Unions 101

by Celina della Croce

Unions have been in steady decline over the last few decades, from 20.1 percent of workers in 1983 to just 11.1 percent in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So what are unions, anyway? Where have they gotten us so far and why do they even matter at all?

Simply put, a union is a group of workers coming together to have a voice on the job and to fight for fair wages, treatment and conditions in their workplace. While the structure of individual unions varies, all unions are accountable to their membership. Members pay dues, which fund the union, and they have the right to vote on elected offices in their union’s leadership, to pass or modify bylaws, and to ratify or vote down contracts. Unlike nonprofits, which often receive grant funding, unions’ funding comes directly from the workers that they represent. That means whether you’re a teacher or a janitor or a nurse, if you’re in a union, your union works for you. They negotiate legally binding contracts with employers based on the issues that matter to members, such as wages and working conditions, and hold the employers accountable to that agreement.

Unions are the reason that we have the standard 40-hour workweek. They are the reason we have child labor laws, safety regulations, a minimum wage, and laws that protect working people. Even if you’ve never heard of a union, or if you’ve never been in one, union members are fighting for your rights, too.

Centuries ago, it was perfectly legal for companies to employ both adults and children in unsafe working conditions and, when someone was injured on the job, to get rid of them and simply replace them with someone else. Thanks to unions, we have laws that protect working people, like the Occupational Safety and Hazard Act, which forces your employer to abide by certain safety regulations, and an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that makes it illegal for your employer to discriminate against or fire you because of your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or age.

How did working people with no money and no power win basic protections and fair wages? One worker alone has very little power in the scheme of things. Before unions fought for and won safety regulations, if your arm was cut off on the factory floor, your boss could simply toss you aside and find someone to replace you. But if all of the workers come together and say, “We’re not willing to do this any more. We will not work in unsafe conditions. We will not continue to live in poverty. We will not allow you to profit off of us until you meet our conditions,” the power dynamic starts to shift. Even without every worker participating, if a sizeable amount of your workforce has chained themselves to the front entrance, or is dominating the news cycle and bringing negative publicity to your company, it becomes more profitable to negotiate with your workers and figure out how to get them to stop. And that is the power of unions.

Unions have the right to negotiate contracts that set working conditions and wages. Thinking about that raise you’ve been asking for but keep getting denied? Or more support for a project you’re working on? Stuck with a bad boss and worried if he or she is out to get you? Just buy a new car and you’re worried about rumors of a lay-off? Feel like your boss never listens to you? If you’re in a union, you can negotiate over wages, training, job security, and layoff procedures, among other things. If you and your coworkers come together, you’re a lot more likely to get a strong contract. And if your employer violates that contract, you and your union have the power and the legal right to enforce it.

Without a union, you can be fired for any time, with or without cause. You may think your boss likes you, and maybe they do, but if they retire or move on, you are relying on good luck and the good will of your next boss to keep your job, or for your next raise. They may give you a raise, they may not. They may follow the company handbook, they may not. Without a union, you’re relying on luck and a favorable job market, and you have no mechanism to enforce fair treatment unless it’s a violation of the law. Remember who fought for those laws that are protecting you, too?  Oh yea. Unions.

In addition to negotiating contracts, many unions also advocate for laws and policies that will benefit working people and are supported by their membership. If you are a millennial with a tech job reading this thinking, “Why do I need a union? I make a living wage, and I can always find another job,” just remember that you have unions to thank for the basic protections that you have. If you fall and break your knee on your way to work, your employer is required to grant you a medical leave of absence through the Family Medical Leave of Absence. Unlike your company handbook, FMLA is legally enforceable. Unions fought for that, too.

Unions are formed when workers come together and vote for them. Without getting into the technicalities, if you’re interested in forming a union at your job, contact a union and ask for their support. If you already have one, start showing up at meetings. And even if you don’t work, or if you aren’t able to join a union for some reason, figure out how you can show up and support the folks who are out fighting for your rights.

Mobilize Missouri Endorses Jenny Schmidt for Maplewood City Councilor

Mobilize Missouri is pleased to announce our endorsement of Jenny Schmidt for Maplewood’s Ward 3 City Councilor. With the help of the local action team — Mobilize MO: Maplewood/Richmond Heights — in making this determination, we are proud to support a strong, progressive mother and lawyer who we believe will help steer Maplewood in a forward-thinking direction

Mobilize Missouri believes Jenny’s longstanding ties to her community and the school district position her well to foster community engagement in the area. Her commitment to participatory budgeting, town halls, public forums, and working closely to maintain diversity and inclusivity with the school board signify an important step forward for Maplewood and the surrounding municipalities.

Additionally, Jenny is committed to the continued development of safe, livable, green infrastructure in Maplewood. From making the city more walkable and bikeable, to developing affordable housing solutions for all sectors of the community, we are impressed by her wide-ranging vision for development in the region. At a critical time in Maplewood’s history, Jenny’s community knowledge, expertise and vision are vital for the city.

While many issues make this race critical for Maplewood, few are as poignant as the nuisance ordinance and its alleged discriminatory enforcement against people of color, domestic violence victims, and people with disabilities. The ACLU and Equal Housing and Opportunity Commission (EHOC) have both filed suit against the city, and the legal battle is expected to persist for some time. Further, ArchCity Defenders, Inc. are suing the city for a pay-to-play municipal court fee system, adding to the concerns about discrimination in the area.

As a lawyer who also has experience in social work, Jenny is perfectly positioned to assess the legality of Maplewood’s ordinances, and ensure that enforcement, if necessary, is not discriminatory. Her commitment to holding everyone in government, law enforcement and the court system accountable to the highest standards of ethics in our legal systems cannot be overemphasized. At a time where Maplewood is expected to receive over $400,000 in Prop P funds, it needs a city councilor who will ensure public participation in deciding where those funds go and help direct them towards benefiting all residents regardless of race, gender, income, or housing status.

We firmly believe Jenny is the person to help lead Maplewood into a progressive future and are proud to endorse her.

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Mobilize Missouri Endorses Tishaura Jones for St. Louis Mayor

St. Louis is a city poised to evolve into a 21st century metropolis. Cranes dot the city’s skyline with new projects being announced daily. Just last month, our schools regained accreditation for the first time since 2007. A batch of startups have sprung up all over the city creating new jobs and attracting some of the best and brightest from around the country.

Despite all of the positive news, our city still has real problems when it comes to crime, poverty and our crumbling infrastructure. Business as usual has not been working for many of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised populations and the people of this city are more engaged than ever to help see that change. Thanks to the work of groups like Team TIF and St. Louis Should Vote, tax abatements and how we spend our tax revenues are part of daily discourse. From issues regarding public use of funds for stadiums, police accountability and homelessness, the citizens of St. Louis are ready to see some real progressive change and want to make sure the benefits of a booming economy in the central corridor are shared by all of its residents, not just a connected few.

In our opinion, the person best suited to lead in the years to come is Treasurer Tishaura Jones. She has the vision, passion and understanding of the issues that will help move our city forward.

After four years in the Treasurer’s office, she has brought fresh ideas and programs to the city, modernized our parking systems, and created a nationally recognized program helping our children save for college. She speaks about being smart on crime, not just tough on crime, and wants to bring social workers on to assist the police department and close down the workhouse; a symbol of what’s wrong with our justice system today.

She knows development cannot just focus on the wealthiest neighborhoods if we want to improve the lives of all of our citizens and she has bright ideas about how to address those inequities. Her campaign’s tagline — “One St. Louis” — isn’t just a catch phrase, it’s an ideology driving her vision for our city; one that works for all of us.

We aren’t the only ones who think so.

Tishaura has earned the endorsement of a number of local groups, including The Young Democrats of St. Louis. Sergio Haro, St. Louis Young Dems Director of Local Politics & Grassroots Organizing and member of Mobilize Missouri says, “Tishaura is the candidate working hard to bring all sections of St. Louis together. As a Latino in this city, it is exciting to have a candidate that will look at policy decisions through a racial equity lens.”

The praise from colleagues and friends continues:

Marty Murray Jr., Chairman of the 78th Legislative District Committee, says, “I whole heartedly endorse Tishaura for Mayor. She is the only candidate that has exhibited the ability to bring fresh and innovative programs to the City. I look forward to seeing her build upon the progress made thus far.”

Ken Haller, former Board President of PROMO, says, “She has been a voice for the powerless and marginalized for years, and she has not just talked the talk, she has walked the walk. And as City Treasurer, she knows this is not just a nice, squishy, politically-progressive thing to do. It is based in science, and it has real dollars and cents implications for the financial health of this City and this region.”

We agree. Tishaura is just what this city needs as we face exciting but challenging times. Last November, St. Louis elected a new Circuit Attorney for the first time in 16 years, and a new Sheriff for the first time since 1989. By April 4th, after 16 years with Francis Slay at the helm, our city will also elect a new mayor. Mobilize Missouri is proud to support Tishaura O. Jones for that position. We have an opportunity to move St. Louis forward and having Tishaura in Room 200 is a step in the right direction. We are all One St. Louis.

Mobilize Missouri Endorses Michela Skelton

“The hard-working people of Mid-Missouri are tired of government that works only for the few, for the wealthy and for the well-connected. I’m running for state representative to stand up for working men and women, for seniors, for people with disabilities, for students, for teachers and for everyone in the 50th District who isn’t being heard in Jefferson City.”  

This statement on Michela Skelton’s website echoes the core values that Mobilize Missouri embodies. It also serves as an appropriate introduction to our first endorsement of 2017: Michela Skelton for MO House District 50.

Skelton is the sole Democratic candidate running in the Aug. 8 special election for Missouri’s 50th House District. The district includes portions of Boone, Cole, Cooper and Moniteau counties. The election was set by former Gov. Jay Nixon after former Rep. Caleb Jones, R-Columbia, resigned to become deputy chief of staff to Gov. Eric Greitens.

Michela Skelton and family

 

We sat down with Michela to learn more about her and the upcoming election.

Q: If I had an opportunity to ask you to describe yourself before you decided to file, how would you have answered back then?

A: This is a really hard question, but I think the honest answer would be lost. When I was working for the Senate, I was prevented from participating in discussion of anything that could be perceived to be political and I’ve always been a very passionate and opinionated person. So while I loved being a wife and mother and an employee, my job had limited me so that I could not be a whole person with thoughts and ideas about how to make our world a better place. Leaving that job to work on the Bernie Sanders presidential primary campaign helped me to find myself and my voice again.

Q: You’ve been quoted saying, “I plan on winning this race by talking to everybody I absolutely can.” How does the special election change the way you approach that? What are you losing or gaining from having more than a year of campaign time cut out of your strategy?

A: I will definitely be short on time to talk to every potential voter, but I still intend on trying to knock on every door where I think someone is open to hearing from me. I also think it will inhibit my ability to reach out to non-voters to get them engaged for this election. But after the election is over in August, I’ll be right back out there again trying to reach anyone I missed between now and August.  I’ll be getting new people registered to vote and engaged in the political process. Because after the August election is over, November of 2018 will be coming quicker than we’d like to think.

Q: You are running as Democrat. Are you able to identify a few key ways in which you deviate from the current national Democratic Party? From the current Missouri Democratic Party?

A: I think one of the few key ways I would deviate from the current national Democratic Party is that I do not believe focusing almost to the exclusion of all else on the advancement of the knowledge economy is going to be able to lift up all of those suffering in my district. I also think we need to be focusing on our moral values of compassion, equality, opportunity and justice for all and bring every policy prescription back to those basic ideals. One of the key ways I differ from the current, though evolving, Missouri Democratic Party is that rural areas and rural constituents are important for the future of our party and our state. We need to do better to hear and recognize the concerns of those people and spend more time and resources on engaging with those communities.

Q: From your website, “I will fight for the rights of workers to unionize and bargain for higher wages and better working conditions.” In the event that House Bill 91 (“Right to Work”) becomes law, what does your vision for “fighting for workers’ rights” look like?

A: My vision of fighting for workers’ rights would be about changing the narrative about the purpose and function of unions as the protectors of worker freedom and strength against corporate tyranny. Until the greater public recognizes what an important function unions and the workers that participate in them serve, it will be hard to turn back legislation like HB 91. I will also support efforts through ballot initiatives to restore the rights of workers through amendments to the Missouri Constitution.

Q: If you are elected, how do you plan to balance your personal beliefs with the needs and desires of your constituents? Do you feel capable of voting against your personal beliefs in a situation where the voters make their opposing opinion very clear?

A: As a representative, I will be elected to serve the varying needs and desires of my constituents. So long as the desires of my constituents do not conflict with the core principles of compassion, equality, and justice upon which I am basing my campaign I can and will set aside my personal beliefs and preferences to meet the needs and desires of my constituents.

Q: What is your biggest takeaway from your time working as Staff Attorney for the Missouri Senate?

A: Term limits have had the unfortunate side effect of taking the power of expertise out of the hands of long serving legislators and placing it with lobbyists. More often than not, when I was writing legislation as a nonpartisan staff person, I was working with the lobbyists because the Senators did not have the knowledge or expertise to grapple with complex issues especially in their first several terms.

Q: Why are you running for office?

A: I am running for office because I believe the voters of the 50th House District deserve are representative who is willing to return their phone calls and emails, be present in their communities, and actually serve their needs and interests rather than those of big-dollar donors and industry lobbyists. I think I have the knowledge and training to be an effective representative from the day I am elected.

Q: Why now?

A: When I was interviewed for the position at Senate Research, I was asked if I had ever thought about running for office. I said that I had when I was younger, but the currently hostile partisan environment convinced me that I didn’t want to. After working there for several years I realized that the reason the system was broken is because too many good people with the knowledge and skill to do a good job were afraid to put themselves out there and do the messy work of leading. I have seen up close and personal how the system is failing us and I want to be part of the change to make it better. If not me, who? If not now, when?

Q: The percentage of active and resident lawyers in Missouri compared to employment is less than 1%. Lawyers represent nearly 13% of all seats in the Missouri House. As a lawyer, how important do you think it is for the makeup of our policy makers to mimic that of the represented population?

A: I think it is very important for the makeup of our policy makers to mimic that of the represented population. However, because of term limits there is a need for more specialized knowledge about how the law works that I think is an important consideration in terms of the over representation by lawyers. I think considering the background and life experience and not just current occupation is also an important consideration in determining appropriate representation. There are huge barriers to a truly representative citizen legislature and many voices and life experiences get left out. We don’t currently have the support mechanisms in place to allow minimum wage workers, single parents, and those living in poverty to serve in the state legislature. The least we can do is elect people who are willing to listen to their stories and represent their needs just as they would for everyone else.

Q: What is something you’d like the people in St. Louis and Kansas cities to know about the people of Boone, Cole, Moniteau and Cooper counties?

A: There are so many more things that we all have in common than the things that make us different. We all want our children to succeed, to have a job that allows us to pay the rent or mortgage and put dinner on the table, and have a purpose in our lives that brings us joy and fulfillment. The more we can talk about those commonalities the easier it will be to stand together to make life better for everyone.

Q: If you could speak to Governor Greitens today as an elected official, what would you say to or ask of him?

A: When you do things that improve the lives of average Missourians, like opposing corporate welfare in the form of tax incentives for a sports arena, I will stand with you. But, when you do things that hurt average Missourians to benefit big corporate interests, like stripping the rights of workers to freely contract with their employers through a union or cutting funding for our community schools to pay for big corporate tax cuts, I will be loud in my opposition and be sure that every voter in my district knows how these policies will hurt us all.

Q: What’s one thing you wish every voter already knew about you by the time you arrive at their door?

A: I care about each and every person in this district and I want us all to succeed. The most important thing I can do as a representative is listen, and that is what my visit is all about.

Find out more about Michela and her run here.

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MCU School-to-Prison Pipeline Event Recap

Feedback Encouraged
A guest post series by Jack Seigel

Sometimes it’s hard to be a progressive in the county. Thankfully some high school friends and other community activists started the West County Community Action Network (We Can) in response to Ferguson and problematic racial relations in our backyard, through actions like weekly Black Lives Matter vigils that rotate through west county.

Another initiative of We Can is work on the school-to-prison pipeline. Members met last Saturday after the vigil to talk about a potentially problematic new statute that adds a felony class which could be applied to children who fight at school. Past experience leads us to believe that this statute would be applied in a racially discriminatory way and further strengthen the school to prison pipeline.

Given that Missouri is already the worst state for racially applied discipline, we have a lot of work to do towards a more just and equitable future — towards a world with fewer felon labels and a focus on rehabilitative justice; a world that protects children’s rights to education instead of criminalizing them; and one where we address why kids are fighting, and why people are committing crimes.

It’s time to understand that poverty and lack of opportunity are the root causes of crime. It’s time to come together and provide a world where we all can thrive, not one where people profit from locking up and exploiting the labor of fellow human beings. There is a lot to do, and right now that includes understanding and responding to the statute change.

Meeting Recap

Community response ranged from confusion to fear to outrage. In order to provide clarity on the issue and to leverage the sudden interest in reforming the school-to-prison pipeline, Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) organized last week’s event, which had a huge turnout. The evening started with organizers from MCU explaining the background, followed by small group discussions about initial reactions.

Representatives from Legal Services of Eastern Missouri and a former Assistant Attorney General explained that the statute was actually not changing much and that children could always be charged. Additionally, kids are always processed through the juvenile justice system before they reach the criminal justice system, except in the most extreme circumstances. This was not satisfactory to members in the audience who wondered why legislators needed to make a change if not to grab more power over an already oppressed group of people— minority children. Additionally, the timing made it seem like the community did not have a chance to respond since the change would go into effect on January 1, 2017. A final indication this was indeed a big change was that school districts had issued statements about how the statute change could criminalize kids.

As people voiced their concerns, it became clear that this passion and momentum could be channeled into something positive. Ideas for increasing involvement included contacting school board members and supporting people who protest and organize around issues of racial justice.

The meeting then broke into small groups and developed a list of possible responses:

  • Create of an app for reporting school staff and administrators at the community level.
  • Hold assemblies/public forums for parents to discuss issues in the schools.
  • Make flow charts for rights of parents and students in the educational setting.
  • Find ways to relate to voters in rural areas and the politicians that represent them.
  • Hold legislative bodies accountable by making them host open forums in their communities and keeping tabs on their legislation and voting records.
  • Organize days of action in Jefferson City, like the one organized by the ACLU.
  • Translate legislation into layman’s terms instead of 600 plus pages of legalese.
  • Eliminate suspensions.
  • Conduct professional development around anti-bias training.
  • Hire more teachers of color.
  • Opt for mediation of school conflict over immediate discipline.
  • Focus on school board elections in the spring.

The MCU facilitator then invited everyone back in a few weeks to develop task forces to act on the action steps each breakout group voted on.

And of course, as we enter the new year, with a new president, a new governor and an increase in hate crimes against minorities, we must remember that it is everyone’s responsibility to speak out against injustice and hate. Silence is violence and we can only progress as a society when we commit to doing so without leaving everyone behind.

For more information and to get involved please connect with MCU and We Can on Facebook.

Feedback Encouraged.

Fridays with an Activist, Ep 2: Cori Bush, Local Pastor and Community Organizer

Episode 2 of an interview series with local activists about their work in Missouri.

Tell me about your work and your organization.

Recently I began getting involved working on homelessness in St. Louis as an independent citizen, not as part of an organization. I am a registered nurse and I worked at a community-based mental health organization in St. Louis City. Many people who are experiencing homelessness are uninsured or underinsured, they sleep outside, lose their meds or can’t afford them. I see the effects that structural problems have on real people and our politicians aren’t vocal enough. I don’t understand it, because everyday people are in dire need of support. It goes beyond housing and we lose sight of the big picture. We are failing some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

How’d you get started?

Growing up, my dad was involved in politics. I learned from him and the seeds were sown young. I am ordained as a pastor and that increased my involvement with community work, feeding people and being very active in the streets. My commitment to the work also strengthened when Mike Brown was murdered.

Thoughts on the recent election at the federal and state level?

Mortified to say the least. I can’t believe we will have five conservative statewide officials. And when you think about the regression all the way up to Trump it’s overwhelming. I can’t picture Missouri under Greitens and I anticipate heavy law and order rhetoric and expansion of police.

How do you mobilize people?

It depends on the task; we have a strong activist community. I am active on social media and use it as a mobilization tool. I have a good network and know who to call so I can put stuff together. I also reach out to clergy and elected officials.

What’s your issue personally?  

I don’t have one. Its homelessness right now, but I work hard for marginalized communities, whoever it is. Silence is violence and I refuse to be a part of the injustices that run rampant in our society.

Advice to other activists?

Follow your passion, let it drive you and never back down. There is no activist god, no one is ordained. You just have to be active and do the work. It’s a learning by doing process.

Thoughts on the state of progressivism in St. Louis?

I love it. So glad I could join, meet wonderful people and contribute. Despite the recent election results we kicked butt and made our state recognize the progressive community. I’m excited to keep working and fighting for justice with these people.

Book recommendations?

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Where do We Go from Here by Dr. King, Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Dr. Angela Davis and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

How do you stay inspired and engaged with the work?

I was fighting back tears on the way here tonight because I saw people who needed help. The work is never done, so it’s easy to stay engaged. Just by seeing people who need help and seeing people being active in their communities. My heart breaks when I see injustice.

If I were in charge in St. Louis, I would…

Work to ensure that marginalized communities are taken care of with continuous resources: jobs, homes and training. We can’t move forward while leaving some people behind.

Feedback Encouraged.

Fridays with an Activist, Ep 1: Faizan Syed, Executive Director CAIR-Missouri

Episode 1 of an interview series with local activists about their work in Missouri.

Tell me about your work and your organization.

CAIR stands for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.  It defends civil rights in Missouri; like the NAACP for Muslims. But you can’t just sue everyone all the time, so you address the culture problem. We have to challenge and change perceptions perpetuated by the media and the Islamophobia industry — lots of educational work, youth empowerment, working with elected officials, building alliances in the community. We engage in community building, hold events, rallies and marches, creates councils, have open houses and host a Capital Day for legislative work in Jefferson City.  

How’d you get started?

I studied physics, astronomy and math at Drake University. Then I got swept up in the politics around the Iowa Caucuses in 2008 with Obama, Clinton and McCain, so I switched my majors to politics and history. Then the Ground Zero controversy made Islam an American issue. With the pastor burning Qurans and the right-wing media always making CAIR the villain, I knew I had to work for them. They needed a director locally, so this was my first job out of college.

Thoughts on the recent election at the federal and state level?

Nationally, we were shocked. The day after I saw six, seven, eight year-old kids scared for their safety. I didn’t even know who was president at age six. We had multiple instances of hate crimes against Muslims in St. Louis. It was a mainstreaming of the alt-right, of Islamophobia.  The election brought these from the fringe to the mainstream of American society.  

In Missouri, (Governor-elect Eric) Greitens made fake ISIS hunting permits, but ISIS isn’t here. So he created an image that matches innocent people living in our community. Local candidates ran on an anti-Syrian refugee platform. It was all lies and public manipulation. Missouri went super far right and we will see legislation proposed to create anti-Sharia laws and internment camps for refugees.  

How do you mobilize people?

There are 115,000 Muslims here, mostly in St. Louis and Kansas City. You mobilize them by community building, getting groups together and assessing strengths. Get people to come to events, then you can have a ground game and start registering people to vote, getting emails and building a movement. The hope is recent political events will double our attendance at Capital Day. We need to build ourselves up first.   

What’s your issue personally?  

I care about mobilizing American Muslims because they historically don’t vote or act. We need to change culture in the American Muslim community. Also, I want to unify the community so an issue in KC creates action in St. Louis and vice versa. We can always do more for each other.

Advice to other activists?

Donald Trump is not our challenge; apathy is the biggest issue. Fifty percent of the people didn’t vote. It’s easier and more productive to mobilize Muslim communities than to spend all day yelling at racists.

Thoughts on the state of progressivism in St. Louis?

I would argue that most Americans are progressive, we just aren’t unified.  Progressive values help the poor in middle Missouri, but those people vote against their interests. The election was a triumph of identity politics.

Progressives need to go to areas that don’t currently support them with an issue-oriented educational campaign. Customizing an economic populist message to fit a rural/Christian audience. People get distracted by issues that don’t affect them, because what’s real is complicated. It’s easier to yell about nonsense.

Book recommendations?

Read philosophy and religious books to get a grounding on your values. I like anything by Noam Chomsky. Read history.  

How do you stay inspired and engaged with the work?

This job is not work to me, I love it. I’ve never worked a day in my life. Every day is different and I see things getting better. In the Quran it says something bad might happen, but it’s actually really good for you. We will get people mobilized because of the bad and scary times.  

If I were in charge in St. Louis, I would…

That’s a good one, I don’t know.  

Feedback Encouraged.

The Missouri Revival

Who knows how long many of us felt something shifting beneath our feet.

This past Saturday, concerned citizens from across the state gathered at Lincoln University in Jefferson City to attend the Missouri Democratic State Committee meeting for Q4. From what I understand, the level of participation and energy this time was significantly different from past meetings.

I wouldn’t know; I’ve never gone to one before.

Strangely, the same was true for many other attendees. Most of them voiced that they felt compelled to show up, because this was a crucial moment for state politics. So why did this once routine meeting of usual suspects become especially important? And what does it mean for Missouri?

To answer that, you have to look at not only 2016 as a whole, but the context of the last couple of decades.

The Earthquake: GOP Takeover 2016

Caring about politics requires getting used to disappointment. But in most elections, even if your favorite candidate doesn’t win, you can look to other races to find ideological victories that offer some comfort.

For progressives in Missouri, November 8 offered no such bittersweet moments.

As a few more days passed, things began to change. The shell shock wore off, the hangovers faded, and we peeled ourselves off the floor. The fear and worry shifted quickly to productive energy and strategic thinking: “I must do something.”

A Divided Party

Step back again to the first half of 2016 and the Democratic primary season – a topic almost still too charged to discuss without stirring up feelings of resentment and blame. But solutions for our government can’t really be prescribed without diagnosing the past.

Whether Bernie Sanders could have beaten Donald Trump in a Presidential election is something people will probably be debating for the next half century (if humanity makes it that far). But the reality is that Hillary Clinton lost to the most know-nothing candidate the country may have ever seen.

Clinton supporters will protest and cite the popular vote. But an army of party-line voters in California and New York do not win the Electoral College. And even in states where she lost by a slim margin, this was not a race that should have been even remotely close.

For about half of Democratic primary voters, the panic over a Trump presidency began in July and was fully realized in November. For this half, a Clinton presidency would have likely resulted in relief at best, if not detached apathy. It would have been hard to envision a place for us at the table in the Democratic Party.

But now, both halves are in the same boat, completely devastated.

Both halves have felt deep anxiety and fear, and in return have been told by political rivals, “You’re being ridiculous.”

While the Clinton Democrats are still in mourning and probably still too close to their defeat for blunt critical analysis, Sanders supporters have been processing loss for months and are particularly motivated to start piecing a renewed coalition together.

The Soul of the Democratic Party

The long view gives some context to the deep divisions laid bare in the 2016 primaries. If you’ve been a progressive Democrat for long, you know something about feeling left out.

The Democratic Party (and friends in the media) showing a reluctance to support more progressive candidates got a lot of attention this year with Bernie Sanders. But this same story has played out in a number of elections in my lifetime, with Howard Dean, Bill Bradley, Jerry Brown, and one could argue, Dennis Kucinich. The rationale for this has always been electability.

Being progressive or liberal means that you are not electable because you won’t attract big donors, because you want the playing field to be too level. The sad fact is that elections are now bought, and no one wants to throw money at you if you aren’t going to help turn a profit later.

That machine of corporate politics imploded this year. The candidacy of Donald Trump was a perfect storm of a number of factors: white fragility, sexism, fake news, and an extremely disproportionate fear of terrorism at home. But another major element was the rebuke of both parties’ addiction to cash from special interests. The best metaphor I’ve heard is that Donald Trump is a brick through the window of the establishment. He was an ignorant, hateful vessel for voters’ frustration, but the most powerful tool of defiance they had at their disposal.

I will continue to wonder what would’ve happened if America had an alternative way to reject corporate politics while also standing on the side of inclusion, equality, human dignity, and workers’ rights.

The Growing Progressive Wing

We took the scenic route in getting to the root of why Saturday’s meeting meant something, but I think it’s important to acknowledge what motivates progressives and how that will impact our future.

Going into this blind, I had no idea what to expect. I was even nervous about attending. Like I have thought about politics most of my life: “I don’t know enough to participate – I have no business butting in there. I haven’t earned the right to be at the table.”

Not only was I wrong, but I was reminded of the lessons I learned while participating in the delegate selection and convention earlier in the year. This is a party of regular people, and a whole lot of them are just like you; maybe not a seasoned political veteran, but fired up and ready to go.

Saturday’s agenda included a preliminary meeting to gauge interest in a new Progressive Caucus, as well as a meeting and executive board vote in the existing Women’s Caucus. Both meetings were packed.

The vote for the leadership of the Women’s Caucus drew so many participants, there were people standing in the doorway who couldn’t fit into the room. A slate full of newcomers was voted in, largely by people who had met through work on the primary election and maintained that network. The Progressive Caucus planning meeting, whose organizers didn’t know what to expect in the way of involvement, collected 81 people on the sign-in sheet. The idea of an Environmental Caucus was hatched and work on that has started.

One of the people in the Progressive Caucus meeting, Stephen Webber, was later voted Chair of the Missouri Democratic Party. Another, Genevieve Williams, was voted Vice Chair.

In light of the history that got us here, this doesn’t feel like a fluke. It feels like a progressive revival, sparked for some of us by Bernie, but an inevitability in the broader scope of political evolution in this country. We know that shying away from progressive values has not served Democrats well. Justice, equality, and a living wage for every worker are goals we should state boldly and proudly.

I’ve heard that Democrats who have been participating in the state party for awhile aren’t sure what to make of the new faces. Are these new people loyal? Are they going to keep coming back? Will they do the work?

Putting in time and effort isn’t a question. Many of the people I’ve worked alongside put me to shame. I’m in awe of these amazing women and men who step up to the plate, again and again, even after a painful loss.

As for loyalty, I think blind allegiance is a relic of political history at this point. I doubt the two-party system is long for this world. Some people will start working on third parties from the ground up, which I fully support. I hope those people can also support like minds working within the Democratic Party. Because I’ve seen a lot of party-line Democrats, liberals, leftists, progressives, and socialists arguing about who’s moving forward in the most perfect way, and it’s accomplished a grand total of nothing so far.

The scorched earth in Missouri left few victors and no undamaged egos. Those politicians still standing face an uphill battle and are in desperate need of help. And now there many voters who are completely finished with the two-party system, even with the option to transform how we approach economic and racial equity within it.

In light of all of this, Progressive Dems are throwing up a big, tattered, dusty, tent and including anyone who wants to come on in and get to work. For those who hope to impact the elections in 2018 and 2020, there is an outlet for you in the Democratic Party.

Learn More:

MDP Progressive Caucus

Fight for $15 Event Coverage

Guest blog post by Jack Seigel

I participated in the last event of a day of action organized by Fight for $15 and Jobs with Justice yesterday. The focus was economic justice, living wages, and putting people over profits. There was a strong union presence, plus many religious leaders and politicians.

A brave few decided they would engage in civil disobedience by sitting in the streets, arms linked in solidarity and prepared to be arrested for disrupting the flow of traffic. But disruption is the reason for events like this.

It is easy to get caught up in daily life, to worry about ourselves instead of others and in our daily routine, lose sight of the humanity of the service workers with whom we often interact. We forget that those people have families and struggles, and that their fair treatment is more important than our convenience.

As we assembled outside the union hall people passed out signs for living wages, reproductive rights, environmental rights, and labor rights; all important factors that play into the ability of working people to get by in life. The spectacle was impressive as people played music and danced in anticipation of the coming march. A few other marshals and I moved ahead of the group and blocked the road allowing the procession to cross.

Drivers were mad at first, but that transitioned to curiosity about what was going on as the mass crossed Hampton and went into the McDonalds parking lot. As we circled the building via the drive thru, we chanted:

“Show me 15!”
“Shut it down!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”

Most workers smiled and waved, appreciating that the exploitation of their labor was the reason for our protest. We lined up on the sidewalk as the chants continued.

The police arrived in force and local news stations covered the event.  As the labor leaders led the chants, volunteers moved into the street and sat down together.

Eventually the police issued a warning that our action was illegal, that people risked arrest and that officers would use nonlethal force if necessary. Excessive force or violence was not necessary and the officers rounded up about 20 people. They then warned that they would re-open the street and arrest more people if necessary. Again, force was not needed.

At this point, people made speeches about living wages, social justice, the importance of community, and the history of labor unions becoming active in the struggle for economic justice. Speakers also mentioned how multiple faiths came together recognizing the morality implicit in demanding higher wages and better working conditions. It was refreshing to see such a large and diverse crowd recognizing we all share the burden in exposing oppression.

The protest reminded me of a Cornel West quote, “Justice is the expression of love in public.”  Together, the power of working people will triumph.

Feedback Encouraged.

Election 2016 Post-Mortem Series: How Progressives Can Take the Reins of the Missouri Democratic Party

Part 1: All is Not Lost for Progressives in Missouri

By Danny Gladden, MBA, MSW, LCSW
Community Social Worker

By now, you have had time to digest the 2016 election results. If you are a progressive living in Missouri, you are likely making your way through the stages of grief. As a social worker, I often find myself helping folks through tough moments. Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief and loss are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — I feel as though I have experienced or observed all of those over the last two weeks, including acceptance.

I have heard many of my progressive friends accept the fact that Missouri is officially a deep red state and suggest that liberal utopias such as New York, Chicago or San Francisco look inviting. But I encourage you to hold off on acceptance for just a moment.

The implications of the 2016 election on our community’s most vulnerable citizens will be catastrophic, but I am not ready to concede Missouri to the conservative majority.

We must not accept the 2016 results as the new status quo; it is neither moral nor strategic.

Missouri’s History of Shifting Political Powers

Missouri has always had a rich and fascinating political history. Only two years in our state history — 1869 and 1870 — have republicans held all statewide offices, majorities in the MO House & Senate, both United States Senate seats, a majority of United States House seats, and the White House. If Missouri progressives do not reverse course, 2018 will look like 1869.

Missouri Democrats filled the Governor’s Mansion from 1945 to 1972, taking a break in the 1980s, and resuming power from 1992 to 2016, with the exception of four years in 2000. Missouri Democrats also maintained majorities in the Missouri House and Senate from 1955 until 2001. In 2001, Republicans gained control of the Missouri Senate and in 2003, Republicans gained control of the Missouri House.  Since 2000, Senate Democrats have watched their caucus dwindle from 18 down to eight of 34 Senators, and since 2003, House Democrats watched their caucus shed 42 seats, down to a total 45 out of 163 members.

Reviving a Statewide Coalition

Missouri Republicans have done a much better job of remaining competitive in all corners of Missouri, recruiting and electing non-partisan aldermen, mayors, school board members and republican county treasurers, prosecutors, etc. These office holders served as a farm team of potential candidates that were used to pluck away at incumbent House and Senate Democrats, and fill openings when members were term limited out. Republicans have office holders in all 114 of Missouri’s counties while vast portions of the state have no Democratic office holders.

In 2016, 66 Republican House candidates and four Republican Senate candidates were unopposed. In many counties, only conservative candidates filed for local office. Despite our voting options, the state is still home to a large coalition voters, both pro-worker and anti-racist. Donald Trump’s margin in Missouri was impressive, but he did not win by changing the landscape of the Missouri electorate.

Trump’s lopsided victory in Missouri meant a death knell for close down-ballot races. For example, while Donald Trump beat Clinton by 19%, Blunt beat Kander by 3% and Greitens bested Koster by 6%. Kander’s 3% loss and Trump’s win with 129,599 fewer Missouri voters than 2008 provides a little progressive hope for the future.

To find that hope, just look back to 2008, when Missouri saw the largest voter turnout in its history with more than 2.9 million votes cast — 69.4% voter turnout. That election saw Barack Obama narrowly lose to John McCain by less than 4,000 votes statewide.  In 2012, Missouri saw 160,298 fewer voters and in 2016, 129,599 fewer voters turned out than in 2008.

Some more good news: despite Missouri’s deep red outcome on November 8, 2016, Democrats added one seat to their House caucus and one seat to their Senate caucus for a total of nine out of 34 senators and 46 out of 163 House members.  

However, if Democrats and progressives are going to dramatically increase membership in the Missouri General Assembly, candidate recruitment and development for all municipal, county and state legislative races will be essential.

Leveraging City Progressives

If progressives are to find success in Missouri, St. Louis and Kansas City metropolitan area voters must be inspired to turn out. As noted above, 129,599 fewer voters cast ballots in 2016 vs. 2008; 120,360 of them or 92% of the statewide abstention came from St. Louis City, St. Louis County, Kansas City, and Jackson County. If those additional 120,360 votes had been cast this year, it quite possibly could have pushed Jason Kander over the edge to victory.

We saw in 2008 and in 2012 that Missouri doesn’t even need to go blue in the presidential race in order to elect statewide Democrats. If we support statewide candidates who favors workers’ and civil rights over corporate interests, they can bring progressive voters to the polls.  

Forging Ahead

Mobilize Missouri is committed to working with other progressive organizations to enhance voter engagement, as well as aid in the recruitment and promotion of progressive candidates in advance of the 2018 midterm elections. St. Louis and Kansas City historically underperform in the midterms and that will need to change if we are going succeed. All is not lost. There is progressive hope for Missouri’s future but only if we thoroughly engage voters in St. Louis, Kansas City, and every corner of this great state by giving them a compelling reason to participate in this process.