Bobby Kasper: In an ugly election year, let’s stay focused on what really matters

Bobby Kasper

Bobby Kasper

Labor 2016 is a blueprint for building political power for working people, a statewide plan developed with input from a wide range of unions. When it comes to executing that plan, regional labor federations and area labor councils are where the rubber meets the road. At the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, we began mobilizing labor volunteers in August. Since then, our volunteers have knocked on thousands of doors and made thousands more phone calls, engaging union members and retirees about the issues that matter most in this election.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the easiest year to have meaningful discussions about issues, whether it’s on the doorstep, at the kitchen table or in the break room. There’s an awful lot of noise this year, and most of it is coming out of the presidential campaign. By any measure, this has been a particularly grating election season.

It has been disheartening – and a little frightening – to see so many Americans drawn to Donald Trump’s divisive, hateful rhetoric regarding immigration and our nation’s Muslim community. It has been bizarre to hear the Republican nominee mimic our own – labor’s own – concerns when it comes to NAFTA and other free trade agreements, especially since he’s exploited these disastrous trade deals to grow his untold millions in personal wealth. And it has been infuriating to watch Trump dismiss casual references to sexual assault as “locker room talk,” to say nothing of the accusations from women who allege he did more than talk the talk.

Negative fliers and melodramatic ads flood our airwaves and mailboxes. Presidential debates feel more like wrestling promos. It’s tempting to tune out.

But if Paul Wellstone were alive today, he’d remind us that’s a choice we can’t afford to make. “When too many Americans don’t vote or participate, some see apathy and despair,” he said. “I see disappointment and even outrage. And I believe that out of this frustration can come hope and action.”

At every door-knock and phone bank we host in St. Paul, I see volunteers turning their outrage into action. And I have great hope we will be successful not only in defeating Donald Trump, but in electing candidates locally who share our values and will stand tall on the priorities we share as working people – good schools, transportation solutions, fair taxes and a safety net for middle class families.

This election is an opportunity to restore a working families majority at the Minnesota Legislature, and it’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss. Since Gov. Dayton entered office almost six years ago, we’ve seen how well things work at the Capitol when legislators are willing to work with him, including historic infrastructure investments and a needed minimum-wage increase. But we’ve also seen the gridlock that results from divided government.

The challenges our state faces are serious. They demand serious solutions, not more partisan posturing and Republican obstruction.

In the East Metro, we are fortunate to have labor-endorsed candidates ready to continue the work of building a better Minnesota. But many find themselves in tightly contested races, where the margin of victory likely will be less than 1,000 votes – maybe even less than 100. When every vote matters, the work we do to get union voters to the polls is essential.

Help us ensure a positive result on Nov. 8 – and a better Minnesota down the road – by signing up to volunteer. All of the information needed to join the Labor 2016 campaign is available on our website, Volunteering is easy, it’s fun and it’s a great way to cut through the noise of this election cycle and take action on issues that really matter to most of us. As Paul Wellstone said, “The future will belong to those who have passion and are willing to work hard to make our country better.”

– Bobby Kasper is president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, representing over 100 affiliate unions with 50,000 members in Ramsey, Washington, Dakota and Chisago counties.

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