Packing up my credentials from my last night in Philly at the SEIU Executive meeting and Democratic National Convention (DNC) last Thursday and thinking about my last time at a Democratic convention in Philly, I can't believe I actually had credentials!
Because when I was last there in the summer of 1982, I was in handcuffs and sweating in suffocating heat in the back of a Philly PD police squadrol.
It was the DNC's Mid-Term convention and I was here with ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and our independent union, United Labor Unions (ULU) -- we were there because we were fighting for the party to implement a "Low and Moderate Income Commission," an initiative to get the party back into the business of engaging low and moderate income families of all races in the political process and once again be the party of the people.
We had been double-crossed by the DNC then and were peacefully picketing outside the DNC's hotel, when three large cops literally picked me up, body-slammed me into the side of the squadrol, cuffed me and dumped me in the back along with some of our other members and staff.
We spent the time singing and chanting in unison with our brothers and sisters out on the picket line. After a few hours in the sweat box, they let us out, took off our cuffs, and set us free -- never even charged us.
That's how it was in Rizzo's Philadelphia.
We lost the Commission, but we didn't stop organizing and engaging our members and perfecting our political skills in voter registration, GOTV, and other technology and organizing around issues in conjunction with grass roots politics.
We experimented with the New Party, and helped birth and nurture independent political organizations (IPO's) like the Working Families Party in New York, and others.
It was hard, base-building work and culminated with a massive voter registration campaign in '08 that added over 2 million new voters on the rolls and helped elect Barack Obama.
And now we have a chance to do it again, elect the first woman president and maybe even implement many of the progressive planks of the new party platform -- thanks to Bernie and the Bernie movement -- while still uncomfortable with the institution of the Democratic Party and the corporate dominance above and below the surface.
So if there's a lesson in my experience then and now it's this -- never be afraid of direct action, and never give up organizing IPO's, organizing around issues, and pushing the envelope to build the political and social infrastructure to realize our dreams!
Keith Kelleher is the president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana Missouri/Kansas (HCIIMK), the Midwest's largest local union and the 7th largest local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Formed in 2008 by uniting three locals, SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana is a 91,000-member union with healthcare, home care, nursing home and child care workers fighting for higher standards of quality care and quality jobs.
Prior to leading SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana, Keith was Head Organizer of SEIU Local 880 where, under his leadership, the local pioneered the organization of home care, child care and other low-wage workers--growing the local from just 200 members in 1983 to over 68,000 members by 2008, and winning living wages and first-ever healthcare for tens of thousands of Illinois workers.
A labor organizer and leader for over 35 years, Kelleher has served as an SEIU International Executive Board Vice-President in June 2008.