The 1968 Memphis Sanitation workers strike changed the course of history. (Courtesy of AFSCME)

By Stacy Brown

A District-headquartered employees’ union has launched an interactive campaign to engage young people of color ahead of the 2020 election.

The initiative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) called, “I AM – Be the Change,” seeks to build on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Officials at the union said it’s aimed at keeping young people of color engaged by highlighting issues such as excessive student loan debt, lack of affordable housing and a lack of good-paying jobs.

The “I AM – Be the Change” initiative counts as a bold effort to engage young African Americans and Latinos to answer the call of the late civil rights champion and the 1,300 Memphis sanitation workers to be the change in their communities and fight for social and economic justice.

“‘I AM – Be the Change’ is meant to inspire young people of color to take action online and offline to drive change in their communities,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said in a news release.

“We intend to create a year-round organizing presence in disenfranchised communities that are too often ignored after Election Day and to inspire Black and Latino youth to reclaim Dr. King’s and the sanitation workers’ fight for civil rights and workers’ rights as their own,” Saunders added.

“I AM – Be the Change” builds on the groundswell of activism fueled by the “I AM” 2018 program, which led thousands of Americans in honoring the 50th anniversary of the historic 1968 Memphis Sanitation Worker Strike and the assassination of King.

Through a national moment of silence, youth town halls, activist trainings and a march on Memphis uniting thousands of civic, faith and labor leaders and advocates, communities across the country committed to voting in the midterm elections and continuing King’s and the sanitation workers’ struggle for equal treatment, fair wages and a voice on the job, AFSCME officials said.

“[The campaign] seeks to expand on the successes of 2018 when voters elected a pro-worker majority in the House of Representatives, seven pro-worker governors and more pro-worker state legislators than at any time in almost a decade,” Saunders said.

Motivated to reverse the declining voter participation rates among Black and Latino voters, AFSCME officials said the program primarily seeks to spearhead the effort in 2020 and beyond and to continually engage and mobilize people of color.

To open a conversation on the issues affecting the next generation, the “I AM” campaign will use Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to “empower young people with the resources they need to stay politically engaged past Election Day,” officials said.

Additionally, AFSCME officials said they will build an online hub for civic and economic empowerment where community members can learn about the challenges facing working people, how to mobilize their neighbors and how to hold elected officials accountable — ensuring that organizing at the local level is led by those who know their communities the best.

“The initiative will keep young people engaged by highlighting issues such as excessive student loan debt, lack of affordable housing and lack of good-paying jobs,” Saunders said.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer. 

AFSCME Campaign Engage Young People of Color Ahead of 2020 Election

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