Black unionists sign up new voters

ATLANTA – Linda Fields is an organizer with 1199 Health Care workers in Philadelphia. She was one of the delegates at the Atlanta convention of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists who went out to register new voters May 29 during the meeting’s Friday morning session. At the Town Hall meeting that evening, Fields moved the whole convention by speaking about her experience.

An elderly woman was nervous about people coming to her door, Fields said, so “I started out talking to her about flowers.” Eventually the woman expressed frustration at the lack of attention to the problems of her neighborhood. She questioned what good voting would do. Fields demanded that the convention answer that woman’s question. “CBTU is a powerful organization,” Fields said. “We can make sure that someone in government calls that lady and helps her.”

Fields told the World that when she registers someone to vote, she doesn’t see it as putting a new name on a voters list. “For me it is a commitment to that person, to fight side-by-side with them, to educate them and to bring them into the struggles.” Fields gave another example. Friday morning she also registered two ex-felons. “They were afraid. They didn’t know that they had the right to vote. One had been off probation and out of prison for four years and didn’t know his rights,” she said. She told them that registering to vote was not enough. “Now you have to help me reach other ex-offenders who don’t know their rights,” Fields told the new voters.

Kenneth Diggs is the national field director for Voices for Working Families and one of the people who put the CBTU voter registration trip together. In summing up the experience, Diggs told the World, “Getting on the bus there was some grumbling about how long we’d be gone. How much of the convention would we miss? But when it was time to go, I had a hard time getting them back on the bus. They wanted to stay and do more.” Diggs agrees with Fields that voter registration is not enough in itself. He believes it has to be tied to local struggles and issues. “Issues drive people more than anything else,” he said.

The author can be reached at scott@rednet.org.