By CARL GREEN
Fairmont City, IL– Democrats and their Labor allies brought out the big guns for a last major rally Oct. 31 that supported Brendan Kelly’s campaign for Congress and established what the party is all about – improving the lives of the American people.
An estimated union members and supporters 800 filled the Iron Workers Local 392 hall to hear from former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Dick Durbin, candidate for governor J.B. Pritzker, state Treasurer Mike Frerichs, Attorney General candidate Kwame Raoul, and Kelly himself, among others.
But it was Julianna Stratton, the candidate for lieutenant governor, who gave an eloquent description of what the party is all about and what it is doing.
“Democrats have stepped up to run for office. Democrats are making phone calls and knocking on doors and flocking to the polls like never before. And people like you are coming out for events, engaging in our politics and speaking out on issues that matter,” she said.
“You are all an example of something I’ve seen time and time again. And that is, here in Illinois, the wisdom is found in rooms just like this. You have the ideas. And you have the solutions for our state, and all we need to do is listen. We need to lift up your voices.”
BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS
Governor Bruce Rauner and his Republican allies have refused to acknowledge that wisdom, Stratton added, so Democrats and their Labor allies need to step in.
“Our campaigns are about breaking down the barriers to opportunity and fighting to let working families get ahead,” she added. “We are fighting for health care because it is a right and not a privilege. It’s time that every family in Illinois had access to the care that they need. We are fighting for education because it’s time to tear down the racial and gender and economic barriers that are holding families back, and let all of our children get ahead.
“We are fighting for small businesses and start-ups because they are responsible for two-thirds of all new jobs in Illinois,” she added. “And we are fighting for the right to organize and collectively bargain. Those rights are simply not up for debate. They are a core value of our state and our country.”
The election ultimately is about the people of the state, she concluded.
“Republicans have tried their best to divide us. They have tried to pit community against community, and they have tried to stoke the flames of division and hate. But this election is about who we are as Democrats,” she said. “It is about what we value. It is about what we care about as Democrats. Do you know what we care about? We care about people. We care about each other. We care about every child and our seniors, and we care about our workers, and we care about our veterans.
“We care about lifting up every community and making sure every community has access to opportunity. That’s who we are.”
BIDEN: ‘OUR POLITICAL OPPONENTS
ARE NOT OUR ENEMIES’
Biden, joined by Kelly at the podium, gave an impassioned call for Democrats and Labor to lead the nation into a new era of civility in response to the spate of hate crimes.
“You know, we have to start to recognize that words matter,” he said. “Look folks, our political opponents are not our enemies, they’re our opponents. The press is not the enemy of the people. I never thought I’d have to say something like this. Before we are Democrats or Republicans or independents, we’re Americans.
“We’re so much better than this,” he added. “I know it feels like anger and hatred and viciousness are going to overwhelm the system, but it’s on our leaders to begin to change the tone, to dial down the temperature, to restore some dignity.”
But everyone can contribute, he added.
“Each of us has the opportunity to change the tone of this. The way we treat each other, the way we look at each other, the way we communicate with each other on the internet. You know, the way we interact, it really matters. It sets the tone for everything. We can overcome this together by being the very best versions of ourselves. It starts with us.”
BIG GUY WHO TELLS THE TRUTH
Biden then made a reference to Kelly, the St. Clair County state’s attorney, and drew a big response from the crowd.
“Today, more than ever in my entire career, people are desperately looking for men and women who have character, people who do something strange these days – tell the truth,” he said to loud cheers. “This big guy sitting behind me – he has more character in his little finger than most people have in their whole body.”
He noted that Kelly comes from a Labor family, with a policeman and a firefighter among his ancestors.
“I feel kind of comfortable because I’m in Labor’s house,” Biden said. “You folks have grown up with me. Labor people have been my friends my whole life. Regardless of our religious backgrounds and our ethnic make-up, we’ve all sort of come from the same place. We serve the basic, fundamental values.
“Here we are at a time when the values that we were raised to believe in as kids – honor, honesty, courage, commitment and integrity – are the same values that have driven Brendan’s entire career.”
FIGHTING FOR HEALTH CARE
Durbin introduced Pritzker, challenger to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, after describing his own battles in Washington trying to protect health care from Republican attacks.
“If you want to know how to deal with health care for your family, join a labor union,” Durbin said. “If you want to make sure you have a pension when you retire, join a labor union. If you want to bring America together – black, white and brown, men and women – go to a labor union meeting.
“The issue we hear over and over again is the issue of health insurance – protecting people with pre-existing conditions,” he added. “Is there anyone among us who doesn’t have somebody in their family with a medical history or a pre-existing condition? We’re all in the same boat, aren’t we?
“When the time came for the battle in Washington D.C. – when the Republicans in Congress including Mike Bost (Kelly’s opponent) decided to cut the guts from Obamacare and take the protection away from health care – a lot of us looked around and said, ‘We’ve got to get together and fight for the families in Illinois and across the United States.’ You know what happened? Governors from all over, from both political parties, protested what Republicans were doing to health care. But there was one governor who didn’t say a word. You know his name?”
The crowd responded, “Rauner!”
“Here’s the good news,” Durbin added. “We’re going to have a governor who’s going to stand up for this state. He’s come to southern Illinois and Metro East over and over again because he cares. He wants to represent the entire state. He wants to stand up and fight for jobs across the state, to fight for our health insurance, and to put Illinois back on its feet.”
‘ILLINOIS ONLY SUCCEEDS
IF ITS WORKING FAMILIES SUCCEED’
For his part, Pritzker said Rauner and Bost just don’t care about working families.
“Illinois only succeeds if its working families succeed. You and I know that, but you know who doesn’t get that? Bruce Rauner and Mike Bost,” Pritzker said. “Instead of believing in our labor unions, instead of investing in downstate Illinois, they have pursued an anti-worker agenda. They slashed child-care assistance, they cut home care for seniors, they scrapped mental health and substance abuse treatment and they’ve tried to take away health care from people with pre-existing conditions.
“Instead of working to increase your family’s standard of living, they’ve tried to lower wages and lower workplace safety. They’ve got to go!”
Democrats are ready to put Illinois to work rebuilding its infrastructure, he added, including roads, waterways, bridges and railroads.
“I know the Iron Workers and the trades are ready to build, and the Labor Movement is ready to build,” he said. “Illinois is ready to build, and it’s time to stop talking and start working.”
He also supported:
• HEALTH CARE –“Everyone deserves a doctor, and I mean everybody,” he said.
• QUALITY EDUCATION– including affordable colleges and increased vocational education.
• LABOR UNIONS– “When I’m governor, the Department of Labor in Illinois is actually going to protect Labor in Illinois,” he said. “When unions are strong, you know the middle-class is strong. We’re going to ban three words from the dictionaries of the state of Illinois – ‘right to work.’”
When the cheers died down, Pritzker ended with a challenge to the big crowd of supporters.
“The stakes have never been higher,” he said. “This truly is the most important election of our lifetimes. We cannot get complacent. We have a lot of work to do, and we’ve got to work our hearts out. It’s time to pound the pavement, to knock on doors, to phone bank, and to make sure we get the vote out.
“This is going to be a fight for the soul of our state. We’re going to have to fight for every single vote. Are you ready for a fight?”
‘LAST LINE OF DEFENSE’
Kwame Raoul, the candidate for Illinois attorney general in a close race, recalled serving with Kelly on a criminal justice reform committee.
“He is a man of honor, he is a hard-working man, he’s a man who served our country in the military and as state’s attorney,” Raoul said. “We have to send Brendan Kelly to Congress to change the direction of our country. And we have to elect Democrats up and down the ticket to redirect the state of Illinois from the misdirection of Bruce Rauner and his cronies.”
“I truly believe that who we elect as attorney generals – not only in the state of Illinois, but throughout the country – matters more today than any time in American history. This is the last line of defense.”
Raoul said he and his father are examples of the importance of having health care insurance. He survived prostate cancer because it was detected early, but his father, a Haitian immigrant who became a community physician, died from the disease.
BUILDING A BLUE WAVE
Downstater Mike Frerichs, the state treasurer running for re-election, said his family’s story shows the value of affordable state universities – and the heart of the Democratic Party. None of his four grandparents were able to go to college, but he was able to, using Pell grants and federally guaranteed student loans.
“Were the Republicans fighting to give young people that kind of opportunity? No! It was Democrats,” he said. “We try to help people. That’s why we’re Democrats. We stand for something – we stand for helping people and we should not be ashamed about that.”
Just a few votes per precinct can change an election, he noted.
“You can make a difference,” he said. “Everyone in this room should go back to their precincts and find one person who wasn’t going to vote. You can share your story, and you can tell them how Mike Bost is not bringing them the opportunity they deserve.
“After you vote, bring someone with you,” Frerichs added. “Bring your kids, bring your cousins, talk to your friends and neighbors. If you do that, it’s going to feel good. You’re going to want to bring a second person along, too. And that will feel even better. And then you’re going to find a third – and that’s how we build a Blue Wave!”