As President of SEIU 721 and SEIU California, I feel compelled to express my thoughts in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s visit to El Paso, Texas, which – along with Dayton, Ohio – was the scene this past weekend of another senseless mass shooting. It is startling how commonplace mass shootings have become in American life. The Service Employees International Union has been directly impacted by mass shootings not once but twice now.
The first occurrence took place in San Bernardino back in 2015, when a mass shooting killed 14 people and injured 22 more. All but seven were SEIU 721 members. The second catastrophe took place this past July 28 at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Among others, the shooter killed the son of a current SEIU Local 521 member and injured both that member and her mother – a retired member of SEIU Local 521.
In the Labor Movement, we often refer to our fellow union members as Brothers and Sisters because that is what we are – an extended family. As head of SEIU California, I cannot help but feel anguish at the thought of more future mass shooting victims in our extended family. When one of us is affected, all of us are affected.
Our union will always stand up to hatred and division. Of that, I have no doubt. But we as an American society need to take action well beyond thoughts and prayers. This pattern of mass shootings goes back years. The shooters’ motives oftentimes highlight ugly divisions in modern American society, especially our racial fault lines. We, as a nation, must confront these realities and do so in a way that transcends our differences instead of solidifying them.
As an activist in the Labor Movement since the 1980s and the leader of one of the largest unions in America, I can say from direct experience that we will only accomplish this objective – of greater understanding and unification – through more interaction with one another, not less. The worst thing we could do is retreat in isolation from one another. Now is precisely the time to reconnect with each another and not just personally but by reinvigorating our participation in the public sphere.
Mass shootings are a public health issue so they’re going to require a publicly driven solution. That means we need to make our voices heard – amongst our family members, in our circle of friends and at our worksites but also at the ballot box.
In that spirit, SEIU 721 is leading the way with two special events in August. The first event is a Backpack Drive for Migrant Children taking place this Sunday, August 11 from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. in downtown L.A. at Pine Tree Trucking, which is located at the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Spence Street. Our members are delivering backpacks full of school supplies to migrant children who are school-age.
The second event is our Immigration First Aid Care-A-Van to the U.S.-Mexico border taking place on Saturday, August 17. Several dozen nurses will provide healthcare directly to migrant refugees, including children and families. This will be our Union’s third humanitarian mission to Tijuana (our first trip took place during the holidays and the next journey occurred in February). But it won’t be the last. The spirit of the Labor Movement has always transcended borders. Our common humanity unites us and it always will.