By TIM ROWDEN
St. Louis and America are at a crossroads, the Rev. Terry Melvin, president of the International Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and secretary-treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO, stressed in his keynote address at the CBTU St. Louis Chapter’s Ernest and De Verne Calloway Awards Banquet here Oct. 20.
“Your city has become the crossroads of the American Dream,” Melvin said. “There is the American Dream where through hard work and virtue you can succeed, where your children can do better than you did. And then there is that other dream, the dream of being equal in a land that once enslaved your forefathers, the dream of having equal access to good schools and hospitals and jobs. The dream that your children won’t have to fear police officers or grow up being called horrible names or have real role models outside of athletes.
“In 1965, black scholar James Baldwin tried to ask an important question ‘Is this an American Dream for black people? Or is it an American Dream at the expense of black people?’ In 2017, I’m scared to say that I don’t have an answer to that question,” Melvin said. “The answer escapes me, because the reality we face is grim.”
Melvin challenged the U.S. government’s response to the damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico (See related story), President Donald Trump’s bungled bereavement call to a soldier’s widow and Trump’s call for NFL owners to punish their players for peacefully protesting injustice during the national anthem. And he challenged the Missouri Legislature’s effort to force so-called “right-to-work” (for less) on Missouri workers.
“This is what this country has come to,” Melvin said. “We’ve allowed somebody to get to the White House that doesn’t have respect for the common citizens of this country. Something is wrong with what’s happening around us. Where is the American Dream for all these people who brought riches to the 1% with their labor and work and are being left to die.
“In a city that once had good union jobs, you’re in the midst of this ‘right-to-work’ situation. St. Louis is losing their American Dream. And if it goes, so will other cities. Because that is what this is all about.”
‘BOTTOM FEEDERS’ AND ‘RIGHT-TO-WORK’
President Trump was elected, in part, on his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, Melvin said.
“He’s drained it of all the bottom feeders, because now they walk the land and have positions of power and rally with tiki torches,” Melvin said. “These same folks are walking the halls of the White House every day. They’re called assistants to the president. They’re called advisors to the president. The ugly of the swamp is now in our streets and at our doorstep.
“Sisters and brothers, we’re at a crossroads. Black unemployment has always been higher than any other demographic. College educated blacks still have a harder time getting jobs than white high school dropouts.
“The one thing we did have were our union jobs, jobs that gave us a pension and health care and full employment instead of under employment. And now, you stand to lose all that. ‘Right-to-work’ legislation, developed literally to keep black and white workers separated, will be the law of the land if you don’t do something to stop it.
“St. Louis, you’ve got to stand up like you’ve never stood up before!” Melvin said. “You’ve got to get to the polls like you never got up before. You’ve got to call out your neighbor, you’ve got to call out your friends and your relatives! You’ve got to whup some ass at the polls next year! You’ve got to turn back RTW! You’ve got to tell them ‘We’ve got a right to a decent job and decent pay!’”
“St. Louis, you’re at a crossroads,” Melvin said. “You all have to make a collective decision. Will you fall under the whip or rise to the occasion?
“Are you going to lose the only good jobs left in the city letting your elected officials rob you of your unions? Are you going to give up on your kids and their kids? Because if we lay down now, we lay down for good.
“Are you going to stand up?” Melvin asked. “Are you going to prove that under the weight of oppression we will stand for our freedom? That we will win at the ballot box, at the community meeting at the union hall?
“The question for you, St. Louis, is will you rise? Will you stand up for quality public education? Will you stand up for health care for all? Will you stand up for a colorblind criminal justice system? Will you stand up for an economy for all? Will you stand up for your children and your grandchildren?
“St. Louis, I call on you to stand up, I challenge you to do this work, and I demand you own your future and snatch it away from the jaws of defeat!”