We Have Fought and Won This Battle Before: Trump and Family Separation

AUGUST 18, 2018

Everywhere I go, many people are upset and angry about the brutal, cruel and inhumane immigration policies of the Trump administration.  The latest wave of outrage has focused on individuals and families seeking asylum, refugee status and, safety from brutal and unsafe conditions in their homelands.  The Trump solution has been to forcibly separate children from their parents and jail entire families with virtually no regard for the law or the impacts on these children and their families.

As I reflect on these deliberate abuses by the administration, I want to find hope and inspiration that will encourage people to continue their fights to change these immigration policies.  So where do I find hope and inspiration?  The extraordinary level of resistance that led to 700+ demonstrations and protests on June 30th alone.  This is unprecedented in our nation’s history of immigration.  The soul of our country is not dead.  It is rising up against these and so many other injustices. 

It is critically important for people of conscience to use our own history to grasp the significance of our modern-day resistance and find hope and inspiration to keep fighting forward.

Consider this perspective.  For almost 250 years, it was constitutional and legal for white slavers and slave-owners to rip children away from their unjustly enslaved parents. Children were separated from their parents and sold to separate slave owners. The power of our government and the dominant social mores backed these practices.  Tragically, the outcry of the white population was small and weak for most of this period.  Eventually, African-Americans and people of conscience organized the abolitionist movement and these barbaric slavery practices were wiped out after the Civil War.  How many children and their parents suffered such unfathomable life-changing pain and injustice? It is safe to say million during the 250+ years of slavery. The number boggles my mind and pains my soul.

Our nation was founded by tearing away Native Americans from their land and forcing the survivors on to reservations. White settlers pushed them into smaller and smaller areas and countless Indian people were killed and wounded.  Once the carnage was over and the land taken, the government tore thousands of children away from their parents and forced them into schools where they were cleansed of their heritage and values. Thousands more children were taken. It was not until the 1970s that Native Americans and people of conscience ended these horrific practices.

So where do I find hope and in this current period of injustice and cruelty towards immigrants in America?  As we have seen in the past, I find hope and inspiration that we, the people, have risen nearly a thousand demonstrations and protests in one day.

It is critical for people of conscience to recognize that the level of resistance to these injustices today dwarfs the resistance for most of the 250+ years of slavery and the conquest and dispossession of our Native American brothers and sisters.

Our own history can give us hope and inspiration that we can prevail over injustice and create a more just and humane future.  We can do this if we find hope and inspiration in our own acts of justice and compassion and inspire others to take action as well.  Despair is our enemy.  Hope is our ally.  We can bring hope to our friends, families, communities, and unions and inspire them to act.  Do you agree?  Where do you find hope and inspiration?

Originally published at Winning Social Justice.


JULY 9, 2018


On June 202018, I gave a keynote speech to delegates from Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and the Dakotas at the Electricians’ Union’s 11th District annual meeting in Dubuque Iowa.  These dedicated trade unionists are waging a determined years-long struggle against relentless anti-union, anti-worker attacks from right wing politicians and their billionaire corporate sponsors.  I was honored and privileged to learn directly from workers who had won tremendous victories in Iowa.  They inspired me and proved we can win big in the Age of Trump.

What happened?  What can we learn from their successes?

In 2017, state and local government workers, both union and non-union, voted overwhelmingly to keep their unions in their workplaces.  The results were phenomenal.  Pro-union voters won 436 of 468 elections.  The cumulative statewide pro-union vote was 28,448; the no vote 624.  A 98% pro-union vote.  88% of potential voters voted.  A significant number of non-union workers voted to keep the union in place.  They knew that the union protects them even if they chose to not be a member.  This is truly historic and unprecedented.  Wow!  Who ever heard of an election with an 88% turnout with a 98% yes vote?

After years of relentless public sector union busting in states like Wisconsin, unions and workers in Iowa had learned from these defeats.  They clearly demonstrated that a strategy of talking to every worker, one-on-one, can rally people toward justice and standing up for their rights.

Where did these elections come from?  In 2017, the anti-union, anti-worker governor and legislature passed a new collective bargaining law which drastically rolled back 43 years of collective bargaining rights for state and local government workers.  In most cases, they can only bargain over base wages with a legislative cap on wages.  They can no longer bargain over health insurance, other benefits, performance evaluations, layoffs, and other worker and union rights they had for decades. All this with virtually no public debate.

The new requirements for union elections and future contract bargaining were very undemocratic.  Prior to bargaining a new contract, a new election must be held to determine if the workers in the bargaining unit still want the union.  Here is the kicker.  In order for pro-union workers to win the election, they had to get a majority of votes of everyone who is eligible to vote, not merely the majority of people who voluntarily choose to vote.  If a worker did not vote, it counted as an anti-union vote.  Yes, you read this right. For example, a 500-worker bargaining unit election would require 251 yes votes to retain the union.  A vote of 250 yes votes and 0 no votes would result in the union being voted out.

Where is the justice and fairness in these requirements?  There is none.  Stripping workers of their rights and denying them the right to advance their common interests was the goal.

If this majority of all eligible voters was applied to our national and state elections, no one would have ever been elected President.  For example, Lyndon Johnson set the record for highest popular vote with 61% in 1964 with a voter turnout of 61%.  He only received 37% of the potential eligible voters.

Why is this story important? It clearly demonstrates that working people are not powerless in the face of vicious anti-worker and anti-union attacks.  It shows that a strategy of reaching out to all voters, face to face, can prevail against deeply undemocratic rules that are intended to kill democracy and workers’ rights.  It required that many previously inactive members to get active.  Sitting by was not an option.

If our sisters and brothers in Iowa can win big like this, certainly people like us over the country can do the same in union and political elections.  Let’s take heart from these big wins.  We must remember that we are the people we have been waiting for to change our country.  No one is going to do it for us.  It is time we acted like we know this to be true.

Where do you find hope and inspiration in Age of Trump? Please comment to our blog!

Our next  blog will focus on how state and local government workers did it – how they got the job done.

Originally published at Winning Social Justice.