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September 02, 2013

Working on a Dream

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

-- John Muir

"We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."

-- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This Labor Day, the Sierra Club joins in celebrating working people everywhere. As Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, recently said about the growing collaboration between the labor movement and other grassroots groups: "It takes all of us working together to get it done."

Fifty years after Dr. King's iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, and nearly five years after we elected the nation's first African American president, the movements for economic, racial, and environmental justice have made historic gains, but daunting challenges remain:

  • The clean-energy movement has momentum, with solar and wind power growing by leaps and bounds and the coal and nuclear industries on the ropes. Studies show that renewable energy and energy efficiency investments create far more jobs per dollar spent than fossil fuels. Yet well-funded climate deniers continue to obfuscate reality and slow progress.
  • More than 100,000 people gathered last week in Washington, D.C., to recommit themselves to action for racial justice, jobs, and freedom on the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Yet this year, the Supreme Court eviscerated one of the core gains of the Civil Rights Movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and white families, on average, still earn about $2 for every $1 that black and Latino families make. Meanwhile, communities of color are still disproportionately poisoned by corporate polluters.
  • Young people across the globe are mobilizing in unprecedented numbers for economic and environmental justice. But their generation faces an uncertain future. Student debt in the U.S. totals $1 trillion, and one-third of 20 to 24 year olds in the U.S. are neither employed nor studying.
  • The immigrant rights movement, with the support of the Sierra Club and others, succeeded in getting the Senate to pass a bipartisan immigration reform bill. Yet a recalcitrant House has caused hope to fade for comprehensive immigration reform in the near future, even though deportations are at record levels, and millions of undocumented immigrant workers remain in the shadows of our society.
  • The labor movement is surging, too, with fast-food strikes and emerging-worker organizing sweeping the nation. But there's still a long road back from historically low union density, and the gap between the wealthiest and the rest of us has grown wider than ever.   

These seemingly separate problems are linked -- and so are their solutions. We can overcome those obstacles and build the "Beloved Community" that Dr. King often spoke of -- but only if we do it together. We need each other.

That's why labor, racial justice, immigrant rights, and voting rights organizations are joining with the Sierra Club, the Communications Workers of America, the NAACP, and Greenpeace in building the Democracy Initiative.

The Democracy Initiative was formed in response to a political climate where, owing to the Supreme Court's disastrous Citizens United decision, wealthy corporate polluters and union-busters like the Koch brothers wield unprecedented and corrosive influence in the corridors of power. Our immediate goals include supporting voters' rights, combating voter ID laws, and curbing aggressive use of the filibuster in the United States Senate. Our real purpose, though, is to restore fairness to our democracy.

Although we may never be able to outspend the union-busting corporate polluters, we do outnumber them. By acting strategically and together, we can use our people power to beat their dollar power every time. If we want to help working families, protect our air and water, and achieve justice for all Americans, we must first defend our democracy.

This Labor Day, the Sierra Club celebrates working people -- and the growing unity of the labor and environmental movements in our quest for genuine democracy and justice for all.


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Michael Brune

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