The guard shacks, razor-wire fences and gun-toting soldiers struck fear into Cynthia Overby when she traveled with an American university group behind the Iron Curtain in 1971.
Even worse was the utter despair she witnessed in people living under the weight of authoritarianism, a memory that inspired her lifelong commitment to safeguarding liberty at home.
Millions of Overby’s union siblings join her in that battle every day. Union members stand on the front lines of democracy and guard America’s freedoms with the same solidarity and collective power they wield in the workplace.
“Democracy is fragile,” observed Overby, a member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 7-34-2 in Granite City, Ill., noting that Russia’s attack on Ukrainian democracy reminds her of the devastation and misery wrought by other repressive regimes.
“We saw statues of Stalin,” she said of her visit to the Eastern Bloc many years ago. “We saw people living in poverty. We saw oppression, and people didn’t smile. I’ve never forgotten that. I don’t want to live that way.”
Union members and retirees like Overby are accustomed to electing union leaders, voting on contracts and having a voice on the job, and that also makes them fierce advocates for government by the people.
They circulate petitions for pro-worker candidates, then make thousands of phone calls, send out thousands of postcards and knock on countless doors to get those people elected. They turn out the vote on Election Day, often offering to drive neighbors to the polls or serving as precinct election workers to ensure efficient, convenient balloting.
There’s no denying that this advocacy protects Americans’ freedoms.
According to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, the higher a state’s union density, the less likely legislators have been to push through restrictive voting laws. On the other hand, the report found, more than 70% of states with low numbers of union members mounted at least one successful attack on voting rights between 2011 and 2019.More ...