VOTE Nov. 2! We have numbers, momentum

“We have the numbers, we have the momentum,” said New Mexico labor leader Danny Rivera. “It’s going to be about performance” — about who gets the voters to the polls.

Rivera, executive director of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, described the get-out-the-vote (GOTV) drive as “so enthused, so focused,” far beyond what was done in 2000, when Al Gore won the state by 366 votes. “We’ve been going strong since way back last fall. When we have rallies, everybody comes out,” he said, citing 17,000 who turned out for John Kerry in Las Cruces last weekend.

In the final days before Nov. 2, union activists are going all-out to make sure their members vote. “You keep bugging ’em until you can check them off,” Rivera said. They have worked hard to beat the Republicans in early voting. Based on what he’s seen, Rivera is convinced Kerry will win New Mexico solidly: “It ain’t even gonna be close.”

Reports from around the nation bear out Rivera’s enthusiasm — massive new voter registrations, heavy early voting, and an unprecedented groundswell of volunteers. These new factors could put this election on the map as a milestone in the birth of a powerful national progressive movement.

In Michigan, labor is pouring in staff and volunteers “in the thousands,” said Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Donald Boggs. SEIU is putting 500–700 on the streets in metro Detroit, and AFSCME another 100, and labor has set up a “war room” to protect the African American and labor vote.

In West Virginia, 500 GOTV volunteers turned out to door-knock last weekend. Some 115,000 new voters signed up this year in the state, an 11 percent increase. State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Larry Matheney said labor was responsible for a “tremendous segment” of those new registrations. Now it is working to ensure that members and their families vote. Key issues in West Virginia, as elsewhere, are jobs, health care and trade that benefits working families, he said.

Matheney, too, was confident that his state would go for Kerry. “Following the John Kerry victory,” he said, labor will build on its new grassroots strength, with its eye on electing a more worker-friendly state Legislature in 2006.

In Arkansas, where polls showed the presidential race tied, state AFL-CIO President Alan Hughes said unions are pulling out all stops to mobilize the vote. The mood is, “We can’t afford four more years of Bush,” and “the guy is incapable,” he said. Most of all, “We want to know we got a job when we wake up the next morning.” Hughes said he was looking forward to celebrating a Kerry victory with “a nice cold beer” on election night.

Arkansas has 162,000 new voters registered this year, a 7.7 percent increase over 2000. Over 29 percent of these are young voters ages 18 to 25, a group that is seen as favoring Kerry nationwide.

Nationally, the union movement will have 5,000 paid staff working full-time by Election Day, more than triple its 2000 effort, along with over 200,000 Labor 2004 volunteers, the AFL-CIO says. They have worked 257 phone banks with 2,322 lines in 16 states, and passed out more than 32 million workplace leaflets.

This year’s massive voter mobilization drive included major efforts to register minority, youth and women voters, spearheaded by the NAACP, Voices for Working Families, Native Vote 2004, Hip-Hop Summit, Rock the Vote, and many others.

The NAACP National Voter Fund registered over 225,000 nationwide, including 80,000 in Ohio, 26,000 in Texas, and 11,000 in Nevada.

Native Vote 2004, sponsored by the National Congress of American Indians, and the Moving America Forward Foundation have registered thousands of new voters, ranging from 20,000 in Arizona and New Mexico to 450 new voters in the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Ore. Alyssa Burhans, an organizer for Native Vote 2004 and the nonprofit umbrella National Voice, said her groups were working hard “throughout Indian country” in the last days of the campaign.

In hot-spot Wisconsin, state AFL-CIO Executive Vice-President Sara Rogers noted that people were waiting in long lines every day to vote early in Milwaukee and Madison. The state’s same-day registration is expected to pull in many new voters whose impact is not reflected in the polls. Along with allied organizations, labor is waging “the largest, most massive ground effort I’ve ever seen,” she said. Over a thousand union volunteers were set to work the final campaign days.

Thousands more volunteers are working the battleground states, mobilized by America Coming Together, MoveOn, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and other issue-based progressive groups. Car and bus caravans have poured in from around the country. Last weekend alone, over 500 people from the Chicago area traveled to Wisconsin.

LCV spokesperson Chuck Porcari said the group’s Environmental Voter Project is “the single largest GOTV effort in the history of the environmental movement,” aiming to defeat “the worst environmental president in modern times.”

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.