PHILADELPHIA — John Staggs, Socialist Workers Party candidate for City Council at-large, joined hundreds of celebrants and protesters at City Hall here July 25 to mark the 25th anniversary of President George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
People in wheelchairs, veterans wounded in U.S. imperialism’s wars and others took part and marched to the National Constitution Center.
“The law was the product of deep changes in the U.S. resulting from the massive Black-led working-class movement that overthrew Jim Crow segregation in the 1950s and ’60s,” Staggs said the next morning at a gathering of campaign supporters preparing to petition to put him and Osborne Hart, the SWP candidate for mayor, on the ballot. “It followed the victories forcing the U.S. rulers to get out of Vietnam, winning women’s right to abortion and other social gains.”
Over the weekend, campaign supporters gathered 989 signatures, putting the drive at over 2,700, more than twice the requirement of 1,325.
“I talked to many at the rally who are fighting to use the act against discrimination,” Staggs told the Militant. “Basil Weiner, who signed the SWP petition, said he is helping a Vietnam vet whose apartment needs modifications because of his injuries.
“They went to all kinds of local agencies and kept getting turned away. They were told they couldn’t help him get on disability, release funds or order his landlord to make the necessary changes to make the place livable,” Staggs said. “They’ve been fighting for two years and are still at it.
“Another worker, who came with a group from Harrisburg, compared the Americans with Disabilities Act with a ‘hollow hammer,’” Staggs said. “It was a weapon, but it had to be filled up with protests to be effective. That’s why he came.
“When the ADA was passed, it opened the door to significant changes. Today, you often see accessible ramps on streets, buildings and buses. But the law didn’t include any enforcement measures,” Staggs said. “I support the people who are fighting to get their rights implemented.”
“We’ve found real political interest in the demands and proposals the Socialist Workers Party campaign is raising as we discuss them on workers’ doorsteps in neighborhoods across the city,” Staggs told those at a spirited campaign forum here July 24. “And we’ve taken our campaign and petition drive to labor struggles, demonstrations against cop brutality and other social protests.
Participation in labor struggles“Each of the last two weeks I’ve gone with supporters to the hiring hall of the International Longshoremen’s Association to talk to workers there,” he said. “We’ve discussed the three-tier wage structure they face, and the looming contract fights at ATI Steel, Verizon, U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal and the Big Three auto companies. And we talk about the situation around the world, from the deep attacks on the working class in Greece to how the nuclear deal between Iran and Washington will affect the continuing coming apart of the capitalist world order today.”
Twenty people signed the nominating petitions when Staggs and campaign supporters joined more than 100 ironworkers in a rally protesting the jailing of Joe “Doc” Dougherty, former president of their local. “Dougherty was sentenced to 19 years in prison on racketeering conspiracy charges,” Staggs said. “He’s 73, so even the judge admitted it was basically a death sentence. And the prosecutors said there was no evidence he actually did anything. They wanted to ‘send a message’ to the unions.” SWP campaign supporters have been explaining how these kinds of government frame-ups and intervention in the unions are an attack on the entire working class.
“Going door to door, some workers asked us about Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a socialist,” Staggs said. “We explain that Sanders is running, and getting a hearing, because of the big changes in the attitudes of working people.
Break with bourgeois parties“Workers today face attacks from the bosses and their government, whose only way out of the capitalist crisis is to deepen the exploitation of the working class,” he said. “Workers are interested in how we can defend ourselves and how we can find a new perspective forward, including politically. Sanders presents a radical image with the intention of corralling us back into bourgeois politics.
“The Socialist Workers Party runs to point the road to workers breaking with the capitalist political parties,” Staggs said, “the road of independent working-class politics, forming a labor party based on the unions. This opens the door to the fight for working-class political power, like the Cuban workers and farmers did when they overthrew U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista and transformed themselves in the process. They have continued along this road for more than 55 years, an example for working people everywhere.”
The Socialist Workers Party candidates plan to hold a press conference and turn in their petitions Aug. 3 at City Hall.
Discussion about the SWP campaign has deepened following a July 24 court ruling. “A federal judge has ruled that Pennsylvania unfairly treats its third-party political candidates, likely clearing the way for their return to the ballot after nearly disappearing during recent election cycles,” began a front-page article in the Philadelphia Inquirer the next day.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel ruled against sections of the state election code, the Inquirer reported, that “forced third-party candidates to gather many times the number of signatures required of Republicans or Democrats — and then pay as much as $100,000 in legal fees when their petitions are challenged.”
The legal challenge to Pennsylvania’s restrictive ballot law was brought jointly by the Green, Libertarian and Constitution Parties.
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