Tefere Gebre: America is about expanding democracy, not shrinking it

ST. LOUIS (PAI) — Saying that “America is about expanding democracy, not about shrinking it,” AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre helped kick off Missouri’s campaign against a “voter ID” initiative to restrict the right to vote in the Show Me State.

Gebre, a one-time political refugee himself, discussed race, politics and the photo voter ID constitutional amendment that’s been placed on Missouri’s November ballot when he came to St. Louis on Oct. 15. It was his fifth visit to the city in the past 12 months.

Gebre’s remarks against Amendment 6 are in line with AFL-CIO efforts in other states to ensure that workers, blacks, Latinos, women, students and the elderly are not thrown off the voting rolls or thrown out at the polls this year and in the future.

Similar efforts are under way in other swing states, such as North Carolina, where Republican-run legislatures and governors railroaded similar restrictive voter ID laws through.

Gebre helped kickoff the Missouri Right to Vote’s No On 6 Campaign door-to-door neighborhood canvass. The statewide coalition is working to educate voters about the dangers of Amendment 6, which would cost $17 million in taxpayer dollars to implement and make it harder, if not impossible, for nearly 220,000 previously eligible Missouri voters to vote.

“America is about expanding democracy not about shrinking it,” Gebre told a roomful of union members, faith leaders and community activists meeting at SEIU Local 200.

If approved in November, Amendment 6 would allow HB1631 to become law, and require a current government-issued photo ID to vote. A Republican majority in both houses of the state legislature voted to place the question on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The Missouri AFL-CIO, which is part of the coalition, also held its door-to-door neighborhood canvass. The volunteers highlighted the multitude of ways that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jason Kander and gubernatorial candidate Chris Koster will have the backs of working people. As Secretary of State – whose office enforces election laws – Kander provided the estimate for those being disenfranchised.

Using himself as an example, Gebre, an Ethiopian immigrant, said “I’m what Donald Trump and his supporters consider to be a quadruple threat. I happen to be an immigrant. I’m a refugee. I’m a black man. And I happen to be a labor leader. I hope in this room I represent the beauty of our country, but in other parts of the country you hear all the rhetoric that people like me are supposed to be the problem.”

Talking about Missouri’s gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, Gebre said. “Chris Koster understands what it means to work for a living that is why he has always had our backs, so we must have his. And Jason Kander is already taking Washington by storm. He has caught the attention of the nation and shown he will fight for Missouri’s families.”

The Missouri governor’s race is particularly important to workers. Term limits are forcing Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to retire. Nixon has had to veto many anti-worker bills approved by the lopsidedly Republican state legislature. Koster could provide a similar check.

Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis compared the effort to stop Amendment 6 and defeat the millionaires, billionaires and anti-union CEOs who are trying to rig Missouri’s elections to the Biblical story of David and Goliath.

“We can pick up a black marker and a ballot, and we can wrap it. We can sling it,” Louis said. “We can hit Goliath right in the eye and knock him down. We can keep our right to vote. We can stop them from taking this away, and everything else they want to take away if we all become a David and we all stick together.”

“It’s always a good day to fight for our freedom, and really Amendment 6 is about freedom,” declared the Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould, pastor of an historically black church in the state capital of Jefferson City. As executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, she’s also spokeswoman of the Voter Protection Coalition’s drive against the measure.

“Amendment 6 is poorly written, confusing and threatens the right to vote for 220,000 registered Missourians – mainly women, seniors, people of color and our veterans. We must vote #NoOn6 to protect the rights that so many risked their lives to give to us.”

Denise Lieberman, a senior attorney in the Advancement Project’s Voter Protection Program, said state law already requires voter ID. Amendment 6 goes beyond that, she said.

“It cuts people out,” she said. “Hundreds of thousands of valid Missouri voters would lose their voice if Amendment 6 passes – people of color, our seniors, young people, people with disabilities, veterans, people who do not drive, people who do not have a non-expired current state issued photo ID. Think about it. These are people who have ID. Don’t believe the hype. We already have voter ID. This is about making it harder for people to cast a ballot.”

Lieberman used her own mother, Joy, as an example. Despite voting in every election since 1952, despite serving on the University City Board of Education for 24 years and having a school named after her, she would have trouble securing an appropriate ID because the first name on her birth certificate is different than the name on her driver’s license and the name she has always used.

“This is about putting hurdles and barriers in front of people’s right to vote, and that is the whole idea, because they don’t want your voices to be heard,” Lieberman said. “The right to vote is something that each of us has. It belongs to all of us. And we will not allow them to take it away from us.”

Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson added that “Voting no on Amendment 6 is about making sure everyone counts. Those who want to control our country want us to check out. This election is about refusing to be controlled. We must vote against hate and exclusion on Nov. 8 if we are going to fight for economic justice on Nov. 9 and every day after.”

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Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.

St. Louis Labor Tribune
St. Louis Labor Tribune


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