Pennsylvania Woman Becomes a Super-Activist with the Labor Movement’s Partner for Nonunion Workers
One day in Havertown, Pa., a neighborhood organizer in a red shirt knocked on Vicki’s door, asking how Vicki felt about cuts in her state’s school budget. A retired school teacher who has a grandson with special needs, Vicki worried the cuts her governor was pushing would eliminate resources for special education.
Vicki was already angry about these cuts. She felt that one of the most important people in her life was being targeted. But until that day, she felt powerless to do anything about it. Like so many people, she thought she couldn’t change the process, and that her elected leaders weren’t listening. Then someone showed up at her door with a solution—a strategy to change things.
That day, Vicki didn’t just sign a petition. She became a member of an organization called Working America. She sent a letter to her state senator and governor telling them she wouldn’t stand for cuts that threatened her grandson’s education. And from there, she has gone on to become an activist and a leader in her community.
Founded in 2003, Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, is the fastest-growing organization for working people who don’t have a union on the job. At 3 million strong and growing, Working America empowers people year-round to make a difference in their own communities.
Next, Vicki went to her hair salon, a favorite meeting and chatting place. But the conversation with her stylist wasn’t about the weather this time. It was about state politicians going after her grandson’s special education funding. The stylist said she, too, was worried about the school cuts. “I wish there were something we could do about that,” said the stylist.
And Vicki replied, “Actually, there is something you can do.” That day, Vicki helped her stylist write a letter to their state senator. Her stylist got the salon owner involved. “Everyone who walked into that beauty shop wrote a letter,” said Vicki. Becoming an organizer was “exciting,” she said. “That was a wonderful process.” It happened because she felt stronger as part of an organization—and it’s all because somebody knocked on her door.
“Any time a stranger comes to your door, you wonder, ‘who are they?’” Vicki said. “But they had a way about them that was so inviting, so engaging, and they really brought me in.”
Now Vicki takes part in her local Working America community action team. Once a month she gets together with other local Working America members to share snacks and coffee and talk about key issues. “People talk about their struggles,” said Vicki, “and listening to each other is so meaningful.” Vicki is even training other Working America members to encourage their friends and neighbors to speak out.
Working America’s strategy can be summed up in three words: Strength in numbers. Many people Working America visits feel disconnected, isolated and, like Vicki, powerless.
Joseph, a waiter from Albuquerque, N.M., is a shy young man who reluctantly agreed to join other Working America members at a state House committee hearing about raising the minimum wage but didn’t want to say anything. In the packed hearing room, a high-powered lobbyist from the restaurant industry trade association testified that restaurant workers made “enough money” and that indexing the tipped minimum wage to inflation would put restaurants out of business. Joseph stood up. “I work in a restaurant,” he said, “and I can’t afford to buy a meal where I work.” And many of his co-workers were scraping by, trying to raise families on the low minimum wage for tipped workers.
Joseph had something important to add to the conversation, and he had the confidence to say it because he wasn’t there alone.
“Strength in numbers is the only way to make change,” Joseph said. “People need to organize for the greater good. I like to know that I’m contributing.”
Working America knocks on more than 10,000 doors every week—and two out of three people organizers talk to become Working America members, with many taking action right away on issues such as education, health care and workers’ rights. These members are a vital part of the union movement. Across the country, Working America is partnering with unions to expand the reach of the labor movement and bring working people together on important campaigns.
People are looking for reliable information they can’t get from Fox News and talk radio—and Working America provides it with face-to-face conversations.
Working America doesn’t just visit a member once. It builds relationships, maintains two-way conversations about issues that really matter and gives members plenty of opportunities to get engaged and to become powerful advocates.
Working America members took action in huge numbers to fight anti-union “right to work” for less laws in Minnesota, New Hampshire and Maine. They stood up to Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. They voted overwhelmingly to overturn the union-busting S.B. 5 in Ohio, helping send it to a resounding defeat. They supported the rights of child care workers in Vermont and fought the radical expansion of for-profit “cyber schools” in Michigan. In one of the organization’s most important recent victories, hundreds of letters from Working America members helped convince Ohio state legislators to drop a proposal—sponsored by the amusement-park lobby—that would have shortened the school year by five weeks. In Texas, union members are strengthening the local labor movement by signing up friends, family and neighbors as Working America members. And Working America is exploring new ways to talk to people about their work and helping them organize to make their lives better.
Vicki and Joseph aren’t alone anymore. They’re making a difference in their communities, and so are thousands of others. That’s the difference Working America can make.
As Vicki said, working together is “a vision our country needs to have.”
“I always believed in the labor movement, even though I don’t have a union at work,” Joseph said. “Working America gave me the outlet, a way to get involved.”
You can be part of this movement, too. Join Working America.
All over the state of Vermont, voters at town meeting will vote on resolutions calling for an amendment to the US Constitution stipulating that corporations are not people.
Town meeting is a form of very localized government that began in Massachusetts during the colonial era. Residents of small towns would meet annually to address the issues of importance to the town. Schools, sanitation, epidemics, roads (both building and maintenance) and the town budget and taxes. In Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and some small towns in Massachusetts, town meeting is still an annual event. In Vermont town meeting is held on the first Tuesday of March.
Town meeting is when towns vote on the annual budget, and make decisions about funding infrastructure projects. Town meeting is also when candidates for town office are voted in. All voters have a say, and are welcome to participate in town meeting. Every article on the warrant (the list of issues that will be discussed) is subject to debate and amendment. The meeting is run by a moderator (also an elected official), and most moderators use a combination of Robert’s Rules and their own. Forgive me for getting nerdy, I live in NH, and I’m something of a town meeting geek.
In any case, today in Vermont, voters in many towns will be voting on the resolution to amend the Constitution. From The Nation:
Communities across the Green Mountain State will go on record—“In light of the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that equates money with speech and gives corporations rights constitutionally intended for natural persons…”—“to urge the Vermont Congressional Delegation and the U.S. Congress to propose a U.S. Constitutional amendment for the States’ consideration which provides that money is not speech, and that corporations are not persons under the U.S. Constitution…”
The Vermont communities that move to amend the Constitution will not be the first in the country to do so. A year ago, Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison and surrounding Dane County voted overwhelmingly to support proposals to amend the Constitution so that the money power does not overwhelm democracy.
Since then, legislatures in two states (Hawaii and New Mexico) and counties, cities, villages and towns across the country have endorsed amendment proposals. Members of Congress, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have begun to propose such amendments.
This seems to be turning into a movement.
According to a new poll by the Castleton Polling Institute, 76 percent of Vermonters favor amending the Constitutional to limit spending on political campaigns. Notably 57 percent of Vermonters who identify as Republicans support such an amendment.
It’s easy to write Vermont off as a small state full of Volvo driving, Birkenstock wearing, latte drinking liberals, but that’s not the case. There are plenty of old-school Republican yankees populating the state. That over half of the state’s Republicans support the amendment is important. This is an issue of crucial importance to our democracy – and to that end, it’s fitting that Vermonters are using the oldest US form of government to decide to propel it forward.
On Thursday, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the sole Independent member of the United States Senate, took to the floor to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would overturn 2009’s Citizens United decision and clarify that corporations are not people.
Calling it “The Saving American Democracy Act,” Sanders described how overturning Citizens United is crucial to preserving the power of individual voters over the enormous treasuries of corporations.
Citizens United vs. The Federal Election Commission is the now infamous 5-4 Supreme Court decision in January 2009 that changed the way our elections can be funded. The decision reversed precedent and overturned legislation to say that the government cannot prohibit corporations or unions from making “electioneering communications” in favor of or against a candidate for office.
In other words, a corporation has the same First Amendment rights as any American citizen – thus was born “corporate personhood.”
Let me go on record, as strongly as I can, and as clearly as I can. In stating that I strongly disagree, with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
In my view, a corporation is not a person. In my view, a corporation does not have first amendment rights, to spend as much money as it wants without disclosure, on a political campaign.
In my view, corporations should not be able to go into their treasuries, spend millions and millions of dollars, on a campaign, in order to buy elections.
I do not believe that that is what American democracy is supposed to be about.
I do not believe that that is what the bravest of the brave, from our country, fighting for democracy, fought and died to preserve.
Make no mistake, the Citizens United ruling has radically changed the nature of our democracy. Further tilting the balance of the power towards the rich and the powerful, at a time when already the wealthiest people in this country have never had it so good.
In my view, history will record, that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, is one of the worst decisions ever made by a Supreme Court, in the history of our country.
In a world where “corporate personhood” is a reality, the practical impact of the system is most notably felt, said Sanders, in Congress itself.
What happens here, on the floor of the senate?
Madam President, The six largest banks on Wall Street have assets equal to over 65% of our GDP. Over $9 Trillion… six banks.
Now when an issue comes up that impacts Wall Street, some of us, for example, think it might be a good idea to break up these huge banks. And members walk up to the desk up there and they have to decide. Am I going vote for this, am I going vote against it?
With full knowledge, that if they vote against the interest of Wall Street, that two weeks later, there may be ads coming down into their state attacking them.
Every member of the senate, every member of the house, in the back of their minds will be thinking. Gee, if I cast the vote this way, if I take on some big money interest, am I going to be punished for that? Will a huge amount of money be unleashed in my state?
Everybody here understands that that’s true.
It’s not just taking on Wall Street, maybe it’s taking on the drug companies, maybe it’s taking on the private insurance companies, maybe it’s taking on the military industrial complex.
But whatever powerful and wealthy special interest you are prepared to take on, on behave of the interest of the middle class and working families of this country, when you walk up to that desk and you cast that vote. You know in the back of your mind, that you may be unleashing a tsunami of money coming into your state, and you’re going to think twice about how you cast that vote.
Sanders also acknowledged that his bill joins a companion effort in the House of Representatives. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), one of the House’s newest members, introduced last month a bill that would “ban corporate money in politics and end corporate personhood once and for all.” The name? The “Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy” Amendment – or the “OCCUPIED” Amendment.
The combination of timing, branding, and impetus could not be much more clear; in a way, whether they meant to or not, the Occupy movement introduced these bills.