This year's legislative-political and movement building conference had a totally different feel, and moved us a step closer to building our movement of 50 million activists who can bring about real progressive change. This year, CWA leaders and activists joined with partners from 42 organizations to strategize about how we move forward together on the issues we care about.
More than 100 participants from partner groups and more than 500 CWAers attended the conference, spoke to the issues and helped present at 17 workshops ranging from public financing of elections, fighting back against state budget shortfalls and holding Democrats accountable to online tools for movement building, immigration reform and more.
Every workshop and panel featured CWA activists from across our union and the partners with whom we're working everyday on issues like economic justice, the environment, equal rights and fair trade.
Day 1 focused on how we're building our movement. Day 2 provided an update on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, "fast track" authorization, and information for the participants' meetings with their members of Congress following the rally.
Cohen: 'Our Fights Are Really One Battle'
CWA President Larry Cohen called on activists to unite in a strong, robust democracy movement.
"Without this movement for democracy that will unite us all, our individual fights just can't be realized," he said.
He added, "The democracy movement is necessary if we are going to move forward toward economic justice."
Cohen laid out why our seemingly disparate fights are really one battle.
"It's not just the rights of an individual to vote," he said. "It's not just the rights of an immigrant. It's about what kind of democracy we have when $7 billion is spent in the last federal election alone, more than in any other country in the world.
More than 40 years ago, a memo was drafted by Lewis Powell Jr., before he served on the U.S. Supreme Court, for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, laying out a corporate strategy to aggressively shape U.S. politics and law. Since then, the business community has worked to take over the most important institutions of public opinion and democratic decision-making, Cohen said.
Barber: Why We Need a Moral Movement
Rev. William Barber called for a "moral movement" across America to defend our democracy from extremist state legislatures.
"What is bad is not what they are doing. What would be bad is for us not to fight back," said Barber, who is also the president of the NAACP in North Carolina. "That's what would be bad!"
One year ago, Barber led a small group of clergy and activists into North Carolina's state legislative building to protest GOP lawmakers' attacks on voting rights, blocking Medicaid expansion, cutting unemployment benefits and shrinking higher-education spending. The police led him away in handcuffs.
But then something incredible happened: The next Monday, more than 100 people showed up at the capitol for a non-violent demonstration. The following Monday, even more rallied to the cause. Soon thousands of people were attending "Moral Monday" protests in Raleigh, but also in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Barber's recent Moral March on Raleigh in February attracted a crowd of at least 80,000 people.
Today the attacks on the poor, immigrants, LGBT communities and civil rights are "lewd, mean-spirited and fundamentally contrary to what our democracy is supposed to be," said Barber.
"We are at a time when corporations are treated like people and people are treated like things," he said.
Barber told CWAers that Martin Luther King Jr. and the great leaders of the labor movement aren't going to rise up from the dead, so it's up to everyday citizens to get involved. Moral Monday protests will start up again on May 19 and continue through the North Carolina General Assembly's legislative session. This summer Barber will also be coordinating an event in 11 Southern states where Republican agendas are hurting the poor and working class.
"When anybody challenges our deepest moral principles and our deepest democratic principles – you and I were born for such a time as this. And we must fight back now!" he said.
Rev. Barber will participate in CWA's Human Rights Conference June 8-10.
Brown: 'You Make This Country Better'
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) encouraged activists to tell the personal stories of their families, friends and neighbors when they lobby members of Congress. Stories, like that of TU activist Blake Poindexter, who lost his job when T-Mobile offshored several call centers, illuminate why we need bills that protect workers and grow the middle class.
"Tell them why this matters," he said. "The labor movement has been at the forefront of so many fights. You advocate, you organize, you educate. You rally people. You make this country better."
This is critical as GOP lawmakers seek to undermine so many of the rights workers have fought for over the decades. "The far right sees the demographics of this country changing, so the only way they can win is changing the rules," he said.
Worker advocacy is particularly important when it comes to trade. Brown noted that we were told that passing NAFTA would create lots of jobs – but it didn't. Congress was told that same line when it negotiated CAFTA and passed fast-track authority to speed trade agreements through Congress with little debate. But those all failed to live up to their job creation promises.
"They don't even bother saying that anymore because the country doesn't believe it," said Brown, who has been calling for more transparency in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.
He added, "That's why your work is so important. That's where you come in – to protect jobs, to project the public interest, to protect health and safety."
Pelosi: 'We Need Transparency'
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was greeted with shouts of "best Speaker ever," a reminder of the hundreds of pieces of legislation supporting working families that she was able to steer through the House of Representatives during her years as Speaker.
"You couldn't be coming at a more critical time. And I thank you for the advocacy that you bring to Washington," she said. "It's so very important. We can maneuver all we can internally, but the outside mobilization that you represent is what makes a difference."
To the White House, Republican lawmakers and our potential trade partners – all of whom are pushing to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping trade deal with a dozen Pacific Rim countries, and fast-track authority – the message is simple. "We need transparency," she said.
We all must be able to read and analyze the negotiating texts so that we can keep our eye on our own economic prosperity, as the United States negotiates trade deals in Asia and Europe, she said. Congress needs more input and a seat at the table so that it can improve trade deals for the American people.
"We must create jobs. We must have growth. And we want to do it in a way that recognizes our role in the world," she said. "We're not protectionists. We want to be fair traders. But we're not fools."
Pelosi added, "Let's do what other countries do. When they enter an agreement for trade they do so protecting their workers."
Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and many of their fellow Democrats have made it clear that they oppose fast tracking this trade bill.
"I'm here to give you our commitment that we understand that this is a fight for our country. For our democracy. For the middle class that is the backbone of our country," she said.
De Blasio: 'Thank You For Standing Up'
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) credited CWA activists for helping pave a new progressive path for the city.
"CWA stood up and was actually one of the crucial elements in creating the momentum that not only allowed us to win city hall, but then be able to implement the agenda," he said. "When labor demands fairness and helps elect progressives and builds bonds with community organizations, we have limitless potential."
De Blasio has been a steadfast CWA ally. As the city's public advocate, he took on Cablevision for union-busting and stood with the 22 technicians who were unjustly fired. Cablevision rehired the technicians after a successful community support campaign.
"When I stood with Cablevision workers in Brooklyn fighting to organize, that was to get more people to the middle class," he said. "That was the patriotic thing to do."
"When I stand by Verizon workers, who seem to be constantly asked to give up their hard won gains, I say to the public, I say to Verizon, I say to anyone who wants to ask, 'Why on earth would we want to take some workers who actually reached the middle class and make them insecure?'" he said.
"Thank you for standing up. Thank you for building coalitions. Thank you for organizing – the most noble profession. It's my honor to stand by you, and I hope we in New York can continue to be something of a good example for the victories ahead," he said.
Val Givens and Blake Poindexter
Val Givens, CWA Local 6222, is a District steward and a member of CWA's AT&T Internet bargaining team. She said the recent negotiations showed her firsthand "the connection between the wages that we can negotiate and these trade deals."
Blake Poindexter was in the highest level of customer support at the T-Mobile US tech support center in Frisco, Tex., until one day, "management called us in and told us we were out of a job. Just like that."
Joint Partner Campaigns
Herb Keener, CWA Local 6215; Hal Suter, Lone Star Sierra Club; Mona Meyer, CWA Minnesota State Council; Terin Mayer, Take Action Minnesota, and George Kohl, CWA, talked about how they came to work together on issues like equality, voting rights and fair trade.
Beating Fast Track and TPP
Hugh Espey, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; Steve Abbott, CWA Iowa Council; Joe Mayhew, CWA Local 1103; Kian Frederickson, Public Citizen, and Rafael Navar, CWA, discussed how their community coalitions are a big part of the fight against fast track.
Richard Hatch, CWA Virginia Council; Doris Crouse-Mays, Virginia AFL-CIO; Steven Goldstein; Garden State Equality; Hetty Rosenstein, CWA New Jersey, and Yvette Herrera, CWA, reviewed their joint CWA partner 2013 election work and looked ahead to 2014.
What's Wrong with TPP, Investor and State Ally Issue
Scott Slesinger, Natural Resources Defense Council; Elizabeth Drake, trade attorney; Brett Gibson, AFL-CIO, and Shane Larson, CWA, explore how the TPP has been written by and for investors, and what we can do to stop it.
CWA: There's An App For That
Four years ago, CWA was the first union, and one of the first progressive organizations, to create an app. And now, thanks to CWA's Growth Fund, we've taken that app to a new level, using the latest technologies available on the iPhone and Android devices. Not only does the app allow you to connect in real time to events and information that you care about, but, as CWAers and progressive partners who downloaded the app at the Legislative-Political and Movement Building Conference discovered, you can use the app to share photos. Check out some of the great moments they captured here.
Get ready to check out more photos once you download the app. To get the app, text APP to 69866 from your phone to get the links to download it or search for CWA in the App Store or on Google Play or click here. Once you download the app, set up your profile in order to RSVP to and check in at events.
Stay Tuned for More Video
CWA's Communications Dept. will have additional video available from the conference. It will be posted at youtube.com/cwaunion. So stay tuned.
Facing Change: Challenges and Opportunities for Our Movement
Today, a panel including Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union; Bob King, UAW President; and CWA Presidents Ken McNamara, Local 1037; Irene Roblis, Local 7019, and Abdur Bilal, Local 3645, discussed the challenges workers and activists face in pushing for economic and social justice, with participants and CWA President Larry Cohen and Sec.-Treas. Annie Hill.