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Black History Month: The #MoralMonday Movement and the Legacy of Selma

 

UFCW Local 1208 in attendance of the most recent Moral March, via NC State AFL-CIO https://www.facebook.com/ncstateaflcio

UFCW Local 1208 in attendance at the most recent Moral March; photo via NC State AFL-CIO https://www.facebook.com/ncstateaflcio

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. A diverse group of marchers walked to demand that the state of Alabama uphold the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted the right to vote to African Americans.

In recent years, after regressive policies reminicent of laws that spawned the civil rights movement of the 1960’s were passed in the state of North Carolina, concerned citizens and community members mobilized to fight back—and Moral Mondays were born.

Fed up with state lawmakers that consistently tried to undermine the economic mobility of poor and working people, and who cut the Earned Income Tax credit which cut unemployment benefits, and blocked access to healthcare for thousands of North Carolinians, the mass movement now called Moral Mondays involves a diverse group of people and organizations who gather in weekly demonstrations at the state Capitol. They come to defend the rights of all people—to stop the discriminatory creation of barriers to the ballot, protect funding for education and Medicaid, jumpstart stagnant wages, and continue the fight for racial justice. These non-violent protestors continue the tradition of direct action and civil disobedience that activists like Dr. Martin Luther King stood so strongly for in the 60s, and they continually face arrest and jail time.

One such Moral Monday event last year brought together a coalition of over 160 organizations and thousands of people in what was the largest protest gathering in the South since the Selma march. Since then, the movement has spread to other cities in the state and across the country.

In North Carolina, the activists have seen victories as a result of their collective action. There’s been a pay increase for public school teachers. A judge ruled in the people’s favor by blocking an unconstitutional school voucher program. Some state officials, including Gov. Pat McCrory, are backpedaling from their hardline stance against Medicaid expansion. And Raleigh’s District Attorney dismissed the charges against 941 protesters who were arrested for their acts of civil disobedience inside the General Assembly last year. But there is a long way to go. Republican lawmakers are still trying to pass laws that end up hurting the sick, the poor, and minorities.

Most recently, a Moral March for Love and Justice was held in Raleigh on Valentine’s Day. The march was attended by veteran moral marchers like the Reverend William Barber, an inspiring speaker and driving force behind the movement. UFCW Local 1208 members were also in attendance.

Over the past week, we have seen how collective action can really pay off. On Friday, our UFCW International President Marc Perrone made a public statement following the news from Walmart that it would be raising its wage floor: “This is not an act of corporate benevolence. It would not have been possible without the courage of countless workers who are standing together, taking risks, and demanding wages and schedules that can support their families. Walmart is responding directly to calls from workers and their allies to pay a living wage.”

AFL-CIO Communications Director Eric Hauser also released a statement that said, “In the past 24 hours, Walmart workers got a raise, IBEW and CWA workers settled their strike with FairPoint, and United Steelworkers made safety at oil refinery plants a national issue. One 24 hour period shows how much progress can be made when workers come together to speak with one voice.”

It takes bravery, dedication, and resilience to stand up to those who try to assert unjust power over us, but the likes of Walmart workers who won a wage increase this week, community supporters who helped make it happen, and civil rights activists from the 1960s to today show us time and time again that when we stand together, we are powerful.

This video clip provided by NC Policy Watch provides a glimpse into the many causes people turned out to fight for on the February 14th Moral March in Raleigh, N.C.

Black History Month: 50th Anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act

Fifty years ago at the height of the civil rights movement, our country’s immigration policy was radically changed. The Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as thImmigration_Bill_Signing_1965e Hart-Celler Act, abolished the national origins quota system which favored some Europeans and excluded Asians and Africans and established a new immigration system that focused on attracting skilled labor to the United States and reuniting immigrants with their families.

The 1965 law, which opened the door to immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America and changed the demographic makeup of our country, was signed by President Johnson at the foot of the Statue of Liberty on October 3, 1965. An excerpt from President Johnson’s speech is as follows:

This bill says simply that from this day forth those wishing to immigrate to America shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationship to those already here.

This is a simple test, and it is a fair test. Those who can contribute most to this country–to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit–will be the first that are admitted to this land.

The fairness of this standard is so self-evident that we may well wonder that it has not always been applied. Yet the fact is that for over four decades the immigration policy of the United States has been twisted and has been distorted by the harsh injustice of the national origins quota system.

Under that system the ability of new immigrants to come to America depended upon the country of their birth. Only 3 countries were allowed to supply 70 percent of all the immigrants.

Families were kept apart because a husband or a wife or a child had been born in the wrong place.

Men of needed skill and talent were denied entrance because they came from southern or eastern Europe or from one of the developing continents.

This system violated the basic principle of American democracy–the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man.

It has been un-American in the highest sense, because it has been untrue to the faith that brought thousands to these shores even before we were a country.

Today, with my signature, this system is abolished.

Today, the fight to create a fair and just immigration policy and make our country a more open place continues. It’s time to reform our country’s immigration system and create a clear and fair path to citizenship for aspiring Americans so that they can live and work without fear.

UFCW Celebrates Black History Month: Bayard Rustin–An Overlooked Champion of Civil and Labor Rights

image via AFL-CIO

image via AFL-CIO

One of the greatest moments of the Civil Rights era was the March on Washington in 1963–one of the largest non-violent protests to ever occur in America. The March on Washington brought thousands of people of all races together, in the name of equal rights for everyone–whether they were black or white, rich or poor, Muslim or Christian. Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. made one of his most inspiring and famous speeches at the march, which culminated on the National mall.

But history has often overlooked the man who was the driving force behind this monumental event–a man named Bayard Rustin. Rustin was the one who organized the march, bringing methods used by Gandhi as well as the Quaker religion to Washington to ensure peace, but also impact. It was Rustin who helped shape Dr. King into the iconic symbol of peace he is remembered as.

As a young adult, Rustin worked with many kinds of people who influenced his activism, including ministers and labor organizers. During World War II, Rustin fought against racial discrimination in war-related hiring, and was later jailed for two years after refusing to enter the draft. Then, after protesting segregated transit systems, he was sentenced to work on a chain gang for several weeks.

Despite being punished for his beliefs, Rustin continued to work towards changing things for the better. In 1953, Bayard Rustin arrived in Montgomery, Alabama to partake in the famous bus boycott that kicked off after Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on the bus for a white man. The boycott brought many civil rights leaders to the area, including a young Dr. Martin Luther King, who had not yet embraced non-violence. But Rustin taught many who were partaking in the boycott how Gandhi had used peaceful tactics to bring change in India, and people saw the importance of these tactics, and began to embrace them, focusing on direct protest.

Rustin was also a champion of workers rights. In 1965, Rustin and his mentor A. Philip Randolph co-founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor organization for African-American trade union members. Much of his work emphasized that labor rights were an integral part of the civil rights movement.

Although Bayard Rustin was a tireless activist, his life achievements are unknown to many, and he has even been called the “lost prophet” of the civil rights movement. This is largely because not only was Rustin silenced and threatened like many others were for being a black man speaking out for equal rights, but also because he was openly gay in a time when homophobia and bigotry was rampant. Rustin continued his life as an openly gay man, even after being incarcerated for it, and is seen as a champion of the LGBT movement still today. Despite being beaten, arrested, jailed, and fired from various leadership positions, Rustin overcame and made a huge impact on the civil and economic rights movements.

America has a long way to go before Rustin’s dreams of equal human rights for all are achieved, but without him, we perhaps would not be where we are today. Today, we have a black president, more women in leadership positions, and more of legislation in the states overturning old and outdated laws barring gay couples from marrying. These are just a few examples of the progress our country has made since Rustin’s time, and working people will continue to work so that ALL people have equal rights–at work and at home.