CHARLESTON, W.Va.: Unions, activists rally for change

The Bush administration’s policies are “an assault upon American working families,” Sen. Robert Byrd thundered before some 500 mostly union members and their families, Aug. 26. Bush’s policies, mountaintop removal, pay inequities and health care brought the crowd together. Calling on everyone to register and get to the polls to defend their unions, Byrd reminded workers of life before unions came on the scene. “Like your parents and grandparents, I know what conditions were like before the union,” said Byrd, who grew up in a tiny coal town. “I know what it is like to owe your soul to the company store, as the old song goes.”

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, on his first visit to West Virginia, shared the platform with Byrd. “George Bush is the worst president in the history of the United States,” he said. Announcing that the labor federation will spend $40 million to take control of Congress away from Republicans, Sweeney predicted, “This will be one of the most remarkable political campaigns in the history of the United States. As union members we will be the single biggest player in our nation’s political process.”

Nearby, 300 rallied, including peace activists holding hand-made posters with the names of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq. Margaret Chapman of the abortion rights group FREE focused on the deepening pay differential between men and women. “There’s nothing nice about pay inequality,” she said. “Women still get 76 cents for every dollar a man gets for the same work.”

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.: Court upholds felons’ right to vote

“A tremendous victory,” said the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund when Jefferson County Judge Robert Vance Jr. ruled that any felon was entitled to register and vote until the state Legislature clearly defines who is or is not eligible.

Vance’s ruling changes a state practice that dates back decades of automatically removing voters from the rolls who are convicted of any felony, which could be drunken driving or drug possession. “Only the Legislature has the constitutional power to decide which crimes involve moral turpitude so as to justify the removal of a fundamental civil right for which so many have fought and died,” Vance wrote.

The decision affects 27,989 people currently in Alabama prisons and jails.

Under provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice will review the decision. Alabama’s Attorney General Troy King, a conservative, said the state would appeal the decision.

In a related development, a federal judge declared Florida’s voter registration law unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz issued a 48-page ruling that stops the state from imposing fines of up to $5,000 if voter registration forms are submitted late to the Boards of Elections.

The law quietly passed the state Legislature in the aftermath of the 2004 election, which saw 1.5 million new voters register in Florida.

“This is a win for democracy and will send a signal to officials in Florida and other states that you cannot erect unreasonable barriers to voter registration,” said Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the Democracy Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. The Florida AFL-CIO, the League of Women Voters of Florida and AFSCME joined with several groups in filing the suit.

NEW YORK: Open letter of solidarity released

Condemning the humanitarian catastrophe created by Israel’s “vastly disproportionate” attacks following the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, U.S. support for Israel’s aggression and the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a coalition of antiwar, religious and social justice groups issued an open letter Aug. 24 to Americans and the people of the Middle East. Initiated by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a coalition of 200 organizations, in collaboration with the 1,400-member coalition United for Peace and Justice, the letter was signed by some 120 organizations including Peace Action and Jewish Voices for Peace.

“We, people of conscience, cannot permit this to continue,” said U.S. Campaign board member Bill Fletcher.

The letter points out the continuing peace lobbying efforts in Congress that have helped to make progress. Signers pledged to step up their efforts.

Citing countless events in houses of worship, union halls, schools and other public forums and the growing number of U.S. military personnel refusing to serve, the letter promised to “amplify” voices in the U.S. of solidarity with people in the Middle East.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (