What Are Civil Rights?

The answer is usually based on images of America during the 1960’s, a decade known for benchmarks in the battle for racial equality. Responses typically include discussion of the March on Washington, Martin Luther King, Jim Crow’s required segregation of the races, and the men and women who fought and died to exercise their Constitutional right to vote. The men and women who fought in the numerous battles for racial equality wanted Black people to have the same rights to participate in American society that White people freely exercised. They wanted Black people to be treated the same as everyone else. Well, I once heard someone say that you must be careful about what you wish for. What if everyone else gets treated poorly or the standard for living is lowered for everyone else? All of us -- Black and white, gay or straight, man or woman -- will get treated the same as everyone else - poorly.

Over the years, we have witnessed the promotion of policies that would adversely affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of working Americans – Black, white, yellow and brown. We have seen campaigns to repeal laws and regulations designed to ensure the cleanliness of the air we breathe and the water we drink. We have seen campaigns to repeal laws designed to ensure that millions of Americans of all races have access to healthcare. And, we have even seen campaigns to attack and destroy unions and the labor movement. Unions and the labor movement were responsible for creating the middle class, and these attacks have been responsible for decline and degradation among the middle class of all races.

Now, more than at any other time, Americans of all races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations are being treated to the same plight thanks to schemes to put the value of a dollar over the value of people. This is not what our patriarchs and matriarchs of the civil rights movement had in mind. They envisioned an America with opportunity, prosperity and solidarity. We must demand better for ourselves and for our future generations, and we must be willing to fight as they did for a standard of living and the human rights of which we are all worthy. We must honor them and their vision for us by realizing that the struggle for civil rights is not over, and by fighting back and fighting forward. Our lives depended on them. Now, we must fight for those whose lives will depend on us and what we do today.

-Amanda Green Hawkins
Director, USW Civil and Human Rights