As Democrats rally for unity behind Barack Obama’s run for president at their party’s national convention in Denver, the opening day featured appearances by labor, state and city leaders from Obama’s home state, Illinois.
President of the Illinois Service Employees International Union Tom Balanoff, representing 175,000 members, addressed the convention Aug. 25, saying union households know where Obama is coming from. Balanoff said his own father was a steelworker who believed in the American dream of working hard in order to build a good life for his family. Balanoff said growing up in Chicago his family made many gains when the steel industry provided opportunities for working people. But by the early 1980s under an increasingly globalized economy the steel industry declined and many plants across the country were closing, especially in Chicago, he said.
“That’s what Barack Obama found when he moved to Chicago in 1984,” said Balanoff. “As a community organizer, he devoted his considerable gifts to helping displaced workers and their families try to rebuild their lives,” Balanoff added. “He committed himself to improving the future of hard-working people devastated by the decline of the manufacturing sector.”
Obama’s experience at the grass roots shaped his political perspective and core beliefs and helped him to understand the challenges working families face, said Balanoff. “He knows that they are the strength of this nation and he knows that in the current economic climate, many of these families struggle despite how hard they work everyday,” he said.
“Barack Obama believes that if you go to work in the United States, you should not have to live in poverty. He believes that hard work should be rewarded with a living wage, health care, and a secure retirement, and that these rewards will build stronger families and communities and a stronger America. John McCain looks to Wall Street and says the economy is OK. Barack Obama looks to Main Street and knows that it is not OK. The working families of this country cannot afford four more years of Bush-McCain economic policies,” said Balanoff.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) said, “I’m sure Dr. King is looking down on us here in Denver, noting that this is the first political convention in history to take place within sight of his mountaintop.”
Jackson said when President Lyndon Johnson submitted the Voting Rights Act to Congress, Dr. King stated, “At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom.”
Jackson added, “So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was at Appomattox. So it was in Selma, Alabama. Tonight, I would like to add: and so it shall be in Denver, Colorado, with the nomination of Barack Obama to be President of the United States.”
Jackson said he himself grew up learning the lessons of his father’s generation with stories of struggle and sacrifice, of fear and division, and knows that America is still a place where dreams are too often deferred and opportunities too often denied.
“But here’s what I also know,” he said. “I know that while America may not be perfect, our union can always be perfected. I know what we can achieve when good people with strong convictions come together around a common purpose.”
Recalling the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous 1963 “I have a Dream” speech, Jackson said, “Forty-five years to the day after a young preacher called out, ‘Let freedom ring,’ let history show in this fourth week of August in this Mile-High City, freedom in America has never rung from a higher mountaintop than it does here today.”
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she remembers working with Obama on the Illinois Senate floor in Springfield. “I learned why Barack is such a fierce advocate for women and their children,” said Madigan. “In his own life, he saw women struggle and sacrifice to support his family.”
Madigan stressed how a single mother who dreamed of a better future for her son raised Obama like millions of American children. And it was Obama’s grandmother who molded his mother to work hard for her family despite all the odds. “Smart, tough women sacrificed to make Barack the man he is today. And he’s never forgotten it,” said Madigan.
“But today, too many families face challenges that even the most loving and devoted parents can’t overcome on their own. We need a president who knows how to remove the obstacles that stand between parents and their dreams for their children,” said Madigan.
Chicago City Clerk Miguel Del Valle recalled how he first met Obama in 1992 doing voter registration in the city’s Latino neighborhoods. “Barack Obama made sure that the thousands of Latinos in Chicago were registered to vote. He helped empower the Latino community and ensure that we were full participants in our democracy,” said Del Valle.
Del Valle said Obama is helping to bring Latinos and all Americans nationwide into the political process and into the national conversation about the future in order to turn the page on the failed policies of Bush and McCain. “All voters need to be empowered. All voices need to be heard. And all of us must stand up for the change we need. And make no mistake: Barack Obama will deliver that change,” he said.
Del Valle added that Obama’s run for the White House is the best opportunity to unite the country and lead the nation, addressing day-to-day struggles from high gas prices to violence in the streets, to finding a good job and improving our schools.
“It’s the best chance we have to put America on a different course, a course that will restore our faith in what we can do as a people and restore our standing in the world,” said Del Valle.
Other Illinois speakers on the convention opening day included State Comptroller Dan Hynes and State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.
plozano @ pww.org