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St. Louis activists who aren’t in a coma know that there’s a big rally in front of Roy Blunt’s Clayton office this Thursday from 4:30 to 5:30. I have the backstory that explains how important this rally is.

The short answer is that it is part of a campaign to change the course of the debt ceiling brouhaha, a campaign that mirrors a stunningly successful state effort in Missouri last spring and that, at a national level, is already paying dividends in the way Democrats in Washington are starting to stand up in the debt ceiling negotiations.

Let me explain that statewide campaign, and then I’ll show you how it applies to Roy Blunt and to Congress.

Jobs with Justice and Pro-Vote coordinated a labor campaign last spring that stopped dead in the lege every anti-labor bill. Their success at cutting cold the progress on Right-to-Work-for-Less and Paycheck Protection Deception was inspiring. The campaign succeeded because ALL the labor stakeholders in the state, including the MNEA, signed on and coordinated their efforts, even to the point of a nightly conference call. The unions targeted districts where the Republican legislator might be swayed, arranging phone banks and door to door canvasses. We don’t have Republican money, but we have the values people like, if we get out there and communicate with the voters. And that’s what the labor unions, unified as never before, did.

At first, the effort was to stop Right-to-Work-for-Less; but mid-session, the Republicans gave that up and pushed Paycheck Deception. A moment of panic set in when the switch was recognized, but the campaign simply changed targets, using the same strategy and tactics. I wrote about a union man, Bryan Wucher, who took eight weeks off from his job at Dierberg’s to canvass. Here’s my understanding from him of the two components of Paycheck Deception:

First, it would have levied a fee against every member of a public employee union. The unions would have had to pay, for each member, a sum that was a percentage of the employee’s dues or else $8, depending on which was less. AND, just so you know that this was not about raising revenues for the state but about punishing unions, note that the unions would have been forbidden to raise their dues by $8 per member to compensate for the loss. The point was to deplete political action funds for those unions.


[T]he second problem with Paycheck Deception was that it required public employee union members, every year, to reauthorize the use of their dues for political purposes. What you do, if you’re a Republican legislator, is just keep chipping away at people’s rights: whether it has to do with unions, abortion, or voting. Set up barriers and institute bureaucratic red tape. Freedom my sweet patootie. They are not about freedom.

Consider that only about a third of the state reps are Democrats and yet that every anti-labor bill, including Paycheck Deception, was stopped, and you get a sense of how impressive that coordinated campaign was. One Republican rep called the campaigners and complained that his office couldn’t handle any more phone calls from disgruntled constituents. Call off your dogs, he said; I’ll vote against the bill.

Now let’s see how that same strategy is being applied at the national level. Four to six weeks ago, Claire McCaskill was asserting that there was no way raising tax revenues could be part of the discussion. Now she’s changed her mind. She wants tax revenues on the table. She’s one vivid example of the shift in Democratic rhetoric. President Obama and the Democratic leadership is now insisting that some new tax revenue must be part of the negotiations. Their stance has shifted.

Why did Claire see the light? Part of the reason is that two hundred people showed up at her office for a rally last month urging her to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security and to protect the jobs of the most vulnerable. That was a goodly number, and they made enough noise to impress Claire, as Rabbi Susan Talve reported when she emerged from the meeting inside:

Claire can’t do this by herself. She needs us out here raising our voices. When we were sitting in there and we heard you out here chanting, the whole room lifted up. And you know what? She got energized. We could hear her saying, “Yes, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the jobs of the most vulnerable workers. I will protect those.”

This is all part of a grassroots effort, sometimes obvious as in the case of the June rally, sometimes happening with quieter pressure. And we must also put pressure on Republicans as well, just as Jobs with Justice and Pro-Vote did last spring over the anti-labor bills. Roy Blunt is less an ideologue than a pragmatist, and he needs to feel some heat, baby.

So I’m not just urging you to get to 7700 Bonhomme at 4:30–or whenever you can get there from work–on Thursday. Yes, do that. And do one more little thing: Find. Five. Friends. Be there with your friends to shout that he should stop giving us a raw deal, supporting as he does tax breaks for the very rich and for corporations.

We need way more than 200 people for this one.