Like much of the world, I watched with anticipation the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners stranded for 69 days more than 2,000 feet underground. With each extraction, two story lines emerged–the individual and the collective.

There was the youngest miner who, at the age of 19, proposed to his girlfriend while trapped in the mine; the oldest miner at 63 with lung disease who knelt in prayer, upon reaching the surface; and the miner with a wife of 33 years and a mistress of 10 years. There was the miner whose wife gave birth to their first child, while he watched on video. These individual stories were unquestionably compelling and they remain a testament to the human spirit.

It is, perhaps, their collective story that speaks to me most this year. Out of necessity the miners formed a mini-democracy solidified by their character. It came complete with a leader, spiritual guide, communicator, humorist, coach, and doctor; 33 men who survived together, when most throughout the world thought they would die.

Then, I read about the passing of Albertina Walker, gospel legend and founder of The Caravan. Walker died, when we wanted her to live. She was dubbed the ‘Queen of Gospel’, not only for her tremendous voice but because of her shining example of selfless leadership. She advanced the careers of Dorothy Norwood, Shirley Caesar, Inez Andrews, and James Cleveland. Once again, an individual story that was about the collective.

There’s much to be learned from these divergent human experiences, as we approach mid-term elections. Two years ago, more than 63 million people voted for President Obama–business owners, labor members, homemakers and those on the verge of homelessness. There were Democrats, Independents, and Republicans representing varying human stories, but a collective human consciousness.

We were 2,000-feet deep in an economic abyss. We were at war. We were losing our American dreams in a jobs-and-foreclosure crisis. We needed one leader to guide a caravan with each member having a voice and a vote.

Two years ago, we had hope. We voted for change. This fall, we need conviction. Since President Obama’s election, corporate special interests, tea partiers, members of the Republican party and Democrats with clay feet have sought to undermine his efforts to reform health care, create jobs, hold banks and corporations accountable and improve our schools. They have sought to diminish his accomplishments, distort his record and kill the change for which we fought and voted.

On Nov. 2, we need to choose life. Better stated, we need to choose lives. The lives of children seeking equal education. The lives of middle class and working families trying to earn living wages, have affordable homes and safer communities. The lives of the elderly and disabled looking for quality care; and of all Americans through health care reform.

In California, we can do this best by voting for Jerry Brown for governor and Kamala Harris for attorney general. Brown’s a proven leader who, during his previous governorship, reduced taxes, built up the largest state surplus ever, appointed more women and African-Americans and instituted mandatory sentences for rape, violent crimes against the elderly and child assault.

As San Francisco’s D.A., Harris has focused intensively on fighting violent crime. She’s the attorney general we need. Harris has increased conviction rates for serious and violent offenses, expanded services to victims of crime and created new prosecution divisions focused on child assault and public integrity.

This fall, we must act individually, but like the miners in Chile, we must bind ourselves collectively to reach the surface we voted for in 2008. This year, it really is vote or die.

Laphonza Butler is the president of SEIU-ULTCW (Service Employees International Union-United Long Term Care Workers) representing 190,000 long-term care workers in California.

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