How we can flip the script
George Gresham, President of 1199SEIU | 9/13/2018, 2:33 p.m.
In less than two months, voters across the country can begin to lead our nation out of the nightmare of the Trump administration. We would not be exaggerating to call the Nov. 6 election one of the most critical in generations.
New York voters took the first step in June by selecting November’s congressional candidates. The next step is voting today in the primaries to ensure that we can then select the candidates most committed to moving our state forward and turning our nation around.
We are fortunate to have on the top of our New York State ticket an incumbent who has earned a check mark next to all the issues of importance to 1199 members. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expanded quality, affordable health care for New Yorkers, and he has defended the Affordable Care Act. Next year, the minimum wage for New York City workers will rise to $15, and the state will have in place the nation’s most comprehensive paid family leave policy.
The governor is a leader in the fight against climate change and for clean energy jobs. He champions a woman’s right to choose and to control her person against sexual assault and harassment. He’s on the front lines for immigrant rights and religious freedom. Under his leadership, New York was among the first states to pass marriage equality. New York is also the first state to provide free tuition at its public colleges.
He has passed the SAFE Act gun control law and drawn the anger of the president and the National Rifle Association for his support of tougher federal restrictions.
We are also proudly supporting New York City Public Advocate Letitia (Tish) James for state attorney general. A staunch friend of labor, James has also stood with 1199 in virtually all our major campaigns.
Cuomo and James can be counted on to defend New Yorkers against attempts by the White House and Congress to shred the social safety net, and transfer billions to corporations and the super-rich.
While we are working to ensure that we have the best leaders here in New York, we must also keep our focus on Washington. If Democrats capture the House of Representatives, the president would lose the protection of some of the same, spineless congressional committee heads that have allowed him to flout his responsibilities to the American people. In fact, some of the congressional committees would have the authority to subpoena documents, such as the president’s tax returns.
Recent polls indicate that voters are ready to flip the House of Representatives. But polls don’t vote, people do, and there are real obstacles that we must address. Under the guise of rooting out voter fraud, states have adopted various voter suppression measures that target voters of color, including purging voter rolls, instituting voter ID laws and reducing the number or closing polling places in poor communities and communities of color.
A heart-breaking example of voter suppression is the conviction of Crystal Mason, a Texas mother and grandmother sentenced to five years in prison in June for mistakenly voting while on probation after serving time for a felony. She was later sentenced to an additional 10 months for prison-release violations. Mason’s conviction is a transparent attempt to suppress the Black vote.
According to The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform organization, an estimated 6.1 million Americans have been barred from voting because of felony disenfranchisement laws. States, not the federal government, determine those rights. In New York, for example, felons who have completed their sentence regain voting rights. Cuomo has said he will use an executive order to restore voting rights to include felons on parole.
Aug. 21, prisoners across the country, many of whom work for pennies an hour, went on strike. Among their demands is an end to felony disenfranchisement.
It’s time to turn our nation around, and the only way to make that happen is to vote. Vote if you’re disgusted by a presidential administration that will deny a scheduled pay increase to federal workers after cutting taxes on billionaires and the wealthy by $1.5 trillion. Vote if you believe students should not be saddled with $1.4 trillion of educational debt. Vote if you’re grief stricken over immigrant children who might never be held by their parents again. Vote if you’re sickened by the Hurricane Maria deaths of nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.
There is much to do to right these many wrongs. We can begin by choosing candidates to help lead us out of the nightmare. Let’s march to the polls today, Sept.13, while keeping our eyes on the prize —the Nov. 6 elections.
George Gresham is president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest union in New York and the largest healthcare union in the nation.