03/16/2008 02:32 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Illinois Labor Leader, Women's Advocate Backs Obama

This is also published on the author's blog, Peoria Story.

PEORIA - Illinois Democratic superdelegate Margaret Blackshere fought for the Equal Rights Amendment, is known as an advocate for women and was herself a pioneer female labor leader.

But like other Illinois superdelegates, Blackshere, 67, now living in the Chicago suburb of Niles, supports Sen. Barack Obama over Sen. Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee.

I interviewed Blackshere by phone early on March 14 as part of the Huffington Post's Off the Bus project to profile all Democratic superdelegates.

(For a look at two other Illinois superdelegates, click on 'national politics' and scroll down to Feb. 26 post.)

Blackshere is a member of the Democratic National Committee and recently retired as president of the Illinois AFL-CIO. A former kindergarten teacher, Blackshere organized teachers in her native Madison County Illinois, rose to become head of the teacher's union then got involved in the million member state AFL-CIO.

"I've met Clinton, watched her, admired her, not always thought she did the wisest thing," Blackshere said. "If she had stayed in Park Ridge she'd be the senator from Illinois now. That would change everything."

Instead Blackshere has worked with and is backing Obama. "Obama gave me 30 minutes of his time as teachers union president. He truly listens, he never excludes hearing your point of view. That's admirable."

Blackshere recalled previous political battles involving women. "I learned during the Equal rights Amendment fight in the 70s and 80s out best friends were not gender (linked) but what they stood up for. I remember arguing with women who wanted to endorse all women, so I never had a conflict in my own heart (about Clinton). I always felt the best person for working families was who I'm working for. Without doubt that's Obama," she said.

Blackshere has long been known as an advocate for women, and in 1995 was described this way:

Possessor of a brilliant career as the teacher union's top legislative advocate, now Illinois labor's foremost woman leader. Throughout her career Blackshere advanced women's participation in the Democratic Party and organized labor. She has served as a delegate of the Democratic National Convention during 1980-1992 and promoted the candidacy of women at all levels within the Democratic Party. Blackshere promoted teachers' rights as the president of the American Federation of Teachers and the Secretary-Treasurer of the Illinois State AFL-CIO.

Last April, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin read into the Congressional Record praise for Blackshere:

Sen. Richard Durbin [D-IL]: Mr. President, I rise today to honor Margaret Blackshere, a woman for whom I have great respect and admiration.

Margaret Blackshere has been involved in the labor movement for more than 40 years and remains deeply committed to helping the working families of Illinois. Until February, she served as president of the 1-million-member strong Illinois AFL-CIO, the third-largest state labor body in the country.

Over the years, she has never been afraid to roll up her sleeves and join the picket line or to lead the march.

Margaret always arrived first and left last.

She knows that America's working men and women--those who perform some of the most demanding yet vital tasks in our society--are the real heroes. For her, her service has been a privilege an opportunity to fight for rights she believes should be guaranteed....

In 1993, she was elected secretary-treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO. At the time, there were only a handful of female officers in State labor federations, and Margaret stood out as the only female officer from an industrialized State. In 2000, she was elected president of the Illinois AFL-CIO--the first woman to serve as president in the State federation's 102-year history.

Under Margaret Blackshere's leadership, the Illinois AFL-CIO helped lead the fight to raise Illinois' minimum wage--not once but twice.

Margaret also led passionate efforts to guarantee women equal pay for equal work, to expand health care, and to improve Illinois' workers' compensation system....

As Margaret fought for Illinois' working families, she raised her own family and has two sons and four grandchildren.

She also devotes a great deal of time to charitable organizations. She has served on the boards of a wide variety of institutions, including the Illinois branches of United Way and American Red Cross, Alliance for Retired Americans, Voices for Illinois Children, Unemployment Insurance Advisory Board, and the Federal Reserve Board of Chicago. She also is a board member of the Illinois Women's Institute for Leadership, which helps prepare women with progressive values run for political office.

Blackshere has given a total of $4,450 to Obama's campaign in the last year, and has campaigned for him by speaking at union events. She may continue that advocacy in Pennsylvania, she said.

Though the Clinton campaign is reportedly contacting superdelegates to solicit their support, Blackshere said she has not been contacted directly, though she has received some e-mails.

She spoke of feeling "joyful" about Obama's win in Iowa where the voters "voted for a man that's nothing like them. But he's the best."

She predicted an Obama victory. "I deeply believe we are going to win, not with a mathematical equation but with joy," she said.

This piece was produced as part of OffTheBus's Superdelegate Investigation. Click here to read more superdelegate profiles.