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Why Every Vote Matters

From the statehouse to the White House, raise your voice, cast your vote.

By Kate Childs Graham

The 2008 elections saw the most diverse voter turnout in history. African-American voter turnout was up 5 percent, Latino turnout up 3. Young people came to the polls in numbers previously unheard of. And
that turnout made the difference to ensure the voices of working families were heard loudly and clearly at the ballot box.

We’ve got to step it up again in 2012. AFSCME’s diverse constituencies must pull together to make sure their voices are heard this November. Here’s a look at what motivates AFSCME members representing the diverse membership of our union.

Women for Obama

Lynn Loveday
Lynn Loveday

For decades, more women than men have turned out to vote. The importance of this voting bloc is not new and cannot be understated.

From fair pay to health care, much is at stake for women this November. For Lynn Loveday, a Department of Administration worker of Local 2248 (Rhode Island Council 94), union membership for women is key.

“I’ve been a public service worker for 32 years,” Loveday began, “and over the years we have seen more and more women members. In my local, two-thirds of our members are women and many are single mothers…and the more involved I become in our union, the more I want to encourage people to speak out. As women, we must lead and take charge of our own destiny. We can do this through political activism.”

As part of their Women for Obama campaign, AFSCME’s National Women’s Advisory Committee is encouraging members to host house parties to educate and garner support for the President’s re-election. Head to AFSCME.org/houseparty to learn how to host a house party.

Loveday said, “Every vote counts. If we don’t get out there and speak for ourselves, then we are doing an injustice for women overall.”

Making History

Davida Russell
Davida Russell

In 2008, African-American voters gave President Obama the edge in many states.
In Ohio, for instance, 97 percent of African-American votes helped the President win the swing state.

Bus driver Davida Russell explained, “The passion of people of color, youth, seniors, the middle class was about making history.”

This year, the African-American vote will be based not on making history but on improving reality. African Americans experience a rate of unemployment nearly twice the national average. Russell believes President Obama will put African-American families back on track. 

Russell, an OAPSE Local 4 member, notes, “Without Obama, there is no future for the middle class, the poor, or anyone other than the million-dollar makers.”

These million-dollar makers are often the same people who are trying to suppress the right to vote for people of color. [See "Why Voting Rights Matter"African-American union members are mobilizing to fight for voter rights.

A Changing Electoral Landscape

Jose Lapira
Jose Lapira

As Latino voters gradually change the landscape of the electorate, potentially accounting for 30 percent of the population by 2050, their vote is coveted. For this election, they could decide the outcome in Florida, Colorado and Nevada. AFSCME is participating in coalitions in these states to boost the Latino vote.

But this isn’t a monolithic voting bloc. Latino voters care about a wide variety
of issues.

Take Jose Lapira, a school worker from Maryland Local 2250. He cares most about America’s economic health. “There is so much frustration about the budget cuts,” Lapira shared, “People want to know if our jobs are safe. But everyone is hanging out there. Even our bosses don’t know.”

So, why vote? Lapira says, “We must vote so we can be heard. That’s the bottom line.”

Voting for Our Future

Mark Sanchez
Mark Sanchez

Twenty-two million people under the age of 30 cast a ballot in the 2008 election. In Michigan, 55 percent of the 1.5 million young people who were eligible to vote did.

This year, Michigan voters will have the chance to vote down the local dictator law and enshrine the right to unionize in their state constitution. And young Michiganders are fired up.

Mark Sanchez, a storekeeper from MSEA Local 5, reflected on young people’s stake in these battles. “This is about our future. If we don’t fight now, we will lose everything that generations before us built and everything our children and grandchildren need.”

AFSCME’s Next Wave, in coalition with organizations like the United States Student Association, is organizing young voters across the nation.

It’s About Equality

Kimberly Cogswell
Kimberly Cogswell

On election night in 2008, many closely followed two races: the Presidential election and the Proposition 8 ballot initiative in California. Prop 8, which passed, constitutionally banned same-sex marriage in the state.

A similar measure, Referendum 74, will
be on the ballot in Washington state this November. It will allow voters to affirm or negate the state’s new marriage equality law.

Kimberly Cogswell, a Mental Health Technician from Local 782 (Council 28), explained why the referendum matters to union members. “It’s about equality,” Cogswell said, “We need everyone to vote so we can have the same benefits that married couples get.”

Members of AFSCME Pride are working with policymakers to promote fairness in the workplace, and they’re working to elect policymakers who are on the same page.

A Silent Minority Finds Its Voice

Suzy Okino
Suzy Okino

Hawaii has the largest community of Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AAPI), and, in 2008, had the lowest state voter registration rate. For HGEA, Local 152 member, Suzy Okino, these facts could be related.

“Politics is one of those things that you don’t talk about,” Okino said.

Okino, a State Department of Health worker, is working to transform that culture. She has been rallying support for Kirk Caldwell, candidate for mayor of Honolulu, on Facebook. She is making sure that the AAPI community, which she describes as a “silent minority,” has their voices heard. 

This fall, AFSCME will work with AAPI communities in states like Hawaii and Nevada to expand the community’s electorate and educate voters. 

“I just want people to educate themselves,” Okino added, “make educated decisions and think about the impact of their absence.”

Neither Red Nor Blue

Bill Lebeau
Bill LeBeau

In poll after poll, Americans identify one issue as the most important: the economy.  Whether left or right, they’re concerned about our economic future as a nation.

AFSCME has many members who are both conservative and proud trade unionists. We know that when jobs are threatened, it doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or Republican. We want people on both sides of the aisle to fix the problems that we face.

Bill LeBeau, an Albany police officer from Local 756 (New York Council 82) member agrees, “There are so many issues that unite us: more jobs, retirement security, the right to bargain and organize. And that is what every AFSCME member, red or blue, needs to take to the polls in November.”

AFSCME’s network of conservative members is focused on just that. Their mobilization is based on values, not parties.

To join the “AFSCME Conservative Network,” visit AFSCME.org/conservatives.