Saturday, October 4, 2008

Rich Trunka Shows How to Overcome Anti-Obama Racism

Rich Trumka is a throwback. He would have stood tall in the days when Labor leaders like John L. Lewis and Walter Reuther were National Leaders with moral and political authority that rivaled that of Presidents.

Last week he displayed those leadership chops in a speech to the Steelworkers Union on dealing with anti-Obama bias among union voters.

This is an issue Obama supporters in Kentucky have to deal with every day, from coworkers sneering at Obama bumper stickers to "Democratic" Congressional and state house candidates refusing to endorse Obama for fear of alienating racist voters.

Not to mention the foreign magazines swooping into the racist-est hollers they can find to gather material for pointing and laughing at the stupid, sub-human hicks.

Note to Economist reporters: You didn't have to shit all over our state; we've had indoor plumbing here for years.

Oddly enough, some of those Whitesburg natives the Economist exploited are current and former coal miners who were probably among those 26 years ago who voted into the United Mine Workers Presidency a young firebrand named Rich Trumka.

Trumka knows the hardscrabble whites of coal country. He knows how they think, he knows what's really important to them, and high-powered AFL-CIO officer he may be now, he knows how to reach them.

Kathy G., who first posted the video of Trumka's speech, wrote:

It's powerful stuff. After watching this, I understood why Trumka is one of the leading figures in the American labor movement. He pulls off something very tricky here: he names the racist opposition to Obama for what it is, but not in an accusatory, guilt-mongering way. I think it's crucial that Obama supporters speak openly about the racism that Obama faces, in such a way that causes the people who have racist thoughts about him feel at least a wee bit guilty about it. Yet at the same time, we don't want to get all superior and self-righteous about it, because that's a turn-off.

I think Trumka strikes just the right balance in this speech. He calls out the racism for what it is, but doesn't say that those who harbor racist feelings are necessarily bad people. He frames racism as an evil, but also as something that can be overcome. In short, he appeals to folks' better angels, which I think is a much more effective way to go than castigating them would be. It's a moving speech, and he's an impressive rhetorician and speaker.

Watch it. Show it to everyone you know, and forward it to a bunch of people you don't know.

h/t Steven Benen at Washington Monthly.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic.