Leading Change or Waiting For It?

Whoever said "good things come to those who wait" clearly wasn't waiting for justice. Whether born in this country or another, moms and dads working long hours for poverty wages know that waiting doesn't put food on the table. For kids growing up at risk of separation from their families, and workers at risk of exploitation by unscrupulous bosses--because a do-nothing Republican Congress refuses to vote to fix our broken immigration system--news of President Obama's decision to delay Administrative Relief, until after the midterm elections, was unwelcome.

With all 435 House seats, 33 US Senate seats, and the fate of 36 governorships races, and 46 state legislatures on the ballot, the stakes couldn't be higher. And speculation over whether or not those who are eligible to vote will show up on Election Day couldn't be more rampant.

However, it's time to stop the spin and make one thing perfectly clear: Pundits and politicos make speeches. Working people make change. The power of our vote will be felt at the polls in November.

Every civil rights victory in this nation's history has come not from waiting, but from backbreaking work, relentless organizing, and refusal to take "no" for an answer. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, for example, was amended in 1975 to protect all language minority groups, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders. Working people sought and will always seek access to the ballot for all those who were eligible to vote, not just those able to read in English with ease.

Working people make change. More participating voters from communities of color mean more of a say at the table when districts are drawn. In America's first 200 years, a handful of Latinos were elected to Congress. Since the VRA was amended, 50 Latinos have gone to the House; 7 to the Senate.

Since the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, voter ID laws and other means of voter suppression have spread like wildfire. Add to this the fact that income inequality is so extreme it mirrors the Great Depression, and it would appear as though the deck is stacked against us. While corporate profits see record growth, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, has not only shirked the responsibility of protecting the voting rights of all Americans, it has stood in the way of equal pay for women and raising the minimum wage. All the while, workers' wages remain stagnant.

Working people make change. Earlier this month, tens of thousands of workers joined strike lines, sit-ins, and marches in 150 cities across the country, and braved arrest to demand a pathway toward $15 an hour in pay, and the right to organize without retaliation. Fast food workers, as well as members of the nation's fastest growing workforce, long term care workers, aren't waiting around for legislators to decide when it's time to act. We're using our bodies, our voices, and our votes to advance the Fight for $15.

If this Congress won't help us change our country for the better by fixing the broken immigration system, we'll use the power of our vote to change Congress. Service Employees International Union is teaming up with nearly 100 national organizations to support Latinos2014.com so that everyone who is eligible to vote can register to vote using a smartphone.

Working people make change. The power of our vote will hold Republicans who have failed to act in support of immigrant workers and families accountable. The power of our vote will pressure President Obama and Democrats to grant Administrative Relief without further delay.

In the same way that low pay is not ok because poverty wages force taxpayers to pay billions in public assistance, food stamps, subsidized housing, and so forth, the cost of seeing immigration reform as an issue that solely impacts Latino and Asian American voters is too high. Inaction on immigration will cost our country $1 Trillion over the next 20 years. And working people who have fought, inch by inch, for every meal we've put on our families' tables, are not going to miss out on an opportunity to drive a stake through the heart of economic inequality.

We are leading change, not waiting for it. We will embrace the power of our vote on Election Day. Join us. Register to vote: Latinos2014.com


Laphonza Butler is the President of SEIU California and ULTCW - the United Long Term Care Workers, representing 180,000 in-home caregivers and nursing home workers across California.