In San Francisco in the late 1970s, a beer company’s discriminatory labor policies planted the seed to an unlikely partnership between the gay community and the Teamsters Labor Union. This alliance grew in response to a 178-page employment application from the Coors Brewing Company that disqualified applicants for identifying as homosexual or pro-union. By finding common ground, despite their differences, activists started the movement to bring workers’ rights and civil rights to the Bay area community.
Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected city official, Allan Baird, president of the local Teamsters Union, and Howard Wallace, an openly gay Teamsters truck driver, created a historic campaign that fostered powerful moral outcomes. Baird had seen previous success boycotting the beer company by exposing its racial hiring practices with the help of Black, Arabic, and Chinese grocers. By joining forces with Wallace and Milk, Baird was able to expand his boycott of Coors to the gay community. Activists held protests at gay bars, which still sold Coors, until venues no longer purchased the brand. Until this day, it is nearly impossible to find gay bars in San Francisco selling Coors beer.
History shows us time and time again, how extraordinary examples of coalition building can have a lasting impact on our country. Coalitions, which transcend political affiliations and demographics, can create a lasting bond, appealing to the very core of what makes us human--our morals.
When Martin Luther King Jr. organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott with Rosa Parks, almost all 40,000 of Montgomery’s black residents participated. They walked, carpooled, or took taxis to work and school during the 13-month movement because of their moral belief that all people are created equal. At the beginning of the boycott, African American-owned cab companies offered 10 cent fares to protestors, although the standard fare was 45 cents. When the practice was condemned by the police, threats of arresting cab drivers mobilized leaders of the boycott and white allies to organize an intricate 300 vehicle carpool system. Black leadership groups and activist organizations understood that they needed to include white Americans in the movement in order to attract the attention of the country’s white majority.
Ten years later, this same strategy was used in Mississippi during Freedom Summer of 1964. The Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) found white recruits and volunteers from the Northeast, California, and the Midwest who understood that society isn’t truly democratic without everyone’s equal participation. Young white adults stood in solidarity with the Civil Rights Movement. They waved goodbye to their families and packed their bags for Mississippi to volunteer for the Mississippi Summer Project, hoping to register as many African-American voters as possible.
Morality is the reason why my older brother, Andrew Goodman, volunteered for Freedom Summer of 1964. He believed it was immoral to deny his fellow Americans the right to vote, regardless of skin color. On his first day in Mississippi he was murdered by a gang of white terrorists for his moral beliefs, and this shocked America. Until Freedom Summer of 1964, never before had there been media coverage of white people murdering white people for supporting the civil rights of black people. In result, the media coverage of Andy’s murder broadened the coalition of interested parties. It struck a public chord and galvanized support for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
More recently in 2013, Reverend William Barber capitalized on shared morals and values by organizing the Moral March Movement in the divided state of North Carolina. The movement was a response to the North Carolina governor and legislature putting immoral laws in place which closely resembled Jim Crow-era laws from fifty years earlier. Reverend Barber organized the community in resisting the governor, who eventually lost his run for re-election, and someone with a greater moral imperative was voted into office. If you examine the effectiveness of Rev. Barber as an organizer, his strength is his ability to unify stakeholders around moral issues. He has framed the success of the coalition as, “there are some issues that are not left versus right, liberal versus conservative; they are right versus wrong. We need to embrace our deepest moral values and push for a revival of the heart of our democracy.”
Morality is at the heart of what it means to be American. It allows us to transcend political lines and unifies us in the fight for equal rights and social justice for all. A majority of us believe in doing the right thing. We believe we should help our fellow neighbors, our friends, those who are trying to obtain the level of freedoms and rights they rightfully deserve.
Vote Everywhere, Andrew Goodman Foundation’s premiere program, is building coalitions for that exact reason. Our student leaders embody the diversity of modern day America based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and political affiliation. Approximately 41% of our ambassadors are students of color, 15% identify within the LGBT spectrum, and a total of 7 different religions are represented in our program. We welcome both Democrats and Republicans into our program, because we believe that the only way the next generation will be able to create change will be by reaching across the aisle. Much like in San Francisco, Montgomery, Mississippi, and North Carolina, we understand it takes all of us to build a more perfect union and defend our democracy. We hope you join us.