The 2008 Presidential Campaign was an extraordinary moment in U.S. history—not only because of the race and gender of the candidates, but also because of the passions they inspired.
Millions of Americans and hundreds of organizations became actively engaged in the democratic process of choosing the next president. Labor Day, a new feature documentary directed by two-time Oscar Nominee, Glenn Silber, tells the inspiring, largely unknown story of one of them, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the nation’s fastest-growing labor union with more than two million members.
Labor Day is a chronicle of this union’s mobilization to ensure a Democratic victory in 2008. For Labor, the Presidential campaign was mission critical. After eight years of Republican policies, the SEIU felt an incredible sense of urgency to change the direction of the economy and the country.
Our story begins in early 2007 -- nearly two years before the election – when the union’s leaders came up with a strategy to mobilize as many members as possible to become “Member Political Organizers” (MPOs).
By the Spring of 2007, the union had fully engaged in the process, putting healthcare reform on the front burner by sponsoring an early, major Presidential Candidate Forum solely on that issue. They also told every candidate seeking the union’s support that they had to “Walk A Day” in one of their member’s shoes, to remind them what it’s like to be a worker in America today. In September 2007, SEIU invited every Democratic candidate to their Member Political Action Conference where those seeking the nation’s highest office would present themselves and their plans for the country to more than 1,000 members, who in turn would vote on which candidate the union should endorse.
Although the union could not reach a consensus around a single candidate at their September 2007 political conference, they endorsed the “change” candidate, Barack Obama, after John Edwards dropped out and worked hard to help Obama win the Democratic Party nomination for President.
By the summer of 2008, thousands of SEIU members would leave their homes and jobs to spend months working for change: canvassing, calling, registering voters, and knocking on doors in more than a dozen critical swing states.
Labor Day follows SEIU members and leaders at the Democratic National Convention, where the party was finally able to unify behind Barack Obama’s candidacy, capped by his dramatic acceptance speech at Denver’s Mile High Stadium.
The day after the convention, a contingent of SEIU members and leaders get on a bus in St. Louis to be part of the “Take Back Labor Day” bus tour through the Midwest. The tour’s destination is St. Paul, Minnesota, where the union stages a “Take Back Labor Day” concert event for more than 15,000 people on the opening day of the Republican National Convention - Labor Day 2008.
The film highlights clips of the St. Paul Labor Day concert and interviews with featured musicians Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), and hip-hop artists Mos Def, The Pharcyde and Atmosphere – all performing just a few hundred yards across the river from where Republicans were gathering.
Two-time Grammy Award-winning musician Steve Earle summed up the feelings of many at the concert when he said, “This election is really important. We are at a moment in time where, if nobody takes anything for granted and people work really, really hard right up to the last minute in November, we really could change things.”
The campaign takes a dramatic turn a day later when Sarah Palin accepts the nomination to be John McCain’s running mate and the GOP base goes wild. But on September 15th, the financial meltdown hit Wall St. like an 8.0 earthquake and changed the momentum of the campaign.
Now the economy had become the central issue in the campaign, which was where
SEIU wanted the debate. Even before the collapse of Wall Street in September 2008, union leaders and members alike knew the economy was in trouble, which is why many felt the 2008 Presidential race was going to be the most important election of their lifetimes.
As the 2008 Campaign hurtled into its final weeks, Labor Day shows SEIU’s
Get Out The Vote operation in action in swing states from Pittsburgh to St. Petersburg, from Las Vegas to St. Paul, and from Columbus, Ohio and Hammond, Indiana where union members mobilized in an all-out effort to take back the White House. The final stop on this remarkable political journey is Grant Park in Chicago on November 4, 2008, where the nation witnessed the election of the first African American President.
Change is hard work – and Labor Day reminds people who became activists in this campaign why so many worked passionately for Barack Obama as the candidate who could best deliver the promise of real change. Now, as we approach the 1st Anniversary of Obama’s historic election, and the President struggles with two wars, a teetering economy and to pass major healthcare reform legislation, Labor Day tells a story that is still playing out today.
As President-elect Obama said on election night during his victory speech in Grant Park in Chicago: “This victory is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change.”
By revisiting the passion behind the 2008 Presidential campaign, Labor Day dramatically reveals what one union, thousands of activists, and a commitment to change the country did to help turn Election Day into Labor Day.