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PEP Oct 2016
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Public Employee Press


Some believe that whites lose out when movements for justice by people of color make gains. My personal experience proves those people wrong.


Donald Trump's angry rhetoric sows unjustified fear and loathing among some whites, particularly older white males.

Whether in code ("Let's Make America Great Again") or with fictitous statistics (the claim that Blacks kill 81 percent of white homicide victims), Trump plays the race card to divide us. We can't let him get away with it.

As an Italian-American child of the 1950s, I lived in an all-white community on Staten Island.

I still remember the day I brought home from school harsh words used to describe Black people. I had no idea what the words meant and how hurtful they were. Unlike many of our neighbors, my parents had lived in an integrated neighborhood before and understood the evil of the words I had picked up in the schoolyard. And they made it clear I was never to use them again.

In 1962, when I was a teenager, we moved to low-income public housing on the island's integrated north shore. That's where I truly saw the light, a result of forming friendships with people of other backgrounds. I met their families and learned that their values were the same as ours. I learned that contact and dialogue among people of different backgrounds brings more understanding and less hostility.

Some believe that whites lose out when movements for justice by people of color make gains. My personal experience proves those people wrong.

Over 36 years, I have been elected to various union positions by Local 1549's membership. The local is comprised mainly of Blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Muslim-Americans and others from non-European backgrounds.

In the 1960s, I attended City University of New York's City College thanks to the struggle of low-income Black and Latino students for free and open admissions. As it turns out, the majority of those who benefited from open admissions were low-income whites, including Italian-Americans like me.

In college, I learned that the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts were passed because of the movement of Black people who were most often denied those rights. Yet the rights written into law were for all people.

It is not surprising that these rights - as well as our right to organize unions are now under attack by right-wing corporate forces and the politicians they control. They stir up division and hatred between people of color and whites because they fear our unity. And Trump's rhetoric plays right into this divide and conquer strategy.

But as Trump strives late in the campaign to rewrite history and sanitize his rhetoric (Did we not hear him for years try to undermine the legitimacy of our first Black president by charging full speed ahead with a birther movement that claims Obama is not even American?), let's not be deceived by photo ops and teleprompter speeches.

I hope that Hillary Clinton is elected our next president. Trump and his ideas must be soundly defeated.

I am proud that DC 37 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have spoken loudly against the politics of division. As DC 37/AFSCME members we can be proud of our gains thanks to the unity we have of people of all races. We are stronger as a union when we are united.

Ralph Palladino is the 2nd vice president of Local 1549 and long-time civil rights activist.

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