NEW YORK - Jobs, justice and voting rights were the focus of two mass rallies in New York City, Dec. 9-10.
The rallies there, which attracted unions ranging from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers to AFSCME, SEIU and more, emphasized the heavy impact the recession has on minority workers and the anti-minority rights impact of voter suppression laws now pending around the country.
Organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network on Dec. 9 and the NAACP the following day, the rallies drew thousands to sites in Manhattan. The network's rally opened with a protest march that started at the New York offices of the infamous Radical Right Koch Brothers - funders of politicians such as Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis. - before moving downtown. AFSCME was its main union backer.
Sharpton's group said their rally was to call attention to the disproportionate impact that state and local government firings and budget cuts have on members of minority groups. A recent study showed African-Americans are 30% more likely to hold public sector jobs than white workers are. Sharpton's group also sponsored rallies in other cities, including Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and Baltimore.
The rallies "bring attention to the growing economic disparity in these cities, lack of employment, and equality issues surrounding our current economic state. The rallies...call attention to the disproportionate layoffs of Blacks, Latinos and other groups, and the growing wealth gap. The rallies are in cities most impacted by joblessness and attacks on workers rights," the group said. "With African-American unemployment at an unacceptable 15%, this is a clear sign that we need action -- inaction is not an option."
Saturday's "Stand for Freedom" voting rights rally near the United Nations drew many union sponsors. It blasted on so-called "Voter ID" laws, curbs on Election Day registration and other Right Wing schemes to disenfranchise minorities, young voters, the elderly and the disabled. Speakers said those laws recalled the segregation era.
"We are in the midst of the greatest coordinated legislative attack on voting rights since the dawn of Jim Crow," said NAACP President Ben Jealous. "Voter ID laws are nothing but reincarnated poll taxes and literacy tests, and ex-felon voting bans serve the same purpose today as when they were created in the wake of the 15th Amendment guaranteeing ex-slaves the vote-suppressing voting numbers among people of color."
"The so-called problem of voter fraud is a myth, the percentage is miniscule," said George Gresham, President of 1199SEIU Hospital and Health Care Workers.
He also said it's no coincidence the right is enacting voter suppression laws now.
"These new laws are suddenly being pushed after the historic 2008 presidential election when Americans headed to the polls in droves. Now as we prepare for the 2012 elections, it's difficult to believe that this isn't some kind of ploy to keep poor people, working people, or people of color away from the polls."
The NAACP explained that "in dozens of states, new rules will create a modern-day poll tax by requiring voters to obtain and present official photo ID in order to cast a ballot." It said the laws disproportionately affect African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, seniors, students, working women and immigrants, "since many in these communities are less likely to have identification that complies with these strict rules."
"Now, as before," the Right Wing is "seeking to block us from voting in order to make it easier to come after our other rights," added Mike Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers, AFT's New York affiliate. "Everything we care about is at stake, from the right to a quality education to the right to a fair wage."
"These block-the-vote efforts are a response to two factors: The unprecedented levels of political participation in 2008 by voters of color, and significant growth by communities of color, as reflected in the 2010 Census," said John Payton, Legal Defense Fund President and counsel. "This is a call to action for us to empower those communities to confront and to overcome this voting rights assault."
"In many of these same states, new laws significantly cut early voting and Sunday voting opportunities as well," Payton added. An American Civil Liberties Union map shows voter suppression laws in 14 states. In one, Maine, a Nov. 8 referendum repealed the law, which had banned the state's long rule of Election Day registration.
But similar laws are pending in other states, including the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, both of which are now run by GOP-dominated legislatures and Republican governors. The Ohio law has been stalled until at least 2013, by a statewide campaign for a referendum next November, to overturn it.
Besides RWDSU, SEIU and AFT, other unions or union-affiliated groups sponsoring the Dec. 10 voting rights rally included the AFL-CIO, the Jewish Labor Committee, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, AFGE, Communications Workers District 1 and Local 1081, AFSCME Locals 374 and 1549 and District Council 37 and the Long Island branch of Labor's Council for Latin American Advancement.
This article was distributed by PAI.