Our deepest condolences go to their families and their communities. We mourn their lives and we will always attempt to live in their memory.
Six years ago, Eric Garner told police “I can’t breathe.” The protests that rocked the country following his murder seemed to be a pivotal moment for many in America--with vows to love more and to dismantle hate--and yet we find ourselves at this critical juncture yet again. Today, and every day in America, our brothers and sisters are suffering.
Our members are afraid for their lives. These are the people that care for your family, provide the healthcare you need, keep the trains running, drive the buses, pay your claims, clean your offices, provide security for your home, invest your money, referee your ball games, teach your children, serve your food, and make change all over the world. They should be able to jog in their neighborhoods without fearing for their lives. They should be able to let their kids go out to play and not worry about whether or not they’re going to come home.
It is at this inflection point that we must note--racism is not simply hate. Racism is not just the KKK or white nationalists. Racism is deeply intertwined in the fabric of America. Racism is structural, it is institutional, and it extends considerably well beyond individual attitudes. Until we understand this and aim to dismantle these structures, our brothers and sisters will continue to fear for their lives. Until then, they will continue to express grief and fear and anger over the needless loss of life as so many have this week.
Although we may not all share those same experiences, we are asking ourselves and our families: Are you really listening? What are you doing to better understand the reality of living as a Black person in America? Now that you have tried to understand, what are you doing to help dismantle systemic oppression?
To this point of asking questions, we were saddened to see the damage done to the buildings that host our labor siblings at the AFL-CIO and LiUNA. Unions have done incredible good for disenfranchised people in their workplaces and have empowered them to take positive action in their communities. But when we feel this sadness over the destruction of these buildings, we have to ask ourselves again--are you really listening?
A year before his assassination, Dr. King implored onlookers to protests: "The riot is the language of the unheard. What is it that America has failed to hear?" The destruction of property is not constructive, and it is not the goal that many protestors set out with. However, we have to remind ourselves that actions like these have precipitated some of the most pivotal moments in our nation’s history. These actions have time and time again been an expression of those who have been marginalized by our society and who are demanding for others to see and acknowledge their pain and anger, and asking them to do something about it. Stonewall started with a brick, and the Fair Housing Act/Civil Rights Act of 1968 was dead in the water until six days of riots showed the world the pain that Black Americans were facing after the death of Dr. King. For years, Black people have been telling the nation that like Eric Garner and like George Floyd, they can’t breathe. Buildings can be rebuilt, but lives lost will never be recovered. Are you listening now?
For decades, labor has fought tirelessly to dismantle many of these barriers by championing economic justice and ensuring the nation’s most vulnerable are given equal protections in the workplace. However, people are not just workers, and unions are not confined to making change in the workplace. This battle will not be won this week or this year. It will take the conscious involvement of all of us to ensure that our nation treats all people equally.
Although Local 2 and our members continuously push for positive change in our communities, we are reminded to continually challenge ourselves to do more, to be bolder. If any movement is equipped, it is the labor movement--the true movement of the people. Rest in peace to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and so many others.
President of OPEIU Local 2
How can you do your part?
Take time to educate yourself on the issues. Without understanding the history of these issues and the socio-political ways that people of color are continuously disenfranchised, it will be hard to make a real difference. Although you can do your own research, here is a reading list to start: https://bit.ly/2Xl9VVL.
Donate to organizations that focus on racial justice. We encourage you to research causes yourself, but here are a few organizations to start.
The Black Visions Collective is a social justice organization that aims to "center our work in healing and transformative justice principles, intentionally develop...Minnesota’s emerging black leadership to lead powerful campaigns." https://bit.ly/2ZZvFs2.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has fought tirelessly for civil rights and racial justice in the courts: https://bit.ly/3dphuAs.
Fair Fight works to eliminate voter suppression that affects people of color: https://bit.ly/2Au5IpX.
Join Local 2’s Racial Justice Working Group. Our members are the heart and soul of our Local, and member involvement allows us to undertake needed political action in our community. As in the workplace, we are stronger when we act together. Join us to work towards making a difference across DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
OPEIU Local 2 is a labor union supporting over 8,000 professional workers in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. We represent staff members across a number of sectors, including healthcare, non-profit, and more.