A coalition of labor organizations, led by the national and state AFL-CIOs, launched a voter registration drive in Baltimore on May 7. The drive responds to “systematic racism” in the community, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre said. The “Forward Baltimore” drive aims to register 10,000 new voters in the troubled city’s poorest section before next year’s primaries, so they can influence those elections’ outcome...
Organizers also set an aim of 75 percent turnout in those primaries. In the last mayor’s race, in the majority African-American city, turnout was 13 percent.
Gebre has the experience to lead voter registration and organizing: As former political director for the Orange County, Calif., AFL-CIO, he organized and registered so many tens of thousands of new, pro-worker voters the once-deep-red county is now a “purple” swing county.
“The death of Freddie Gray has made painfully clear the systematic racism and economic inequalities that plague our country every day,” Gebre said of the 25-year-old African-American who died of a broken spine suffered in police custody. His death touched off protests and fires. But Gebre said the solution is at the ballot box.
“While we mourn the loss of our fallen brothers and sisters, we must also take action to stop these tragedies from repeating themselves and radically address issues like income inequality, low wage jobs, mass incarceration and underfunded schools,” Gebre added.
“The best way to fight injustice is to organize, and we will grow stronger together if we work together and build the power needed to make real change...This means taking that anger …and turning it into power to exercise their rights. When we do that we build power greater than any single politician or political party. We build power to remove suffering for our people and to be able to determine the kind of dignified lives we want to live.”
Besides Gebre, other speakers and organizers were Maryland-DC AFL-CIO President Fred Mason and Clayola Brown, a top Unite Here official and president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, labor’s constituency group for African-American workers.
Joining them were Dr. Lorretta Johnson, APRI’s Baltimore president, Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English, Ernie Grecco, president of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council AFL-CIO, Glen Middleton, executive director of AFSCME Council 67, Gary Griffin, IBEW Local 24 Business Manager, Unite Here local President Roxie Herbekian, AFGE Local 1923 President Cynthia Ennis, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300 President David McClure and Jim Baldridge, president of Alliance for Retired Americans’ MD/DC Chapter.