We are a nation founded on the principle that “all men are created equal.” When the founders wrote those words, they had a very a different idea about equality.
Nevertheless, that fundamental principle has endured, and the list of people who are “created equal” has expanded over the years, to include women, people of different races and religions, and all people regardless of sexual orientation.
The expanding of equality did not happen by accident. It was hard won. There is no better time to reflect on those struggles than the first two months of the year when we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., our greatest advocate for equal treatment of all people, and celebrate Black History Month. It is Dr. King who reminds us of the countless battles fought by generations of people who joined together to make this country a better place.
An important milestone in the struggle for equality is having our president stand proudly before the nation citing Seneca, Selma and Stonewall in a single breath, and inspiring all who listen. While we have far to go, we know we have become stronger and more united as a result of those struggles.
President Obama’s inauguration address, delivered on the symbolic occasion of Dr. King’s birthday, was both a celebration of our heritage and a call to action to continue doing better. It was filled with a sense of hope and faith that all people have goodness within them. “We cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve,” Obama said. Dr. King shared those beliefs, and we can only assume he would be proud to hear them spoken on the national mall where he famously spoke his own inspirational words 50 years before.
Of course, equality is not the only freedom that is essential to our national sense of justice. We also value “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” another principle our founders imparted that has evolved over time. Over the years, as America has become one of the world’s safest and most prosperous nations, we have come to expect not only social freedom but economic well-being and personal security from harm. Some Americans may even believe they are entitled to those privileges and no longer must work for them.
In only the last decade, though, we have seen our homeland attacked. We have seen our economy crash. We have seen our greatest cities battered by natural disasters for which they were unprepared. We have seen our nation’s children massacred and held hostage by the fear of gun violence. At times it seems that while we are succeeding in making the country more equal it is getting less of everything else.
Yet through all these problems, we continue to show our resilience and persistence. At Teamsters Local 237, we are doing our part. We continue to urge the city and state to better prepare our public facilities to withstand the ravages of increasing storms. We have encouraged gun-control measures both at the city, state and federal level — especially to safeguard our public housing, hospitals and schools. We continue to fight for fair wages and treatment of our members and of all workingmen and working women.
Specifically, we have sued New York City for equal pay for the school safety agents in our union — the majority of whom are women — whose pay lags behind other peace officer titles that are mostly held by men. We also protect the rights of public workers to retire with dignity. These are not just the goals of labor; they are the goals of the American people.
Even though we face new challenges, it is comforting to know that these founding principles have helped us stay the course for generations. If we stick to who we are and believe in our common purpose, we can overcome all challenges. Our problems today may seem daunting, but no more daunting than those we have faced in the past. We persevered and triumphed then. We will do the same now.