Why the People's Agenda?

Every ballot tells a story. It’s a story about what and who we value, what we want for ourselves, our neighbors, and our children, and how we fight to win that world we want.

The 2018 ballot here in Massachusetts is no exception. In the coming months, most of the folks who are telling the story of our ballot are going to focus on the candidates -- and those candidates are important characters, especially given the dramatic results of the primaries -- but right now I want to talk about the real hero of the story: you.

Year after year, politicians at the very least disappoint us, and at worst, betray us. Just this past legislative session, our lawmakers in Massachusetts failed to pass the Safe Communities Act (which would have protected immigrant families from detention and deportation), Foundation Budget Review (which would have made funding for our schools more equitable), and a Wage Theft enforcement bill (which would have penalized employers for stealing their workers’ wages.) What they did accomplish was taking away time-and-a-half pay on Sundays and holidays from retail workers and passing a tax break for yacht clubs.

That’s why it’s so exciting that in our Commonwealth, we have the opportunity to go around the legislature and make our own laws through the ballot initiative process. If we can get enough signatures on a petition, we can put an initiative on the ballot, and if we can convince enough people to vote for it, our initiative will become law. It’s our chance to make it clear to politicians exactly what the people of Massachusetts stand for -- and to win the things we need for our communities.

This year, our ballot will include three ballot questions:

  1. Setting safe patient limits for nurses to improve the quality of care in hospitals

  2. Taking the first steps to reversing the Citizens United decision

  3. Defending transgender rights

Those measures might initially sound unconnected, but together, they tell their own story about the slow creep of extreme greed infringing on every aspect of our lives. It’s a story about the corporate agenda, the strategic plan for how the super-rich intend to beat down working people.

The story begins with millionaires and billionaires exploiting our labor and our humanity for profit. They force us to work longer and harder with less pay and fewer benefits. They take our human needs like health care, housing, and water, and turn them into expensive commodities we won’t ever be able to afford. In short, they extract wealth at the expense of our dignity, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now at hospitals across Massachusetts. Greedy CEOs are free to play games with our health by assigning too many patients to each nurse to maximize their own profits, which decreases the quality of care patients.

Question 1 would address that problem by setting limits on the number of patients that can be assigned to a nurse at a given time in our hospitals. There is plenty of confusing misinformation out there coming from opponents of Question 1, much of it from the CEOs who benefit from the current system.  They say that hospitals can’t afford to maintain safe staffing ratios while they take home 6-figure paychecks. A yes on Question 1 rejects that scarcity mentality and says that we demand better -- that we side with the majority of bedside nurses and health care policy experts, who agree that this measure is what we need to make hospitals safer.

The next chapter of the story of the corporate agenda is about how the wealthy keep the systems that work for them in place. They take the profit they’ve squeezed from us, and they use it to buy our political system. They bankroll candidates, hire armies of lobbyists, and write the laws that hurt working people the most. Thanks to the 2010 US Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, corporations in this country have the same rights as human people, including the right to “free speech.” Even worse, the court ruled that corporate campaign contributions qualify as “free speech,” allowing corporations to pour an infinite amount of money and resources into elections and fund the politicians who make the policies that line the CEO’s pockets.

The task of reversing the Citizens United ruling will not be easy -- it’s going to require organizing on a national scale to pass an amendment to the constitution that states that corporations are NOT people, and they shouldn’t be able to hold our democracy hostage for ransom. A yes on Question 2 would start that process by establishing a commission to study the effects of money in politics and, more importantly, state that Massachusetts is firmly committed to ratifying a 28th amendment that would reverse Citizens United. This isn’t the kind of problem that gets solved overnight, but Question 2 would be a crucial step forward for the movement to take back politics for the people.     

Of course, the wealthy elite are always looking for effective ways to keep the people at the bottom of our economy from fighting back, and that leads us to the next chapter of our story. Once the billionaires and millionaires have grown rich at the expense of our dignity and purchased the political capital to make sure they stay rich, they make sure we stay distracted by pitting working people against each other. They promote racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and all of the other forms of hate that urge us to ignore each other’s humanity and play right into the corporate agenda. They tell white women that black men walking on the street at night are dangerous. They tell US-born workers that immigrants are taking their jobs. They tell men that women are out to emasculate them. They tell us these lies, and we all too often believe them, because it’s easier to blame the outsider than challenging the insiders.

Now in Massachusetts they are trying to tell us that transgender people are coming for children in bathrooms, a lie clearly intended to scare voters into repealing the laws that protect trans people from discrimination when they access public accommodations. They like to focus on bathrooms because talking about bathrooms already makes us nervous, but repealing trans protections would mean that our trans neighbors, friends, and family members would no longer be guaranteed safe access to public transit, hotels, places of business, healthcare facilities, domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, and more. These are services that working people depend on every day, and we can’t allow lies about bathrooms to to become an excuse for taking public accommodations away from any member of the public. A yes vote on Question 3 defends trans rights in Massachusetts by keeping our current protections in place and sending the message that in our state, we stand together against the hate that enables corporate greed.

The great thing about the story of our ballot is that we are the ones who write the ending. The corporations may have their agenda, but we, the people, have an agenda too. By casting a YES vote on all three ballot initiatives, you can join with other working people in saying that we’ve had enough of exploitation and discrimination. You can write an ending to this election cycle that will make our hospitals better, our democracy more democratic, and our trans siblings safer in their communities. And together we can do it without waiting on politicians for the change we need now.              

We hope you’ll take the pledge to vote yes on the three questions and help us spread the word about the People’s Agenda to folks who aren’t already engaged in this election. All of us at Jobs with Justice are knocking on doors, making calls, sending postcards, hosting gatherings of neighbors and friends, and doing everything and anything we can to make sure every potential voter in Massachusetts knows that we have the chance to make real gains for working people this November. When you take the pledge, you can also check the box to sign up to volunteer your time and join us in a united front to fight together against corporate greed -- because we know that when we fight, WE WIN.

Gillian Mason

Co-Executive Director

Massachusetts Jobs with Justice