It's an election year, and all eyes are on the race for the White House. And why shouldn't they be? The stakes in this year's presidential contest are enormous.
But the names of the two presidential candidates aren't the only items on the ballot. Here in California, the fight to defeat Proposition 32 is every bit as important as the effort to re-elect President Obama.
That's not just election season rhetoric. If Prop 32 passes, it will change the landscape of California politics forever, upending the playing field in favor of banks, oil companies and other corporate interests. And if the billionaires behind Prop 32 win here, they'll waste no time making sure their conquest is repeated in states all over the country.
Masquerading as a measure to get "special interest money" out of politics, Prop 32 is in reality the latest pet project of the Koch Brothers. I believe it is designed specifically to silence nurses, teachers and other workers in the political process, ensuring that the voices of lobbyists for big corporations and billionaires are the only ones heard in Sacramento.
If you want to know what the true intent is behind Prop 32, all you have to do is look at who's backing it.
In addition to the Koch Brothers, the Yes on Prop 32 campaign has received funding from banking heir Howard Ahmanson. Ahmanson was one of the primary financial backers of Proposition 8, the notorious anti-gay marriage initiative in California from four years ago.
Prop 32 is also funded by real estate investment magnate Larry T. Smith, another backer of Prop 8, and an advocate of gay-to-straight conversion quackery for minors. As the founder of the religious right political action committee Family Action, Smith also helped pass California's Proposition 22, another ballot initiative attacking gay marriage back in 2000.
The confluence of antigay forces and antiworker forces behind Prop 32 is no surprise to me. For 24 years, I have been the president of a major healthcare workers' union in California. I'm more than familiar with the obsessive fixation big business has on silencing the voices of union members, to prevent us from advocating for universal healthcare, equal pay for women, an end to discrimination at work, workplace safety rules, living wage ordinances and environmental protections.
And as an openly gay social activist, I recognize that the same individuals and organizations that seek to curtail my rights based on my sexual orientation, that spew hatred toward me and vilify my community as "sick" or "immoral," are also the ones that for decades have opposed workers standing together in solidarity, struggling to improve their own lives and those of their children.
And no wonder. When workers have stood together, they have not only achieved huge strides forward for economic justice, but they have defended their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters at the workplace against exactly the kind of discrimination advocated by Ahmanson, Smith and Prop 32's other backers.
In 2000, the union I headed fought back against Smith's Prop 22. We housed the No on 22 campaign out of our union hall. I remember how proud I was to see union healthcare workers of every race and religion, gay and straight alike, manning the phones at our phone banks and canvassing neighborhoods to get out the vote to defeat discrimination against the LGBT community.
It's precisely that kind of solidarity that the backers of both Prop 8 and Prop 32 are determined to destroy. If the Koch Brothers, Ahmanson and Smith have their way, workers facing employment discrimination and harassment, unsafe work environments, sweatshop wages and working conditions, and reduced health coverage for their families will be isolated and voiceless, powerless to control their lives at work. In the same way, if these billionaires achieve their long-term goals, members of the LGBT community could be likewise isolated, voiceless and powerless in the face of social discrimination, hatred and intolerance.
The fight for economic and social justice is one fight, not two, just as workers and the LGBT community are one. LGBT members are also workers, and many workers are LGBT members. We must all stand together in this fight, just as our adversaries stand together against us.
The leaders of my union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, envision a California where everyone is free to marry whom they love, where workers' voices are central to setting the political priorities of our state, and where every child, regardless of race, class, gender or sexual orientation, receives the kind of health care, education and equal rights that will allow them to achieve their full potential.
We can do that together, and a good place to start is by voting NO on Prop. 32.