President Barack Obama was scheduled to speak this week at the AFL-CIO Convention in Los Angeles. As a delegate, I was very excited and looked forward to seeing him again. I had heard him here last summer during the 2012 presidential campaign. It was truly an unforgettable experience: He spoke to us like an organizer, sharing personal stories and pushing his base to get up and lead the next generation of progressive activism. Everyone knows he’s an incredible speaker, but to witness his strength and oratory skills in person is something immensely moving and inspiring.
Beyond that, however, our country is at a critical moment with the economy and the attempts to rebuild the middle class, and he was going to join the one and only Senator Elizabeth Warren in addressing the issues that working people struggle with every day.
(Above: President Barack Obama addresses AFL-CIO delegates via video.)
But something happened on the way to the convention. President Obama decided that the situation in Syria deserved his undivided attention. He had to stay in Washington D.C. and focus on a resolution Congress is considering to authorize a military strike. He could not meet with working people because he needed to beat the war drum. Instead, he addressed us via video.
This hits me as a tragic mistake, but not wholly unique to this president. For some reason there seems to be a deep separation between our domestic economic inequalities and international affairs. Somehow there is a notion that one does not affect the other, or that solving one will not help or at least inform the other. And at various times in our nation’s history, the labor movement has not been properly critical of presidential decisions to attack sovereign countries.
But it is indeed working people who may be most affected by another military conflict in the Middle East. It is working people’s taxes that will fund more guns, tanks and weapons of mass destruction instead of job programs and education. It is working people who might possibly fight afterward if this proposed strike happens – instead of getting good jobs at home.
Working people voted for, and elected, President Obama twice. And it is working people who deserve to meet with him during this critical moment for our country. I hope that the Chicago organizer who struggled with working people changes his mind and comes to Los Angeles.
(Rachel Torres is a research analyst for Unite Here Local 11.)