Bill Moore: Finding motivation for Labor 2016

web.postalservice-billI’m not much into political candidates. Maybe it’s because I was born in Chicago, where the party was the important thing. I was living in Illinois the first year I could vote. I just pulled the lever at the top for the Democratic ticket.

In 1967 and early ’68, I volunteered for Gene McCarthy’s presidential campaign, organizing precinct caucus turnout in Dubuque. I liked McCarthy, and when Hubert Humphrey temporized on the war and McCarthy withheld his half-hearted endorsement ‘til just a week before the election, I was bitter and voted for the Socialist Worker candidate. A year or so later, a friend ran for County Attorney in Dubuque and I worked for his election, not just because he’d been a McCarthy activist, but because I knew him and his family and liked them a lot.

Since then, I’ve worked on many campaigns, but, with the exception of Paul Wellstone, haven’t felt much of a personal connection with candidates.  It’s their records I’ve cared about – that they’ve worked for peace and justice and taken practical, positive action on labor issues. A good friend has berated me for years, saying that’s pretty abstract and not enough for most people. Personalities are important in politics, he insists. Most people vote, not for platforms or policies, but for other people they like and feel good about.

He’s probably right. But what happens when none of the candidates are particularly likeable and the airwaves and mailboxes are crammed with repulsively negative political advertising? Will voters, then, give greater weight to their own values and issues and base their choice more on parties’ and candidates’ records than on personalities? Or will they just tune out and stay home?

We’ll find out soon enough. But I don’t think, as trade unionists – even retired and tired ones – that we want simply to wait in front of our TVs for the outcome.

The Minnesota Labor 2016 program aims specifically to get labor voters talking about what’s important to them, and thinking about what party and which candidates are most likely to address their concerns in a constructive way. Hopefully, this approach will encourage union households to stay engaged and turn out for working family candidates on Election Day.

But that won’t happen unless each of us turns out, in the coming weeks, to make phone calls, write postcards and visit union households (hips and knees permitting). There are tens of thousands of people to communicate with, one-on-one. And it’s our challenge – and privilege – to reach as many as we possibly can.

If not us, who? If not now, when?

I’ve taped this message to the bathroom mirror: “November 8th is coming – What will I do today to turn out the labor vote?”

– Bill Moore is president of the Minnesota State Retiree Council, AFL-CIO. He originally wrote this column for the council’s newsletter, the Retiree Bulletin. You can help turn out the labor vote in 2016 at an upcoming Labor 2016 Day of Action.

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