I have hated you for most of my life since the time you chose not to stand with the national union strike of 1981, when families stood for YOU to demand political honesty and fair wages. I was a thirteen year old kid watching national news media spin negative stories about my own striking father, having neighbors turn against us and feeling the all too powerful government threatening us with arrest. As working class union members, most of whom were Vietnam Veterans, the families of 1981 had the guts to risk EVERYTHING and stage that illegal strike against the United States Government, an act that could put them in prison, because they believed in something big – a government with integrity.
Our lives fell apart and the level and anger I felt toward you for not standing with us, especially the activists of the 1960s and 70s, grew profoundly through the years. I watched how Reagan’s polices of greed and exploitation also grew, his trickle down economics, union busting and ego drive turned a good part of this country into the working poor and billionaire class. I watched the lies emanate from the media and wars ravage countries. Later I learned about President Jimmy Carter’s energy policies when an honest president actually tried to stop climate change and stand up to OPEC. And I find it hard today not to scream each and every day “why didn’t you stand with us?”
That’s history that can’t be changed, but I do have a message for all Americans today – we have work to do. And don’t be afraid. Though that anger may still reside in me, there is also another feeling of boldness . . . and to never be driven by fear. That which we, the families of the 1981 union, lost, has actually emboldened me today to recognize it’s not about what you lose in life, it’s about what you gain.
Everything that we lost during that strike, including my child hood dreams, resulted in something grander and bigger than “little me”, understanding the underling principle of what it means to be a responsible citizen in a democracy and what our power is when we collect. This is not about what the government can do for us, it’s about “we, the people” can do by uniting and standing. That union strike in 1981 by a mere 21,000 families threatened the entire US economy and put the fear of god into our politicians because they began to understand our true power. And it’s likely one of the great reasons that strike is not taught in our schools or mentioned much in the media today.
I also learned about the media and the favoritism it gave the government at that time, making the union look like nothing but criminals. Let it be known today that Ronald Reagan, the very president who had lured the union vote and then busted them across the country, today stands in the US Labor Hall of Fame. No political democrat or many newspapers spoke out about this three years ago when he was inducted. Let it also be known that Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi put the Reagan statue in Washington DC about ten years ago – to represent the State of California with zero public input opportunity.
We have big work to do, as the people. This fight today is not just a fight between the left or the right, or even black or white. It is a fight for integrity, for peace, for unity and for a government we can trust. But no government of integrity can build until we, the people have demonstrated our own integrity and that we’ve been lacking as a nation.
My message – don’t be afraid to stand. Don’t be afraid of material losses. They are all meaningless, as I learned because your gains are much more powerful.
It’s time we take back our democracy and stand by our brothers, sisters and children for a new era. An era of integrity. WE can do it.