Democracy: Of, By and For the People

Mark Dimondstein

September 3, 2021

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(This article first appeared in the September-October issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

The word democracy comes from Greek and translates to “rule by the people.” In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln captured this essence of democracy in his famous Gettysburg address upholding a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Workers make up the vast majority of ‘the people.’ Thus, a true democracy would primarily serve the interests of working people – ensuring living wages, safe working conditions, shorter work weeks, healthcare as a human right, affordable housing, healthy food, a sustainable planet, quality childcare and education, dignified retirements, equal rights of all people and world peace.

Yet we live under a system where the interests of the Wall Street corporate profiteers are primarily served by the government. Witness the pandemic: postal and other frontline workers faced dangerous and deadly conditions; the economic collapse put tens of millions out of work; poverty reached the highest level in 50 years; and millions lost health insurance. Meanwhile U.S. billionaires increased their ill-gotten fortunes by 55% ($1.6 trillion!) and laughed all the way to the bank.

Yet, over generations “we the people” have struggled and won vital democratic rights, including voting rights. Though distorted and skewed in favor of the wealthy with the buying and selling of elections, gerrymandering of districts, the “lesser of two evil” choices, the undemocratic institutions of the electoral college and Senate filibuster, and a long history of voter suppression, voting remains a cherished won right.

We are now facing a frenzied wave of voter suppression. Feeding off former President Trump’s “BIG LIE” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and rigged – the blatant falsehood that led to the despicable violent coup attempt of January 6 – there are now new voter suppression laws being promoted in 48 states. Eighteen states have passed 30 laws that will make it harder for people to vote with new restrictions on vote by mail, early voting and drop boxes – aimed at suppressing the powerful African- American and Latino vote (as shown in the Georgia special election), but also directed against all working people.

President Biden pegged this new wave of voter suppression as “an atrocity” and “un-American.” Right on the first point. Wrong on the second. Voter suppression is “American as apple pie.” Upon the country’s founding, no postal worker could have voted, a right only afforded to wealthy, white, male landowners. Woman’s suffrage was won just 100 years ago, and did not apply to Black women of the south. African-Americans were denied their right to vote until passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965, won after generations of struggle and sacrifice. Holding Election Day on a work day is aimed at depressing the workers’ voice.

For workers of all backgrounds, the defense and expansion of voting rights is now a critical fight of our time. Whether right, left or center on the political spectrum, I am confident postal workers are united that politicians must not be allowed to pick voters. Voters should be choosing elected representatives.

The For the People Act will overcome much of these state voter suppression laws and ensure early voting, maximum access to mail ballots and easier voter registration (see next page). In March, it passed the House of Representatives. While both mainstream parties have generally failed the working class, shockingly no Republican voted in favor of this fundamental, non-partisan legislation. The Senate filibuster, the antidemocratic “requirement” of 60 percent, rather than a simple majority to move legislation, has blocked the bill from moving forward.

Postal workers, at the intersection of election mail and voting rights, have a special role to play. Last election we proudly carried out our civic responsibility to the people by timely and securely moving millions of ballots. Let’s take that same spirit to the streets and Congress. Unite with the AFL-CIO, community allies and the people and demand ending the filibuster and passing the For the People Act and for Election Day to be a paid holiday.

The more democracy, the better our lives will be!

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