Even the threat of Superstorm Sandy couldn't keep the AFT Election 2012 bus tour from rolling through Florida Oct. 24-27, where it made stops in the counties of Hillsborough, Volusia, Orange, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.
Intended to build excitement around re-electing President Obama and other pro-worker candidates, the "Your Vote-Your Right-Their Futures" tour, which started in Ohio on Oct. 19-20, highlighted the volunteer mobilization and get-out-the-vote efforts of AFT affiliates and members.
The message delivered by AFT president Randi Weingarten and secretary-treasurer Lorretta Johnson, was the same in both Ohio and Florida: This election is a clear choice between President Obama, who believes in an America where there is a level playing field and everyone gets a fair shake, and Gov. Romney's vision of a country where the safety net takes a back seat to tax cuts for the wealthy.
Throughout the tour, Weingarten told AFT members and other unionists that electing Romney would put in jeopardy programs that many Americans and their families depend on. Gov. Romney would pay for his tax cuts, she said by "cutting education by 40 percent, 'voucherizing' Medicare and going after Social Security."
The first stop in Florida was Hillsborough County where Weingarten and Johnson took part in a rally organized by the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association and the Hillsborough School Employees Federation. They were joined by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; Florida Education Association president and AFT vice president Andy Ford; HCTA president Jean Clements; and HSEF president Vicki Lawry.
From Tampa, the tour set off for Daytona Beach and a meeting of the Volusia Teachers Organization. Weingarten urged the local's members to "get on the phone and knock on doors" to get out the vote for the Obama-Biden ticket.
This election comes down to money power versus people power, she said. "They have a lot of money and ads. We have the people."
Following the meeting, the two AFT officers joined VTO president Andrew Spar and members of the local for a phone bank on behalf of President Obama and other candidates backed by the Florida union.
The Volusia stop included a visit to two elementary schools and the classrooms of teachers who are using the AFT's Thinking Math program as a bridge to implementing the Common Core State Standards.
It was Johnson (pictured at right) who revved up the crowd in Orange County the next day. Speaking at a barbecue hosted by the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, the AFT secretary-treasurer recalled her reaction when she learned that her mother was going to vote to re-elect President Reagan in 1984. Johnson said her mother wrongfully believed that Reagan was responsible for the increase in her Social Security payments.
The incident drove home the importance of talking about the issues—not just the candidates, Johnson said. "Talk to your family, your friends, your neighbors. Let them know what's at stake."
The next day started bright and early at a downtown Miami rally that coincided with the first day of early voting in the Sunshine State. Hundreds showed up to hear the Rev. Al Sharpton, 1199SEIU president George Gresham, Weingarten and others call on Floridians to fight back against efforts to suppress the vote in their state by voting early and encouraging others to do the same. "This is not just about one person or one candidate. This is about the right of people to vote," said Sharpton, whose organization, the National Action Network, put together the event.
"We are here because we know that we have not only the right but the responsibility to vote," Weingarten told the rally, which was held in a park around the corner from an early-voting location, where people were lining up to cast their ballots. "We have the responsibility to help our kids," she said, "by voting to make sure our schools are better, our kids go to college and that we have good jobs."
Weingarten was joined on stage by Johnson, United Teachers of Dade president and AFT vice president Karen Aronowitz, and UTD secretary-treasurer Fedrick Ingram.
Next, it was back on the road for the 45-minute trip to Fort Lauderdale, where the bus was greeted by a large and boisterous crowd in the parking lot of the Broward Teachers Union headquarters; the AFT officers were welcomed by BTU president-elect Sharon Glickman.
In President Obama, Weingarten told the gathering, the nation has a leader "who believes that 'union' is a good word, not a bad word."
The final stop on the Florida tour was West Palm Beach and a luncheon with members of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association as well as members of the retiree chapter of New York City's United Federation of Teachers.
Johnson, noting that she was "preaching to the choir," said issues such as quality schools, healthcare and Social Security should be foremost in people's minds when they cast their ballots on Nov. 6.
The AFT secretary-treasurer praised the retirees in attendance for their ongoing political activism, which she noted extends well beyond this year's presidential election.
Referring to remarks made by Gov. Romney in a closed-door meeting with donors earlier this year, Weingarten told the luncheon guests: "I'm proud to be part of the 47 percent. But as Barack Obama says, we have to be about the 100 percent."
PBCTA president Debra Wilhelm and Democratic congressional candidate Lois Frankel also spoke at the luncheon.
The Election 2012 bus tour will move on to the Northeast beginning Oct. 31, with stops in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York state. [Roger Glass/video by Brett Sherman and Matthew Jones]
October 31, 2012