AFT members who become politically active on behalf of candidates who support world-class schools and high-quality public services have always been the union’s “difference-maker” during the election season. This year is no exception. Members across the country are actively involved in local, state and national efforts to educate voters about the issues and to get people to the polls on Nov. 2.
Second-year educator Anthony Tabacco knows firsthand the importance of political action. A music teacher in Broward County, Fla., Tabacco will always remember his rookie year––and the lesson it taught him about the world of politics. It started with a school budget crisis that put educators’ jobs on the line. Then came Florida’s S.B. 6, a state bill to put standardized exams in the driver’s seat for every aspect of school life. Finally, there was the fight in Congress to secure funds that could prevent the elimination of as many as 300,000 local school positions—no small concern for Tabacco, who had been told he wouldn’t be coming back this school year.
“It was tooth and nail,” the music teacher says of these fights, which taught him a lot about how the battles must be waged: It’s not about unions standing up for teachers; it’s about teachers standing up for themselves through their unions.
“I never knew it made this much of a difference,” Tabacco says of grass-roots political involvement. But Tabacco, who has returned to teaching this year thanks to effective political action, now traces a strong line connecting the engagement of members like himself with a string of successes by his local, state and national affiliates to preserve jobs and promote effective school improvement.
And the music teacher offers a simple message to colleagues around the country when it comes to getting engaged in key political battles this November: “Don’t take a pass.”
Rallying behind their candidates
Economics are driving affiliate endorsements across the nation. The AFT-affiliated New York State Public Employees Federation has endorsed gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo. He “earned our endorsement because of his positions on two key issues for us—reducing the state’s wasteful use of consultants, and his plan to rein in hundreds of unaccountable public authorities that are packed with patronage appointments and duplicate services provided by state agencies,” says PEF president Ken Brynien, who also is an AFT vice president.
In Wisconsin, AFT members had canvassed neighborhoods almost 50 times before Labor Day, dedicating weekends, evenings and lots of shoe leather in an effort to enlist backing for candidates who will support schools and public services. There is genuine excitement about the prospect of electing Tom Barrett, a pro-labor candidate for governor.
Patrick Devitt, a retired public defender and a member of AFT-Wisconsin, participates in labor’s get-out-the-vote activities because he’s “devoted to the philosophy of the value of unions to the country. They are an important economic tool for people to get into the middle class and stay there.”
The Texas AFT is reaching out to 65,000 members across the state as it builds a groundswell of support behind Linda Chavez-Thompson and her bid to become the Lone Star State’s next lieutenant governor. Chavez-Thompson is former executive vice president of the AFL-CIO. The state federation and its affiliates have set up phone banks and organized neighborhood walks on behalf of Chavez-Thompson.
“Empowering” is how Austin school librarian Laura Rice describes her involvement in these efforts. And she’s done it all—from working the phones to block walking with the union’s endorsed candidate for state representative. As an educator, she knows “you have to step out of your comfort zone” to take on this challenge, but the bottom line is “you do see changes” through political involvement “and you personally become better informed” about the candidates and issues.
In Florida, affiliates and members across the state have been working to drive education issues to the forefront as they rally behind Alex Sink, the state’s chief financial officer in her bid to become the Sunshine State’s next governor. Securing victory for candidates of this caliber is an investment in the future—one that only members can make through their grass-roots involvement in the political process, says Tabacco.
And he plans to stay involved through November and beyond. “You’ve got to get out there,” he says. “There’s no other way.”