerment.
One of the mistakes that the union movement has made is that, as the economy changed dramatically, unions did not adapt. We’re organized along the exact same structure, the exact same kind of industrial unions and bureaucracies, everything that was established when the U.S. was an industrial power. And that is just illogical. We need to do what capitalism does, which is to adapt, to change.
Is Minnesota on the forefront of change, or are we lagging behind?
I think we’re on the forefront of that change.
[For the full interview and interviews with other Minnesota (mostly business leaders), see the full issue here.]
How have high-profile disputes—Twin Cities orchestras, American Crystal Sugar—affected the environment for organized labor in Minnesota? Is there a need to influence public perception?
I’d say yes, there definitely is. My first instinct is to try to look internally. What can we be doing differently? With, say, the orchestras, I think, “What could the union be doing differently to tell the story differently?”
What is incredibly important for us is that when we are in the newspaper for our contract negotiations, it has largely been stories of victories. It is very important for working people to have victories and to celebrate victories, and to fight on offense. That’s the key thing that our driving mission is, to not be in the paper for a defensive fight. Not that the Crystal Sugar workers or the orchestra musicians could avoid it, they were put into a defensive position, but what we try to look for is something that is or will become a victory and gives people a different sense of what the union is about. Instead of having unions seen as an obstacle to change or progress, to actually be the instigator of change and progress; on an issue like changing from night cleaning to day-shift cleaning, which saves lots of energy and money and could provide workers more family-friendly hours.
What are your largest challenges?
We work in a subcontracting industry, and we are an entirely private sector union. We also organize in very low-wage industries, and when you look at the economy, jobs that were shed during the recession were largely middle-income jobs, and the jobs that have come back in the recovery have been low-wage jobs. What we are trying to figure out is what the country as a whole needs to figure out—we cannot have millions of people working jobs that are 40 hours but have you living in abject poverty.
Friday night I had a bit of a bucket list kind of night. I got to tell a story on The Moth Mainstage when they were in town at the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul. Ever since I first started listening to The Moth podcast, I have been telling John I wanted to be on and tell my story about Houston. The account below is not how I told it on stage, when you have about 10 minutes to tell a story to the live audience. When people ask when I knew working for social justice is what I wanted to do — I often tell this story.
So I am sitting, legs crossed on the street, in the middle of a busy intersection in downtown Houston, arms linked with two other guys. The three of us are looking up the nostrils of a horse. The policeman on the horse’s back looks down at us and barks, “You are going to be trampled.” And then he trampled us.
The three of us were the first of our group of about 45 dispersed off the intersection we had taken over in an act of civil disobedience. We had come from all over the country - 11 of us from Minnesota – to support the janitors of Houston, who had been on strike for months, fighting for their first union contract. Their employers had left the bargaining table and were not budging, and so the strikers escalated the fight. Ours was one in a series of acts of civil disobedience aimed at creating a crisis for the city of Houston.
The janitors of Houston lived in crisis every day. In 2006 they were making $5.15 an hour – the federal minimum wage, and were limited to working four hours a night. These janitors, like the janitors here and around the country, mostly work invisibly at night, after the office workers and executives have gone home.
The janitors taking home 20 dollars a night were mostly women and they were immigrants, and they clean the offices of some of the wealthiest corporations in the country, the world. Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell Oil Company… Halliburton.
Everyone knew the only way the strike would end was if any of these corporations said to their cleaning companies, “end this strike.” But no one was saying that.
So we were there to create a crisis, although I would not say that those of us who volunteered to go down there really understood what that meant. I first got a clue that afternoon when we were briefed on the action, and the organizers leading this orientation talked like they were on Mission Impossible. We would all arrive to downtown Houston in small groups of six or so people, from different points, and all converge at the same meeting place, a Burger King at that intersection, right across the skyscraper housing one of these big oil companies. They told us to not be surprised if our white vans were followed by police helicopters, and I thought police helicopters? What the hell did I just agree to?
I was scared out of my mind, and kicking myself for it. Stop being a wuss. But I couldn’t help it. In the union, veterans of the Justice for Janitors movement all have stories of battle scars, stories that began: “I remember that time I got punched in the face by a cop.” Before Houston I’d just listen quietly, as my experience prior to the union consisted of teaching history and anthropology to college students. I tried my best to look like I was in control on that day, but inside I was a quivering mess.
My little group made our way to the Burger King and it eventually filled up. I recognized some of the people but others I didn’t. I was looking around the room wondering who was in on it and who was actually a customer. There was this one table full of elderly white people, drinking coffee and water. That’s a scene I’ve seen before at a Burger King or McDonald’s. Clearly they’re not with us.
What was supposed to happen was at 4:15 someone would yell GO! and we’d all run out and take over the intersection. We’d sit, legs crossed, arms linked until an organizer came and put handcuffs on us. What actually happened is that 4:15 came and went and we couldn’t do anything because there were police everywhere. On foot, on horseback. There was a decoy rally of striking janitors a few blocks away but they weren’t being distracted. 4:30, 4:45, 5:00. Now I had been scared all day but at that point I didn’t think the thing was going to happen and I was pissed. I came to Houston to get arrested. If I have to hold up a convenience store, I am getting arrested.
But suddenly, the police did all go over to the decoy rally. So we hear it, GO! From that moment on I was focused, fear was gone. We got into position, linked arms – but before we could even form a full circle and before anyone could get handcuffs on us, the police were back. And me and the two guys from New York were staring up the nostrils of that horse. After that no-minute warning, everything was a blur. They moved us to one side of the street and the horses charged everyone else. An older woman from New York had her wrist broken.
I had somehow ended up in an all-Puerto Rican group. Me, the Puerto Rican from the island and these badass Puerto Rican janitors from New York, who were pissed. While everyone else was keeping up their chanting, Workers, United, Will Never Be defeated, my group was pissed, saying What the fuck was that? This is not what I signed up for! That group of old white people in the BK, by the way, were on the street corner, chanting El Pueblo Unido, Jamás Será Vencido.
They eventually got us all into handcuffs and a huge armored bus arrived to take us away. By the time they got us all on and blocked off the intersection, the decoy rally had arrived. I looked out of the window through the iron grates. It was a beautiful night. The sky at dusk was full of color. Hundreds of Houston janitors and activists were, chanting. There were drums. It was lively. I was overcome because, you see, something that no one said publicly, was that the reason we had come from all over the country to take part in this was because Houston janitors had risked a lot by going on strike. But risking arrest, was too much because risking arrest for many could meaning risking deportation.
I had all kinds of thoughts running through my head. I thought wow, I guess it’s just going to be this hard. We had been talking in the union about going into the South. Here we were and this city was spending so much money, so many resources were being put into keeping people in poverty.
I also thought, Oh my God, my mother can never find out about this.
Mind you, in 2006 I was a grown ass man. But this was not the future my parents had in mind for the son who, many years before, had sent to the US for college – to Yale University – or as my tios and tias pronounced it, Jale – which, as I’m sure you know, is a factory. A factory that produces elites. My parents had worked hard to get themselves out of poverty. Unlike Latin Americans crossing the border, and by an accident of history, we Puerto Ricans are born American citizens. At 21, my dad found one of the only ways out of that poverty – he joined the US Army. He became a career serviceman. He did two tours of duty of frontline infantry in Vietnam and almost a third – until a Congresssional investigation of his battalion uncovered that black and Latino soldiers were getting third orders to Vietnam while many white soldiers hadn’t yet gone once.
I was a good kid, a studious kid when I left to Yale. After I graduated I had a long, too long, career as a graduate student working to become a professor, perhaps at some other factory for producing elites. That’s what brought me to Minnesota in 2000 to teach at an elite college. But two years later, the tragic and accidental death of a U.S. senator, Paul Wellstone, made me an accidental activist and confirmed for me that I had to leave academia and do something.
I worked in politics, began working for the union in 2004 and by June of that year I was asked if I would consider leading this union of immigrant janitors and security officers and I thought are you crazy? I was teaching history, like a year ago. And by March 2005 I was elected by the board of this local to become is president and by that fall of 2006 I was leading negotiations for 4,000 janitors. A group of 11 of us took a break from negotiations to go down to Houston to do support work for a strike that did not look like it was coming to an end any time soon.
And that’s how I landed in Houston city jail. By the time we were processed and got through the gauntlet of fingerprints, mug shots, removing your shoe laces, handing over my belt – I didn’t get into the holding cell until about 2 am – and I was the first of “the protestors” that made it through. I walk into this cell and I think, oh fuck I’m going to die here. Because of course I assumed that all these guys had just come from knife fights or shootouts. If you ever find yourself in jail in Houston – or frankly almost anywhere else – the first thing you notice at everyone in there is black or brown. The only white people in this packed cell were protestors. Except late at night there was a prostitution bust an a few white johns came in. And a few DUIs a little later than that.
Soon after I got through that gauntlet this young black guy comes in. One of the other jail mates started calling him Sideshow Bob, the Simpsons character, because he had crazy hair – but not to his face because he also had a crazy look to him. As soon as he got in he was restless, screaming for guards. They ignored him so he took a plastic bag from the garbage can and put it over his head and yelled “I will kill myself.” And all of the guard rushed in. There was a lot of shouting at him and one of them got the bag away from him through the bars. The guards all leave, except one of them stays behind. He was this short, muscled up, and very young white guy who I came to nickname Abu Ghraib because he was constantly telling us he was a badass who served in Iraq. He starts yelling at Bob. “You think I’m scared of you? You think I’m scared of you? I did two tours in Iraq as a grunt. I KILL PEOPLE.”
To which Bob replies. “I kill people too. I’m in jail.”
Jailmates 1, Abu Ghraib Zero.
I soon realized something else about our jailmates. Almost all of them seemed to have been through this before. They educated me and the other protestors on what would happen. When we’d get to talk to a lawyer, how the bond is posted. They were not all in knife or gun fights. It was astounding how insignificant some of the charges seemed. A seventeen year old latino kid who looked much younger was in because he had been trespassed by the high school he had dropped out of. When he drove back there to pick up his sister who was still a student there, was trespassed and arrested. Others were in because they were walking without ID and you can be held for 48 hours without being charged.
Now we had been arrested Thursday evening and we thought we’d be out by morning. But as I said the Houston police were pissed and so was the District Attorney. Talking to the lawyers I learned that he had originally set bail for us at $888,888. Each. The Crazy Eights Bail. For blocking traffic. This same DA had set bail for a guy who had killed his own mother at 35k. So we ended up staying longer than overnight.
So by Friday night, after 24 hours already, we were panicking because, as our jail mentors warned us, “if you don’t get out by Friday at 5, you’re not getting out until Monday morning.
That didn’t start until 5am. My name was called in the first group. Now when you’re in jail, they do body counts a lot. In the middle of the night. They wake everyone up off the concrete floors, have you line up and you count off as they call your name. And the guards always pronounced by name wrong. So when they called me that morning I hear “JAY-VIER” and I thanked God. One of the Minnesota guys I’d come with corrected the guard HA-VIER and I thought shut the fuck up. Jay-vier is out of here.
When we got out we learned how big of a deal our arrests had become. There was a candlelight vigil outside the jail. It led the news on every station because the police not only barricaded our intersection but blocked off several more so thousands of people were backed up in traffic and couldn’t get home for hours.
The embarrassment had finally caused the corporate elites of Houston to get together and tell their cleaning contractors, “End this strike.” They had agreed to come back to the table. Our group from Minnesota made it back Sunday night and on my way to work Monday morning I got the news that the Houston janitors and won their first union contract with guaranteed wage increases and, for the first time, health care coverage.
This line of work is sometimes very hard. I often ask myself, “why do we have to work so hard for so little?” But I also think back to that night – sitting handcuffed on that bus – and think about janitors who made their invisible work visible. And I think of those who disappear, invisible into our jails and prisons. And those tall skyscrapers, how it all exists right by each other. And I think, “I guess it’s just going to be that hard.”
And I remember something Paul Wellstone used to say: “Sometimes you have to pick a fight to win a fight.”
Full disclosure: I am a supporter of Betsy Hodges for Mayor of Minneapolis. These are the views of someone who was at Saturday’s Minneapolis Convention as a supporter and who worked as part of the campaign floor team. But I am also someone who has attended many a DFL Convention, has worked for DFL endorsed candidates and has never worked for someone running against a DFL endorsement. I am a party officer, representing the party on the Democratic National Committee. I became involved in the party working on campaigns and feel the integrity of the processes we follow is essential to encouraging those not involved to become involved.
There is, as one would expect, a lot of chatter in the political class about Saturday’s Minneapolis DFL Convention. The convention adjourned after fourteen hours with no endorsement after a quorum call made before the fifth ballot showed that there were not enough delegates left at the convention to make one. Given that the mayoral campaigns had been gearing up for the convention for months, it is understandable that delegates and candidates alike left disappointed that the ultimate prize—the DFL endorsement—was not won by any of the DFL candidates at Saturday’s convention.
But what became clear as the convention wore on, was that two strong frontrunners emerged and that the delegate support was so close that neither would be able to persuade enough supporters of the other candidate to reach the 60% necessary for the party to endorse.
While candidates and campaigns have had the opportunity to express their opinions about the end result and how it came about, so far we haven’t heard much about the problems of process with the convention itself. That is my focus here.
Conventions should be transparent, without unnecessary delays, unifying and, above all, without even a hint of bias. On this, Saturday’s convention failed.
Party process must be inclusive and trusted
The party and its conventions should demonstrate inclusiveness and unity. If a delegate goes into a convention supporting a candidate and that candidate drops or withdraws, it cannot feel inclusive to see a minority of the convention then insult that candidate. That is exactly what happened on Saturday to the candidate who had a strong third place finish on the first ballot, City Council Member Gary Schiff. Frankly, I’ve never seen a competitive DFL candidate, intending to withdraw from the process, be denied the right to briefly address the Convention to make that announcement. Although some press reports say that Schiff had not reached the 20% threshold to stay on the third ballot, that is incorrect. Schiff was voluntarily withdrawing from the third ballot, and allowing a candidate in that circumstance to address the convention is done routinely at conventions as a matter of course.
But on Saturday, this noncontroversial request devolved into an hour and a half fight over suspension of the rules to allow council member Gary Schiff to speak. Although the vast majority of convention delegates (including many Andrew supporters) voted to allow Schiff to speak, the third hand-counted vote showed the motion fall just shy of the 2/3 needed for a suspension of the rules. Again – neither I nor anyone I know who has attended DFL conventions has ever seen anything like this. And it took an hour and a half, delaying a third ballot into the early evening. All this just to silence a three-times DFL-endorsed sitting city Minneapolis council member.
An inclusive party cannot afford even the appearance of bias
It is detrimental to the DFL when any candidate or campaign can reasonably question whether a person making extremely important decisions at a convention is truly impartial. It was inappropriate that two of the four convention chairs were public supporters of Mark Andrew. In fact, it is standard practice for most DFL conventions to be chaired by disinterested party leaders from different jurisdictions. Before the convention, reasonable requests were made that convention chairs be publicly neutral on their opinion in the mayor race. These requests were ignored. This one is particularly hard for me because Convention Co-Chair Rick Stafford is a friend. I’ve known him for years and, while I do not question his integrity, I’ve seen him wield a convention gavel strongly and sometimes controversially. All that is fine, but when you combine that with the fact that he is a public supporter of one of the candidates, Mark Andrew, common sense says he should not have been asked to chair and he should not accepted. The Hodges campaign formally requested that chairs be neutral, and I personally appealed to him well before the convention, as a friend, to do the right thing – to step down so that there wouldn’t even be the appearance of bias. He refused. He committed to the Hodges campaign manager that he would only chair non-mayoral parts of the convention—a commitment he broke as soon as the convention began.
This is relevant given the role Stafford played in one of the longest delays of the convention: the counting of the third ballot. The long time it took to count the third ballot, and the reasons behind the delay, are the best example of why many left feeling that the process was inappropriately biased. As results were being tallied, the Hodges campaign noticed significant discrepancies between the precinct ballot counts and how they were being recorded to be reported out. These were immediately brought to the attention of the teller room; subsequently the Convention Chair, Rick Stafford, became involved. Although there was very clear evidence that significant errors had occurred in counting, it took over an hour to get the Chair to even agree to recanvass the precinct totals, a relatively common request.
There was a subsequent discussion with Stafford, who wanted to release the unconfirmed (and ultimately proven to be incorrect ) totals to the Convention. Those initial numbers (which began circulating through rumours on the floor) showed a 54-44 lead for Andrew. Once the recount was actually done, it was clear to everyone there was indeed a problem—a very big one. 142 votes were being dramatically misreported because vote totals in over thirty instances were being transposed, with Andrew being attributed Hodges votes and vice versa. The real result of that third ballot: 48-47. Amazingly, over 90% of errors found were in Andrew’s favor. That final number, however, does not even include one entire precinct that had overwhelming support for Hodges; its numbers were thrown out entirely because somehow the ballots were lost between the first count and the recount. Lost. Rather than delay the convention further by having that precinct re-vote, they decided instead simply to throw out the entire precinct.
Put yourselves in the Hodges’ campaigns shoes for a second at this point. The convention chair had been insisting on releasing numbers showing a 54-44 Andrew lead when in reality the confirmed result was 48-47. Even after a problem was pointed out, he wanted to release numbers that were wrong, numbers that no one could deny would have had a dramatic impact on the mood of the convention.
Although that was the reason for the delay, instead of being transparent about the problem, Stafford chose instead to express exasperation from the podium, framing the delay as being the fault of one campaign questioning the process. An impartial chair might have said “we want to get the count right and that is what we are doing.” Instead, as MinnPost reports, Stafford said from the podium, “Where I get angry is when the campaigns make charges that have no basis in fact or evidence” He seemed to be purposely inflaming the crowd against the Hodges campaign (everyone knew who he was talking about) despite the fact that, having been in the teller room, he was 100% aware that there was evidence of a problem – he had been presented with the evidence. And, in the end, facts were on the side of those insisting on a thorough count.
Errors in counting happen. But the integrity of the process demands that we be rigorous, and it should be unquestioned that, if a problem is suspected, that problem will be researched and verified.
These flaws led to a long-drawn out debate and recount caused many delegates to leave as the convention dragged on and people felt increasingly jaded about the process.
A Mayor’s race should not be determined by a torturous war of attrition.
The problems for delegates began before the first ballot. No one should be expected to register for a convention at 10am and only see a first ballot at 2:45pm. No one should have to commit to being away from their family and personal obligations for twelve hours to participate in the process of choosing a DFL endorsed candidate. And it is simply not realistic to expect people to sit for hours on end, past the point when the convention center even stopped serving food. Delegates are there because they believe in the party and often to support a specific candidate. It is the party’s job to make them feel like their time and their energy matters, and that it is an inclusive process. A majority of the convention’s delegates voted with their feet, deciding that there was no way the convention could arrive to an endorsement, or an untainted one.
Looking Ahead: RCV, here we come.
And where does this leave us? First, looking forward to future conventions, we must demand a fair, impartial and efficient process that leaves the choice of whether and who to endorse to delegates and delegates alone. Second, DFLers must come together after a convention that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. While the DFL delegates did not decide to endorse, they did clearly voice support for two strong frontrunners as we head into this next phase of the election. Moving forward, these candidates will need to get out there and expand that support to include people from all across the city, in every neighborhood.
While Saturday’s convention was no way to determine an endorsement, now DFL delegates and the city as a whole will have the next five months to hear from the candidates. Come November, everyone will have an opportunity, through Ranked Choice Voting, to express support for one or more of the candidates who competed last Saturday and probably a good number more. May the best vision win.
I started writing this as a comment to a friend’s post on facebook, but then it got really long and then I thought, “hey, didn’t I I used to have a blog where I ranted about stuff?” So here are my thoughts about the disappointment of many that binational couples were not included in the immigration reform bill that just passed the Senate judiciary committee.
There is no explanation but a political one for the failure of the Uniting American Families Act. There aren’t the votes for UAFA. There are 100 senators, and not enough of them will support the provision. In the Republican House its chances are somewhere in the negative range. That may not be a reality we like, but it is an undeniable reality. The question the movement for Commonsense Immigration Reform was/is faced with is: Are we ok with halting the bill altogether, with sacrificing the legalization of 11 million people to make a point? We may not like the choices, but that is what they are right now. Either accept a bill without UAFA, which its proponents say will help approximately 40,000 people, or insist on it and stop any chance of legalization for 11 million people. My answer: I support UAFA but I’m not willing to sacrifice 11 million for those 40,000. Call me a sellout. I’m sure this blogger would. She writes about yesterday’s disappointing news:
I completely and totally reject this decision due to the fact that my husband will have a permanent residency appointment in the very near future because of our heterosexual privilege.
In my world, there’s no excuse, no manner to explain away what happened yesterday. I will not simply tweet out a consolatory message, or rue the fact that sacrifices had to be made.
And those so-called immigrant activists? Those same ones who dare to tell you binational same-sex couples that, “Once the reform becomes law, we’ll come back for the you,” or say to you with earnest eyes, “Don’t worry – The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will be struck down next month.”
Those same activists who supposedly believe that, “No human being is illegal?”
I’ll gladly help you slap each and every one of those so-called immigration activists clear across the face.
In Love and Solidarity Always,
PS And all of you supposedly pro-immigrant organizations, groups and individuals that are sending out congratulatory messages, all of you in the online and offline community who were chanting proudly after the vote at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday, I offer this to you:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”
We are right to fight for UAFA, and author’s blunt words come from real conviction. But support for UAFA is not the question. Read the whole blog post and you’ll see there is a lot of passion, there is no answer to the question above. Should the whole bill go down because UAFA is not in it? I’m not dismissive of her passion but her need to mock and deride those who dared celebrate committee passage of the full bill, that’s a little much. And the over-used Niemoller quote? Puh-leaze.
The fight for immigration reform began in the 80s after the last one still did not create a sane system to keep people from coming to the country and having to live in the shadows. The Uniting American Families Act is legislation was first introduced in 2000 but has had no real support until very recently. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile, it just means that there has not been the kind of movement behind of UAFA that has finally put CIR on the table.
And then there are the really annoying gay blogger/activists, like John Aravosis of americablog.com, who in a tweetrage about the withdrawal of the Leahy Amendment, had this to say:
What’s particularly unfortunate, and absurd, is that gay couples would be covered by #CIR if they had broken the law and stayed.
— John Aravosis (@aravosis) May 22, 2013
That tells you all you need to know about some of the loudest voices on this subject right now. When Aravosis pulls out the “we’re not law-breakers” line (he’s done it before) he is reminding everyone this bill is only helping those horrible “illegals.” It’s disgusting. Worse, elsewhere he has mocked the idea that legalizing 11 million people does help gay people because many of those 11 million are gay. That’s whose leading the charge among the prominent gay politicos on calling those of us not willing to sacrifice 11 million sellouts.
The fight for marriage equality has made enormous strides in recent years. I support it and, in fact, I rearranged my life in the last two years to defeat the horrible Minnesota amendment and then pass equality. As a gay man who is a citizen of this country I must acknowledge a fact that I hope others can ponder: the cause of gay rights, especially regarding marriage, have progressed far more rapidly than any progress made for immigrants living in shadows. In fact, things have only gotten worse, dramatically worse.
Of course I support the goals of UAFA. But the political reality of vote-counting says it won’t happen and insistence on it will sink a bill that does a lot of the things we do need to have happen, including legalizing millions. In politics sometimes the choices are stark. In this case, I’ll take the imperfect and move on to fight another day.
[I'm taking a bit of a leave from work. After suffering through a chronic neck connection all winter, a couple weeks ago I threw out my back. "What were you doing?", I was asked by an ER nurse. "Putting on socks. While being old." With my body telling me I need a rest, I'm taking a much needed long vacation. One thing I do hope to do on that leave is, now that I have re-discovered it, is write about the world and stuff on this blog.]
Helping the momentum to defeat this poorly written, expensive amendment, 65 newspapers across the Minnesota and across the ideological spectrum have editorialized against the Amendment. Watch Our Vote Our Future’s closing ad:
We can defeat this. The wind is at our backs, something no one would have predicted a few short months ago. Then, the Common Wisdom in Minnesota–even in some progressive circles–was that this was a fight we could not win. Polls showed large numbers of Minnesotans favored the concept of Voter ID.
The Bard of Big Lake: Mary Kiffmeyer’s “Artfully Written” Amendment
Some on the left have expressed frustration with Our Vote Our Future’s message of “send it back.” They complain that it accepts the premises that legislators acted in good faith when they put this on the ballot and that we need new legislation at all. These people are wrong, and the swing in public opinion should tell us so. You see, you don’t have to agree that all Voter ID legislation is wrong to agree that this particular amendment is a mess. That has been the broad message, big-tent message — delivered by prominent figures from three parties and a broad swath of local elected officials — that has swayed people that what seemed at first common sense was written by people who had none.
How badly is it written? Watch this MPR debate exchange between Representative Steve Simon and amendment author Representative Mary Kiffmeyer about the meaning of the “substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification” requirements that would be placed on absentee voters (e.g, military serving abroad). After describing the language she wrote as “artfully written,” the Bard of Big Lake then says, well, a lot. There are many words – nouns and verbs and such, but not a whole lot of — what’s the word I’m looking for? — meaning.
Representative Simon puts a period at the end of Rep. Kiffmeyer’s ramble: “What a mess.” He probably doesn’t like Ezra Pound either.
The reality is that Representative Kiffmeyer and Dan McGrath of Minnesota Majority –the only two surrogates the pro-Amendment forces seem to be able to find– have in debate after debate skirted every question about the cost, complications and consequences of their Amendment by essentially saying “we’ll figure that out later.”
Well, our Constitution is not a bookmark. We don’t put Post-It Notes in our Constitution with reminders to “fix this later.” Minnesotans understand this and are, increasingly, saying: Send. It. Back.
How You can Help Today and Tomorrow:
1. Persuasion. Arm yourself with knowledge. Watch this video by Minnesota Public Radio yourself and maybe play it for undecided family members and friends:
Then ask yourself them: Should we be putting something with that many question marks in permanent ink, in our Constitution? Don’t fall into the temptation to argue the merits of their fraud argument. It has no merit, but that’s what they want us to be talking about. The costs, consequences, and complications of this poorly written Amendment are all we need to focus on.
2. We need to fill Get Out the Vote Phone and Door Shifts.
I’m told people were pouring in to the offices of TakeAction Minnesota and ISAIAH this weekend. They are flipping voters to our side at an astounding rate. Join them. Take Action lists its GOTV shifts here.
ISAIAH, the coalition of over 100 congregations, has been making thousands of phone calls. Want to talk to other people of faith? Information on how to volunteer with them is here.
If you live in the Fifth Congressional District, Congressman Ellison’s campaign has been fighting this fight from Day One and can also use some GOTV help today and tomorrow. Information can be found here.