THE BLOG

Don't Let Our Opponents Divide Us with Race

09/18/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dear Union Member,

Given Barack Obama's lifelong commitment to supporting workers, I believe whole-heartedly there are a thousand good reasons for any worker, particularly a union worker, to vote for him. There is only one very bad reason not to and that is because he is not white.

The opponents of working people are trying to divide us by using Obama's race as an issue. Union members must lead the fight against such divisions and, instead, look at the bottom line. When it comes to protecting jobs and pensions, when it comes to health care, child care, pay equity for women, Social Security, Medicare and seeing to it that people can afford to go to college and buy a home -- and when it comes to restoring the right to collective bargaining -- Barack Obama always has been on our side.

I want to address some of the false and divisive rumors and attacks on Obama being spread by the same people who cater to the wealthy and leave the crumbs for working people. Here are the facts:

Barack Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim as our opponents claim. Someone who practices a Christian religion is a Christian. He has said he accepts Jesus. I take him at face value.

When opponents of working people say Obama is a Muslim, the thrust of that argument is that all Muslims are bad or to be feared, at the very least not trusted -- and that tiptoes up close to racism. Racism condemns everyone in a race or religion or sector as a group simply because they are part of that group and not because of their individual actions.

Obama has experience that matters. Barack Obama has plenty of experience. Growing up poor helped form the lifelong and meaningful values of Barack. As a graduate from Harvard Law School, he could have gone to work for Wall Street, but he chose to represent steelworkers who had lost their jobs because their mill had closed down. His life experience helped him make the right choice when he chose to represent people who were living in poverty and struggling day to day. When Barack was elected to the state legislature--and his voting record is clear -- he fought to help working people get pensions and health care and increase the minimum wage and he fought for opportunities for all kids to get a quality education. Unlike John McCain, he didn't speak for the wealthy and the powerful, he spoke for the least among us.

Michelle Obama loves her country, like we all do. But there are times when the actions of our country don't make us proud. When American citizens don't have health care and children suffer and die because of it, that doesn't make us proud. When pensions are taken away from hardworking citizens after 20 years, 30 years or more of being a loyal worker for a company, should that make us proud? It is not fair on the basis of a simple statement to question her patriotism or her fitness to be the first lady.

Obama immediately renounced offensive statements made by his pastor. And when the pastor refused to retract them, he left the church. We cannot be held accountable for the statements of others.

I'll close with a direct quote from my speech to the United Steelworkers convention last month:

I don't think we should be out there pointing fingers in peoples' faces and calling them racist. Instead we need to educate them that if they care about holding onto their jobs, their health care, their pensions, and their homes. If they care about creating good jobs with clean energy, child care, pay equity for women workers, there's only going to be one candidate on the ballot this fall who's on our side, only one candidate who's going to stand up for our families, only one candidate who's earned our votes...and his name is Barack Obama!

Do you think John McCain will do these things for America?

I don't.