A dynamic and vanguard voice of the American labor movement, Maria Elena Durazo’s courageous leadership has raised the profile of immigrant workers and advanced the standard of living for thousands of low-wage workers.
No one disputes that inspiring people is important. But those of us who were trained by Cesar Chavez know that he didn’t organize people with his iconic ‘Si se puede’ message. Cesar taught organizers to live by other words… ‘One by one by one.’
Working people don’t need a Democratic Party that speaks for them. They need a Democratic Party in which they can speak for themselves.
Too many people are spending too much time looking at everything that has gone wrong. I am focused on what has been done right and how we can build on it.
President Obama and Attorney General Holder are focused on building Democratic Party strength in states. I would suggest that we spend time on studying and more deeply understanding what we’ve done in California.
ORGANIZED LATINOS, BLUE CALIFORNIA.
In 1994, California’s Republican Governor Pete Wilson’s assault on immigrants with Proposition 187 was the beginning of California’s deep blue birth. That ballot measure got us moving, organizing, winning locally…one race at a time, one new citizen at time, one voter at a time.
Today, Latinos hold 27 of the 120 seats in the State Legislature. The majority of those districts are not ‘Latino majority.’ African Americans hold 11 districts in the Legislature, and only three qualify under the old definition of a ‘Black’ seat. And our Asian Pacific Islander legislative caucus numbers 8 members. These legislators hold a combined 46 seats.
This didn’t happen naturally. It took unnatural hard work and persistence and failure over 24 years – voter registration, citizenship drives — unions representing people of color connected with their churches, their schools, their neighborhoods.
LEADING LABOR TO POWER.
What we did isn’t some anomaly to be dismissed with “Oh, that’s California.”
My union, UNITE HERE, won Nevada. We took 150,000 houses with blue pools of voters and we dug those pools deeper. One house at a time. One new voter at a time. One union organizing drive at a time — YES, workers at Trump’s hotel won their first union contract — good wages, good benefits, and the right to speak up on the job!
In right-to-work Nevada we have 60,000 — 95% of the workers — union members voluntarily paying their union dues. They know how elections impact their livelihoods, their health insurance, and their child’s school.
In 2016, we sent the son of a union hotel housekeeper to Congress, elected the first Latina United States Senator, and put Democrats in charge of both Houses of the Nevada State Legislature…not just by inspiring people. We dragged them to vote when they needed to be dragged.
We started in 2004 by winning 70% of the vote in Nevada to raise the minimum wage in the same election that George W. Bush swamped John Kerry.
MOVEMENT BUILDING: ARIZONA.
While others will flirt with it, we spent six years building Adios Arpaio. We elected a Phoenix City Council majority that supports organizing rights. We registered tens of thousands of new voters and made citizens out of thousands of immigrants.
We’ve built that movement in Arizona with high school kids. The sons and daughters of hotel and food service workers. The first of those kids are now out of college. And the new ones are just getting started.
Slow. Tedious. Year-in-year-out.
Doing the work when no reporters are writing about it.
I don’t think that any of this makes us special. I do think the work is special. It can and will be done wherever we decide to do it.