The President's Column: We Must Pick Ourselves Up & Take Heart

December 14, 2016

1199 members have survived a World War, Jim Crow, the Cold War and other threats. We will survive Trump’s presidency.

A month has now passed since the results of the presidential elections set in. And there are still six weeks to go before President Obama leaves office and Donald Trump is inaugurated. It’s a good time to take stock.

First, we have to face the reality that Donald Trump will be the President of the United States, with both houses of Congress in the hands of right-wing Republicans, and the power to appoint at least one and likely more Supreme Court justices, shaping the court for years to come. As stunned as all of us were the day after the elections, it is time for us to get over whatever sadness, depression, and daze we might have gone through. We must now channel our anger into determination to meet the difficult challenges before us if we are to protect our jobs, our families and our communities.

And while Mr. Trump and his friends will control the government, we must insist they have no mandate. The fact is that Hillary Clinton received over two million more votes than Trump who received only 47 percent of the vote. But due to the undemocratic and outdated 18th century Electoral College, we Americans will have the second president in this still young 21st century who will rule with an electoral minority. Not that this lessens the danger: George W. Bush, who received fewer votes than his opponent, claimed a mandate when he lied us into invading Iraq—a catastrophe with consequences we continue to suffer from.

Trump actually received fewer votes than Mitt Romney as the GOP candidate against President Obama four years ago. The problem, of course, is that Hillary Clinton got six million votes less than Obama did in 2012.

By understanding that Trump has no mandate, we are better prepared to resist the policies he advocates that threaten our jobs, our families, our neighbors—even our planet. Because all of the values we 1199ers cherish and all the issues we fought for in this election—securing quality health care for all, raising the federal minimum wage, giving immigrants a path to citizenship, reversing income inequality, reforming the criminal justice system, halting climate change—are shared by the vast majority in our country, including many Trump voters.

Unquestionably, the Trump campaign was turbo-charged by appeals to racism, sexism and xenophobia. But we’d be shortchanging ourselves and the potential of building for the future if we wrote off every person who voted for Donald Trump as racist, sexist and xenophobic. Many, like us, want equal pay for women, clean energy, debt-free college, the right to join a union, a higher minimum wage and affordable health care. Even though Trump will be in the White House, there will be many opportunities to organize at the grassroots for these issues. Trump was able to get elected because he stoked people’s basest fears and played on our divisions, but overall the United States is becoming a more diverse, inclusive and progressive country. The system is working for the one percent but not for the rest of us—especially working people and the poor.

Trump and the forces around him represent a huge threat to our lives and our liberties. But since 1199 was first founded in 1932, our union members have survived the Great Depression, a World War and the threat of fascism, our homegrown Jim Crow apartheid, McCarthyism and the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the threat of nuclear holocaust. They and we have survived not by being passive observers but by actively resisting, mobilizing and fighting. In just this way, we will also survive the Trump presidency. Our patients, families and communities need us now like never before.

Time now to pick ourselves up, take heart, and gain strength from each other. We urge every member to become a union activist so we can make our voices heard loudly and clearly. As always, we’ll have a big role to play in fighting for a more just, fair and compassionate society. Millions of folks share our concerns. They are in our places of worship, in other unions, in so many other organizations that fight for social and economic justice. And many are not organized at all. We have to reach out to them all, build new coalitions—and reinforce those already in existence—to resist the hatred, bigotry and greed that the next administration promises.

Meantime, on behalf of our entire 1199SEIU leadership, we wish you and your loved ones peaceful and joyful holidays, and a Happy New Year! Please rest up and gather your energies for the challenges that await us in 2017. We’re going to need one another more than ever.