Schools are tough places to be these days, AFT president Randi Weingarten told participants at the opening session of the pre-convention Retiree Leaders Conference on July 7 in Seattle. "Many teachers and public employees went into the business to make a difference in the lives of others," she said, yet they are constantly being scapegoated and demonized.
Why, Weingarten asked, is the movement that created a path to the middle class, retirement and job security, and fair wages so vilified? It is because "we are viewed as islands of privilege, and that has created an environment that we must turn around. You are critical in turning this around," Weingarten told the retirees.
At the same time, we recognize our responsibility to protect retirees, said Weingarten. "We have to ensure that Medicare, Social Security and pensions stay sacrosanct." To do that, retirees must share their knowledge and remain active.
"We need to bring your knowledge to the table—your knowledge about what happens without retirement and job security. That history is important. But knowledge is not enough," Weingarten cautioned. "We need to have activism too, because if people don't get engaged, things will only get worse. The fear gripping people now will grip more and more people," she said. "Your activism and your knowledge of what has happened and what can be creates hope, and hope creates opportunity to help us to reconnect with working people."
Activism will be key in the 2010 and 2012 elections, especially if we want to keep healthcare reform in place, said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), during the opening session. "What happened this year was really a landmark," he said in reference to passage of the historic legislation this spring. Nonetheless, the propaganda machine against healthcare reform has created a lot of misinformation.
"We have set a new healthcare system in motion, but if the wrong thing happens in 2010 and 2012, we could lose it," said McDermott, who is a physician. "You have lived long enough to see things come and go. Healthcare reform could be one of them."
The retirees also honored Jeanne Boone of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers as the 2010 Retiree of the Year. Boone was selected for her outstanding service and commitment to the union. "I have always believed in being a team player," she said. "We are all on the same team, and we have to stay with our goal to provide everyone with what we have [as union members]."
The two-day conference also featured workshops on trends in pensions and healthcare; financial planning; organizing around legislative and political issues; and engaging members. [Adrienne Coles/photos by Russ Curtis and Ellen Banner]
July 8, 2010