Today we celebrate the working men and women across this country who make up the backbone and engine of our economy and whose hard work too often goes unsung.
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Labor Day has a special meaning in my home state of Hawaii — one that has deep lessons for our country today. The history of Hawaii is rooted in agriculture. At one time, the majority of the land was held by sugarcane and pineapple plantations run by four major corporations.
Wages were meager. Working conditions were miserable. Laborers were treated as though they were dispensable. Immigrant communities from all different parts of the world were pitted against each other as the company bosses worked to undermine their ability to organize for better working conditions and better wages.
Finally, the working people of Hawaii stood up and said no more. They went on strike, shut down the economy of the state and held strong, refusing to be divided against each other for scraps of the livelihood they earned with their hard work. They organized under one rallying cry — an attack against one of us is an attack against all of us. And things began to change. Their voices were heard.
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There are many challenges that remain, in Hawaii and across the country — a lack of affordable housing causing people to struggle to raise a family in the same neighborhood where they grew up, our fragile environment, and too many still working without a living wage.
But it is this history of standing together and fighting for each other that lays the foundation for how we can advocate for a better future. Hawaii is one of the most diverse states in the nation, representing cultures, religions and ethnicities from all parts of the globe. The fact that we are able to maintain a sense of unity in the face of adversity is due not only to our history of organizing, but to the spirit of aloha that is at the heart of who we are.
Aloha means that I come to you with an open heart, with love, respect and care — regardless of the color of your skin, where you come from, how you worship God, who you love, or what political party you belong to.
Dr. Martin Luther King saw the power of aloha when he first visited my home state and addressed the Hawaii House of Representatives in 1959. He said: “…we look to you for inspiration and as a noble example, where you have already accomplished in the area of racial harmony and racial justice, what we are struggling to accomplish in other sections of the country, and you can never know what it means to those of us caught for the moment in the tragic and often dark midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, to come to a place where we see the glowing daybreak of freedom and dignity and racial justice.”
Dr. King understood that the fight for racial justice and the fight for workers rights are inseparable. Our fight is not simply for a bigger paycheck or better benefits — we are fighting for our dignity and our humanity. We are fighting for recognition for the people who built this great nation — people from all corners of the globe. People who came here willingly in search of a better life and people brought here by force. People who poured their blood, sweat and tears into the roads, bridges and railways, fields, forests, mines and factories that created what we know as America today. Teachers, doctors and nurses, first responders, and our veterans and servicemen and women who make up the vast majority of union members today. People who put service above self every day, serving their country, their community and each other.
What our country needs now more than ever is to stand together in this spirit of aloha — the spirit of respect and love for one another and love for our country, regardless of the color of our skin, our culture, our religion, to say we will not be divided. We will not be divided by the corporate big money interests who seek to tear us apart for their own power and profit. We will not be divided by an establishment media that inflames and feeds off conflict — regime change wars and the new Cold War abroad and culture wars at home. We will not be divided by the self-interested, powerful politicians who foment partisan hatred for their own gain. We will stand together, recognizing that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, because we are all brothers and sisters, we are all children of God.
As president, our White House will be a beacon of light, providing hope and opportunity, ushering in a new century where every single person will be able to get the health care they need, where we will have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, where we will have good-paying jobs and a new green economy. Join me in ushering in this new century with peace, prosperity, opportunity, and justice for all.
With warm aloha,