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Activists Train at AFL-CIO’s Union Summer

Lindsey Lunsford enjoys the sunshine outside the AFL-CIO.

Lindsey Lunsford, 21, has a personal connection to the labor movement but didn’t see its relevance to her life until this week, when she participated in the AFL-CIO’s Union Summer training.

My grandfather was a member of the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters, and through that membership, he was able to work for a year, go to school for a year—on and off for eight years, until he finished—but he did it. Such experiences that happened in my family before I was born show me there is validity in this, there is power in this—these are institutions that helped not only workers but their whole families.

Lunsford is one of 39 activists with a passion for community change who convened at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., to start an organizing internship and introduction to the labor movement known as Union Summer.

After spending a week at the AFL-CIO’s community-organizing crash course, the group will split into teams, going to different areas of the United States until Aug. 17. They’ll work on such projects as state federation coalition-building in Montgomery, Ala.; the carwash campaign in Los Angeles; helping workers trying to organize with a variety of unions in Portland, Ore.; performing research in Washington, D.C.; working with UNITEHERE! on voter registration in Phoenix; and in New York, working with the National Taxi Workers Alliance. Lunsford will join the group in Montgomery, where she attends Tuskegee University.

The diverse group of activists included a few DREAMers, who no longer face deportation, thanks to President Obama’s recent directive.

Union Summer participant Lesly Salinas, 36, will be working with Portland hairstylists, janitors and bus drivers, trying to form unions when she goes out into the field. She says the Union Summer training resonated strongly with her passion to help people who are less privileged than she:

I hope to create change. I hope to have an impact. The interesting thing about Union Summer is that not only do we get to participate in this program, but we are gaining these skills for life. I hope to bring all the knowledge I gained from Union Summer into my community and create change for them.

Salinas says her time at the AFL-CIO made her realize how important the labor movement is:

Unions did such a good job…that so much of their work goes unnoticed—kind of like the civil rights movement. Now we have all these rights in the workplace and we don’t even think about them because they are just rights….We don’t know how we got there, and I think young people need to be invested in the possibility of creating positive change for the future.

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