NYC/Long Island

Some 1,600 New York metropolitan region 1199SEIU Delegates crowded into a Manhattan Sheraton hotel ballroom on October 9 for a special Delegates Assembly.

Dispensing with usual division reports, the assembly devoted itself to getting out the vote to re-elect President Obama. The mood was more spirited than usual. Delegates entered the hall to the music of GQ, the rhythm and blues band that plays regularly at 1199SEIU events.

A significant part of the meeting, chaired by union President George Gresham, was devoted to music and culture. The Friends, a small choir accompanied by a pianist, performed “Ooh, Ooh Child,” the 1970’s pop hit, and “If You Believe” from “The Wiz.”

Later in the program, veteran blues singer Willie Rogers offered a moving rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

The legendary Harry Belafonte, who heads 1199’s Bread and Roses Cultural Project, talked about his long history with the union and the centrality of culture in union and progressive struggles. “Art is the gatekeeper of truth,” Belafonte said. “It inspires us and helps us unearth who we are.”

Belafonte also discussed future B&R initiatives, such as an 1199SEIU choir and band. Katy Ruben of the Theater of the Oppressed and Larry Rosen of The Moth, a story-telling non-profit group, explained how their organizations can be used to help increase union consciousness.

The guest speaker was the Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and as pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, NC. He noted that he was speaking as an individual and not for the NAACP or his church.

Rev. Barber brought the delegates to their feet time and again as he described what was at stake in this year’s elections and what the labor movement and its allies need to do to ensure that their interest and concerns are not ignored. He often quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to make his points.

“Labor and civil rights are two movements traveling in the same direction,” Rev. Barber said, paraphrasing Dr. King. He talked about the need to revive the fusion politics that made the Reconstruction period in the South one of the nation’s greatest eras. “Leaders in that period recognized that everyone, regardless of race, has a right to enjoy the fruits of their labor.”

Rev. Barber drew loud cheers when he enumerated contributions of the labor movement that many now take for granted. “If you like Sundays off and paid vacations, thank the labor movement,” he roared. He left the stage to thunderous applause.

1199 Secretary Treasurer Maria Castaneda, who has been working the past month with the Weekend Warriors in Pennsylvania, reviewed the accomplishment of the volunteer electioneering program. “We have knocked on 52,000 doors and have gotten 13,000 pledges to vote for President Obama,” Castaneda said. “We’ve also registered 800 new voters.”

She introduced Delegates Adekemi Gray, a Manhattan Beth Israel Hospital patient service rep, and Tom Cloutier, a Bronx Lebanon lab technologist, who both urged the Delegates to sign up for the Saturday Weekend Warrior program to canvass in Philadelphia.

Political Action Director Kevin Finnegan asked the delegates to take back pledge cards for members to sign that grant permission to 1199’s Political Action Department to contact friends and relatives in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida to urge them to vote for Obama.

Members should ask their Delegates for the cards.

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