Defeating Amendment 48: Mobilizing Latinos, Union Workers in Colorado

Sheila Bapat

The victory against Colorado's personhood amendment last fall was due in part to messaging that resonated with two voting blocs not often identified as dependable pro-choice voters - Latinos and labor union members.

Reproductive rights advocates
around the country cheered the sound defeat of Amendment 48, Colorado’s
November 2008 ballot initiative to grant personhood rights at the moment
of conception. This victory was due in part to messaging that resonated
with two voting blocs that are not often identified as dependable pro-choice
voters – Latinos and labor union members.

Instrumental to this message
development was the work of Denver-based Colorado Organization of Latinas
for Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR).  Led by workers’
rights activist Daniel Gonzales, COLOR’s No on 48 campaign developed
messages addressing the rights of families and the hardships Amendment
48 could pose to working people.

Gonzales polled 608 likely
Latino voters in Colorado and found that about half were staunchly against
abortion, while the other half were pro-choice but supported some regulation
of abortion. Voters represented in his poll responded positively to
messages framing Amendment 48 as an affront to the rights of families
and working people, whereas messages that focused on individualistic
reasons for rejecting Amendment 48 did not resonate as well.

Based on this poll, COLOR’s
No on 48 campaign literature included the following messages:

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Even if I would not have
an abortion myself I respect and support other families’ decisions
to do what is right for them
, and

Families should be in charge
of their own healthcare decisions. Amendment 48 would
allow the government to make these decisions instead,
and

Amendment 48 would grant
constitutional rights to fertilized eggs. It would eliminate a family’s
right to make personal private decisions about their future and their
health care.

"We knew we needed to use
empathetic messages that emphasized family decision making over the
individual," Gonzales said. "We also used those messages when talking
to union leaders and union members, and that helped us get labor unions
on board."

By contrast, mainstream reproductive
rights groups developed messages about Amendment 48 that focused on
individual rights, such as:

Amendment 48 affects important
life decisions that should be made by individuals, their doctors, and
families, not extremists rewriting the state constitution;

and

Amendment 48 would eliminate
a woman’s right to make personal private decisions about her own body
and her health.

The coalition to defeat Amendment
48 was broad, consisting of both mainstream reproductive rights organizations
like Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and NARAL Pro Choice
Colorado, Republican Majority for Choice, religious groups like the
Colorado Interfaith Initiative, as well as COLOR.

If passed, Amendment 48 would
have amended the Colorado State Constitution to define the term "person"
as "any human being from the moment of fertilization." The amendment
and would have given zygotes, embryos and fetuses "inalienable rights,
equality of justice and due process of law" and would have resulted
in the criminalization of hormonal birth control, emergency contraception,
and all abortions, even in the case of incest or rape.

Personhood initiatives like
Amendment 48 have not yet succeeded in part because they tend to divide
pro-lifers. Colorado’s Amendment 48 failed to gain support of Republican
United States Senate candidate Bob Schaffer, and the Catholic Church
refused to weigh in on the measure. Colorado and Georgia are the only
states that have acquired enough signatures to qualify personhood measures
for the ballot.

Though Amendment 48 did seem
menacing to the pro-choice community initially, having received over
double the required petition signatures in order to secure a spot on
the ballot, and having survived a legal challenge under Colorado’s

single subject rule, it was defeated 77% to 23%.

According to Gonzales, pro-family
messaging as well as the extreme nature of the measure helped the No
on 48 campaign acquire unlikely allies in the Latino and labor communities,
which evolved into a coordinated get out the vote effort.

COLOR, along with Denver workers’
rights groups 9 to 5 and FRESC for Good Jobs and Strong Communities,
persuaded the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to sign on
the No on 48 campaign. One key message COLOR posed to labor unions explained
the implications Amendment 48 could have on their own members, such
as unionized first responders.

"We explained to union groups
that their own members like EMTs and fire fighters would have difficulty
doing their jobs since Amendment 48 could force them to assume that
every woman they treat is pregnant," Gonzales said.

Labor unions also agreed to
support the No on 48 campaign because mainstream reproductive rights
groups signed on to defeat anti-union initiatives. 

"When meeting with unions
we pointed out that COLOR and other reproductive rights organizations
have already been working hard to defeat anti-union initiatives,"
said Carmen Rhodes, Executive Director of FRESC, pointing out that Planned
Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains gained permission from its board of
directors to help defeat at least one anti-union initiative. "It was
clear that if we wouldn’t have come together, we may not have won
on any of our initiatives."

Despite its success in securing
SEIU support, the No on 48 campaign fell just two votes shy of receiving
an official AFL-CIO endorsement. Had it formally endorsed the No on
48 campaign, the AFL-CIO’s campaign literature would have included
a No on 48 message.

Nevertheless, COLOR and its
labor allies engaged in aggressive door-to-door canvassing with campaign
literature that grouped the No on 48 message with no-vote messages about
four workers’ rights initiatives: Amendment 46, an anti-affirmative
action measure; Amendment 47, a right to work initiative; Amendment
49, which prevented employees from taking paycheck deductions to contribute
to their labor unions; and Amendment 54, which prohibited unions from
contributing to political causes. All five of these Colorado initiatives
were listed in the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center’s Top Ten Worst
Initiatives. All but Amendment 54 were defeated.

COLOR’s pre and post election
polling shows that Latinos shifted from 31% no on 48 to 51% no on 48.
There are currently no such statistics reflecting turnout among union
voters. However, the joint literature and canvassing effort bolstered
turnout on all of these initiatives.

"A lot of the initiatives
on the ballot were bad for our community," Rhodes said. "As a community,
we focused on how to create synergy around issues that weren’t core
to our work but attack our common values."

News Economic Justice

Colorado Voters Could Get a Chance to Boost the State’s Minimum Wage

Jason Salzman

A campaign fact sheet cited an April survey showing that 59 percent of the 2,400 U.S. small businesses polled favor raising the minimum wage, and that about 40 percent of those polled already pay entry-level employees "far above" the required minimum wage in their location.

Colorado’s minimum wage would increase from $8.31 to $12 by 2020 if Colorado voters approve a ballot initiative that could be headed to the November ballot.

Patty Kupfer, campaign manager for Colorado Families for a Fair Wage told reporters Monday that Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, a coalition of groups, submitted more than 200,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of state, more than double the number required to make the ballot.

Hundreds of volunteers and dozens of organizations collected signatures, Kupfer said.

“Raising the minimum wage is fair and it’s smart,” Kupfer said. “It’s fair because people working full time should earn enough to support their families. It’s smart because when working people have more money in their pockets, they spend it here in Colorado, boosting our economy and helping our community thrive.”

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Speaking at the news conference staged in front of stacked boxes of petitions, Marrisa Guerrero, identified as a certified nursing assistant, said she works seven days a week and still relies on subsidized housing.

“Making $300 a week is not enough to pay rent and buy groceries for a family like mine,” said Guerrero, adding that she’d “really like” to see an increase in the minimum immediately, but “2020 would work wonders.”

After 2020, the state’s minimum wage would be adjusted annually for cost-of-living increases under the initiative.

Tyler Sandberg, a spokesperson for Keep Colorado Working, an organization opposing the initiative, appeared at the news conference and told reporters that he was “especially” worried about the initiative’s impact on small businesses.

“The big corporations, the wealthy areas of Denver and Boulder, might be able to afford [it], but small businesses, rural and poor communities, cannot afford this,” Sandberg told reporters. “So you are going to put people out of work with this. You’re going to harm the same people you’re trying to help.”

“It’s one size that doesn’t fit all. It’s the same for a small business as it is for Pepsi Cola,” said Sandberg, whose organization includes the Colorado Restaurant Association, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and the National Association of Independent Business.

Asked by Rewire to respond to Sandberg’s argument against a higher wage, Kupfer said, “Research shows small businesses support increasing the minimum wage. The truth is, when workers make more, that means more customers in local Colorado businesses. Both in rural and urban parts of the state, when working people do well, our communities thrive.”

A campaign fact sheet cited an April survey showing that 59 percent of the 2,400 U.S. small businesses polled favor raising the minimum wage, and that about 40 percent of those polled already pay entry-level employees “far above” the required minimum wage in their location.

“In my company, we have customer service representatives being paid $15 per hour,” Yoav Lurie, founder of Simple Energy, told reporters at the news conference. “While others might choose to pay customer service reps minimum wage, we have found that higher pay leads to improved performance and better retention and better customer satisfaction.”

Workers who rely on tips would see their minimum hourly wage increase by about 70 percent, from $5.29 to $8.98, while other workers would get a 44 percent increase by 2020. The initiative states that “no more than $3.02 in tip income may be used to offset the minimum wage of employees who regularly receive tips.”

Colorado passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 that bumped the minimum wage to $6.85. It’s been raised according to inflation since then.  The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and has not been increased since 2009.

Colorado’s Republican legislators killed legislation this year to allow cities to raise the minimum wage.

Commentary Race

Black Lives Matter Belongs in Canada, Despite What Responses to Its Pride Action Suggest

Katherine Cross

Privileging the voices of white LGBTQ Canadians who claim racism is not a part of Canada's history or present ignores the struggles of Canadians of color, including those who are LGBTQ.

As I walked the streets of Toronto last month, it occurred to me that Pride Week had become something of a national holiday there, where rainbow flags and the Maple Leaf banners flying in honor of Canada Day on July 1 were equally ubiquitous. For the first time in my many years visiting the city—the place where I myself came out—the juxtaposition of Pride and the anniversary of Confederation felt appropriate and natural.

For some, however, this crescendo of inclusive celebration was threatened by the Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) protest at the city’s Pride March, often nicknamed PrideTO. The group’s 30-minute, parade-stopping sit-in has since come in for predictable condemnation. The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente dubbed BLMTO “bullies,” sniffed that its tactics and concerns belonged to the United States, and asked why it didn’t care about Black-on-Black crime in Canada. The Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy, meanwhile, called BLMTO “Nobody Else Matters,” also saying it “bullied” Pride’s organizers and suggesting we all focus on the real object of exclusion within the LGBTQ community: gay members of the recently ousted Conservative Party.

There is a lot to learn from this Torontonian incident, particularly around managing polite liberal racism—an especially important civics lesson in light of the past month’s tragedies in the United States. Privileging the voices of white LGBTQ Canadians who claim racism is not a part of Canada’s history or present means ignoring the struggles of hundreds of thousands, many of whom are LGTBQ themselves.

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Pride has always been a thoroughly political affair. It is, thus, hardly an “inappropriate time and place” for such a protest. It began as, and remains, a public forum for the unapologetic airing of our political concerns as a community in all its diversity. We may have reached a new phase of acceptance—the presence of Prime Minister Trudeau at Pride was a beautiful milestone in both Canadian and LGBTQ history—but Pride as a civic holiday must not obscure the challenges that remain. It is not a coincidence that the majority of transgender people murdered worldwide by the hundreds every year are Black and Latina, and that many of them are sex workers. That is part of the reality that BLMTO was responding to—the fact that racism amplifies homophobia and transphobia. In so doing, it was not just speaking for Black people, as many falsely contended, but advocating for queer and trans people of many ethnicities.

Even so, one parade-goer told the Globe and Mail: “It’s not about them. It’s gay pride, not black pride.” The very fact that Black LGBTQ people are asked to “choose” validates BLMTO’s complaint about Pride’s anti-Blackness, suggesting a culture where Black people will be thinly tolerated so long as they do not actually talk about or organize around being Black.

Indeed, BLMTO’s much-criticized list of demands seems not to have been read, much less understood. While drawing attention to the Black Lives Matter collective, it also advocated for South Asian LGBTQ people and those in First Nations communities, whose sense of not-entirely-belonging at an increasingly apolitical PrideTO it shares.

In each paint-by-numbers editorial, there was lip service paid to the “concerns” BLMTO has about Canadian police forces and racial discrimination, but the inconvenience of a briefly immobilized parade generated more coverage. Throughout, there has been a sense that Black Lives Matter didn’t belong in Canada, that the nation is somehow immune to racist law enforcement and, in fact, racism in general.

Yet to listen to the accounts of Black Canadians, the reality is rather different.

Janaya Khan, one of the co-founders of BLMTO, recently spoke to Canadian national magazine MacLean’s about the activist’s views on structural racism in the country. As a native of Toronto, they were able to speak quite forthrightly about growing up with racism in the city—up to and including being “carded” (a Canadian version of stop-and-frisk, wherein officers have the right to demand ID from random citizens) at Pride itself. And last year in Toronto Life, journalist and writer Desmond Cole talked about his experiences being raised throughout Ontario. He told a story of a traffic stop, none too different from the sort that killed Philando Castile earlier this month, after a passenger in his father’s car, Sana, had tossed a tissue out the window onto the highway. The officer made the young man walk back onto the highway and pick it up.

Cole wrote, “After Sana returned, the officer let us go. We drove off, overcome with silence until my father finally exploded. ‘You realize everyone in this car is Black, right?’ he thundered at Sana. ‘Yes, Uncle,’ Sana whispered, his head down and shoulders slumped. That afternoon, my imposing father and cocky cousin had trembled in fear over a discarded Kleenex.”

This story, of narrowly escaping the wrath of a white officer on the side of a motorway, could have come from any state in the Union. While Canada has many things to be proud of, it cannot claim that scouring racism from within its borders is among them. Those of us who have lived and worked within the country have an obligation to believe people like Cole and Khan when they describe what life has been like for them—and to do something about it rather than wring our hands in denial.

We should hardly be surprised that the United States and Canada, with parallel histories of violent colonial usurpation of Native land, should be plagued by many of the same racist diseases. There are many that Canada has shared with its southern neighbor—Canada had a number of anti-Chinese exclusion laws in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it too had Japanese internment camps during the Second World War—but other racisms are distinctly homegrown.

The Quebecois sovereignty movement, for instance, veered into anti-Semitic fascism in the 1930s and ’40s. In later years, despite tacking to the left, it retained something of a xenophobic character because of its implicit vision of an independent Quebec dominated by white francophones who could trace their ancestry back to France. In a blind fury after narrowly losing the 1995 referendum on Quebecois independence, Premier Jacques Parizeau, the then-leader of the independence movement, infamously blamed “money and ethnic votes” for the loss. More recently, the provincial sovereigntist party, the Parti Quebecois, tried to impose a “Values Charter” on the province aimed at criminalizing the wearing of hijab and niqab in certain public spaces and functions. Ask Black francophones if they feel welcome in the province and you’ll get mixed answers at best, often related to racist policing from Quebec’s forces.

Speaking of policing and the character of public safety institutions, matters remain stark.

A 2015 Toronto Star special investigation found hundreds of Greater Toronto Area officers internally disciplined for “serious misconduct”—including the physical abuse of homeless people and committing domestic violence—remained on the force. In 2012, the same outlet documented the excessive rate at which Black and brown Torontonians were stopped and “carded.” The data is staggering: The number of stops of Black men actually exceeded the number of young Black men who live in certain policing districts. And according to the Star, despite making up less than 10 percent of Toronto’s population, Black Torontonians comprised at least 35 percent of those individuals shot to death by police since 1990. Between 2000 and 2006, they made up two-thirds.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ and Native Ontario corrections officers have routinely complained of poisonous workplace environments; a recent survey found anti-Muslim attitudes prevail among a majority of Ontarians.

Especially poignant for me as a Latina who loves Canada is the case of former Vancouver firefighter Luis Gonzales. Gonzales, who is of Salvadoran descent, is now filing a human rights complaint against Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services for what he deemed a racist work environment that included anti-Black racism, like shining a fire engine floodlight on Black women in the street and joking about how one still couldn’t see them.

One could go on; the disparate nature of these abuses points to the intersectional character of prejudice in Canada, something that BLM Toronto was quite explicit about in its protest. While anti-Black racism is distinct, the coalition perspective envisaged by Black Lives Matter, which builds community with LGBTQ, Muslim, South Asian, and First Nations groups, reflects an understanding of Canadian racism that is quite intelligible to U.S. observers.

It is here that we should return again to Margaret Wente’s slyly nationalistic claim that BLMTO is a foreign import, insensitive to progressive Canadian reality. In this, as in so many other areas, we must dispense with the use of Canadian civic liberalism as a shield against criticism; the nation got this far because of sometimes intemperate, often loud protest. Protests against anti-LGBTQ police brutality in the 1980s and ’90s, for example, set the stage for a Toronto where the CN Tower would be lit up in rainbow colors. And any number of Native rights actions in Canada have forced the nation to recognize both its colonial history and the racism of the present; from Idle No More and the Oka Crisis to the 2014 VIA Rail blockade, that movement is alive and well. Indeed, the blockade was part of a long movement to make the government acknowledge that thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women constituted a crisis.

If we must wrap ourselves in the Maple Leaf flag, then let us at least acknowledge that peaceful protest is a very Canadian thing indeed, instead of redoubling racist insults by insinuating that Black Lives Matter is somehow foreign or that institutional racism is confined to the United States. Canada has achieved little of worth by merely chanting “but we’re not as bad as the United States!” like a mantra.

Far from being a movement in search of a crisis, Black Lives Matter and its intersectional analysis is just as well-suited to Canada as it is to the United States. In the end, it is not, per the national anthem, God who keeps this land “glorious and free,” but its people.