With voting underway, Harris says ‘the future is in our hands’

During a national telephone town hall just days before the Nov. 3 election, Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris urged union members to be sure to cast their ballots. “The future is in our hands,” she said.

Randi & Kamala Harris
AFT President Randi Weingarten listens as Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during an AFT Votes Town Hall last year in Detroit. Photo by Jim West.

“When we vote, things change,” Harris told participants in the Oct. 29 event organized jointly by the AFT and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The town hall focused on getting out the vote—and then making sure every vote is counted.

AFT President Randi Weingarten and AFSCME President Lee Saunders led the discussion and fielded questions from members across the country. Both unions have endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president.

Weingarten participated from Florida, where she was leading the AFT Votes bus tour, which was in its 31st day since starting in Los Angeles at the end of September. Throughout the trip—with stops in 26 cities across 16 states—the AFT’s national officers have urged voters to reject President Donald Trump and support the Biden-Harris ticket.

Randi & AFT Votes bus in Florida
AFT President Randi Weingarten and local leaders during an early vote rally in Gainesville, Fla. AFT photo.

“This election is ultimately about hope,” Weingarten said. “Hope that our country is better than lying about a deadly virus, caging children at the border, cutting food stamps, murdering unarmed Black people and tear-gassing peaceful protesters.”

Speaking of the lives and livelihoods lost to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, Weingarten said, “It is up to us to defeat the man who has made this worse. We need a decisive win on Nov. 3—or whenever all the votes are counted and this election is called.”

As she introduced Harris to the town hall, Weingarten said of the California senator, “She represents hope, as does Joe Biden. Her compassion is matched only by her commitment.”

Harris, who has met with voters in several states during just the last week, said Americans are facing multiple crises with no effective or rational leadership from the Trump administration.

“All working people in America have been suffering so horribly for the last seven months,” she said. The economic fallout from the pandemic means that 1 in 7 U.S. families are experiencing hunger; 1 in 6 households are having difficulty paying the rent, Harris noted.

The answer: voting for change. “We are stronger whenever we stand together in solidarity than when we fight alone,” Harris said. “Joe Biden is going to be one of the greatest pro-labor presidents we’ve ever had.”

Harris, Weingarten and Saunders continued the discussion, taking questions from town hall participants.

An AFT member in Florida was concerned that officials there are ignoring science and public health guidelines to reopen schools before they are safe. Harris said a Biden administration will assemble the backing needed for “passing a relief package that will support state and local governments and school districts.” The HEROES Act pandemic assistance bill has been blocked by Senate Republicans since it was passed by the House of Representatives in May. Local officials need the aid it would provide to open and operate schools safely, Harris said.

“The bottom line is that schools should not be compelled to reopen against the judgment of local experts,” she said, “and educators are among those experts.”

Other questions turned to what union members can do in the final days of the campaign to get out every voter—and to make sure every vote is counted. Weingarten said that, overall, the election processes put in place to deal with the pandemic seem to be working. Talk to friends and family members and urge them to vote, she said. And there are still many volunteer needs; AFT members can still get involved through the AFTvotes website.

But the effort won’t necessarily end on Election Day, Weingarten cautioned. “From Nov. 3 onward, we will have to be defenders of democracy,” she said. “Every vote matters and must be counted.”

Saunders and Weingarten both said the Trump White House and the Senate Republican majority under Sen. Mitch McConnell have abandoned working families. “We need people in office who look at problems through the lens of working families,” Weingarten said. “The nation needs someone who will lead with honesty; lead with decency, empathy and integrity,” Saunders said. To get that, he added, “We’ve got to vote. We’ve got to vote!”

Trump and McConnell “seem to think that regular people are all just expendable,” Weingarten said. “You have a right to have people in office who respect you,” she told town hall participants, stressing that voting has never been as important as it is this year.

“Whatever issue any one of us cares about—it’s all on the ballot this time,” Weingarten said. “We must not look back from Election Day this time and say ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda.’”

[Tom Lansworth]