AFSCME Local Fires Up for 2020 Campaigns

Nina Turner, Greg Casar, MJ Hegar headline VOTE event

Nina Turner, with Greg Casar (l) and Mike Siegel
Nina Turner, with Greg Casar (l) and Mike Siegel (Photo by Michael King)

Saturday, Nov. 2, the Asian American Resource Center – if you haven’t visited, the profusion of art (professional and amateur) on display is itself worth the time – hosted the “Voters Organized Through Engagement” event of AFSCME Local 1624, for members of the local’s VOTE PAC campaign affiliate.

Local President Yvonne Flores acted as MC, and District 4 City Council Member Greg Casar opened the morning session, followed by Nina Turner, a national co-chair of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, who delivered a rousing keynote address. Also on hand during the day were Democratic primary candidates MJ Hegar (Senate), Mike Siegel (TX-10), and Jessica Cisneros (TX-28).

Congressman Lloyd Doggett dropped in unannounced for a brief speech, and Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir provided a lunchtime presentation on the county’s new voting machines. Almost as an afterthought, consultants Mark Littlefield and Dave Butts gave a summary prognostication on November 2020 Democratic election prospects. Among other things, they suggested that given sufficient Dem turnout, the possibility of flipping the Texas House appears pretty strong. They identified as many as 19 Republican seats that appear potentially vulnerable to Democratic challengers – making the current nine-seat target for a Democratic majority seem reasonably achievable.

In his brief talk, Casar used a metaphor of “gaps” – that the current Council has been focused on closing gaps in city employee wages, in employee rights like sick leave, and in pursuing the social services still lacking for many Austinites: from affordable housing to equitable policing to sufficient neighborhood sidewalks. “As a Council,” he said, “we have tried to be pro-labor and pro-working people.”

Casar also noted that these initiatives and others have generated aggressive opposition – he cited the recall campaign that has targeted half the Council members – and asked the union members to remain in “solidarity” with their public officials. The vocal response from the audience was immediate and enthusiastic.

Turner, a charismatic and inspiring speaker (she was first invited by AFSCME in 2015) spoke for more than 45 minutes, in a cross between a Sanders campaign stump speech and a downhome-style sermon to rally the labor troops. (“My mama was a preacher,” she said, “and we were in church eight days a week, twice on Sundays.”) She has clearly inherited the family tradition, down to a pounding segment of “marching steps” of activism reverberating on the stage.

Turner extolled Sanders as a hero of working people’s rights – “He has been there, on the right side of justice” – but also spent time telling her personal story and that of her family, as a means of talking about the necessity of maintaining the fight for social justice. She also mentioned her husband, a retired police officer, and her nightly worries over her son, also an officer – and her consequent ambivalence and uneasiness over the U.S. criminal “injustice” system.

In the course of the speech, she also touched on hospital closings (a major issue in rural communities), Sanders’ signature issue of Medicare for All, housing affordability, and immigration.

“Freedom is never final!” Turner reiterated several times, and told the audience, “The only way that change will come is by people organizing for it.”

Turner’s stemwinder culminated in a favorite analogy on “the most important bones in the body: the Wishbone [of hope for change], the Jawbone [of speaking out for justice], and the Backbone [of staying in the fight].”

In all, it was an inspiring performance, and was received as such by the audience of 80 to 100 – its effect diminished somewhat by the sudden exodus of a few dozen voluble Sanders supporters immediately after Turner’s morning address. But they were soon replaced by late-arrivers for the remainder of the event. A spokesman for the union said Turner’s presence did not represent an endorsement of Sanders – he said she was welcomed for her inspirational abilities and her progressive perspective.

Doggett appeared at mid-day and gave a brief progress report on the impeachment proceedings. He said he believed there would be public testimony in the Judiciary Committee on articles of impeachment later in November or early December. “And unless Donald Trump is able to get us off on some entirely different distraction, here or abroad, I’m convinced that we’ll see his impeachment in the House before Christmas.”

The candidate panel served largely as a group introduction to the three prominent primary candidates, who were not far apart on most issues. Siegel (running to challenge GOP incumbent Michael McCaul) and Cisneros (whose South Texas TX-28 is currently held by conservative Democrat Henry Cuellar) presented somewhat to the left of Hegar on issues like health care and the environment, but those differences seemed largely in emphasis.

Hegar reminded her audience that while Democratic voters might be feeling optimistic about the possibility of another “blue wave” next November, “A blue wave is only an opportunity to be taken … or to miss.” She urged the audience to be carrying on earnest conversations with every potential voter, and to use every opportunity to speak out about the need for a change in our state and national politics.

Hegar cited her combat experience as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, and said, “After that, nothing scares me except my children’s future.”

A note to readers: As we look forward to our fifth decade publishing this paper, and to a print redesign scheduled for late January, we thought we’d take this occasion to ask our readers some questions about how you use the print edition—what parts you find useful, and what parts we could improve.” — Nick Barbaro, Publisher of The Austin Chronicle

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AFSCME Local 1624, March 2020 Primary, Nina Turner

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