A cadre of retired AFT members was in Washington, D.C., on June 26-28 learning how to engage their fellow retirees and motivate them to be politically active. In preparation for the 2012 presidential contest, the retirees—all from the presidential battleground states of Florida, Michigan, New Mexico and Ohio—participated in the AFT's Political Training for Retirees.
Organized by the AFT retirees program, along with the national union's political and legislation departments, the attendees learned the nuts and bolts of running an effective political program in their retiree chapters.
Irene Lipof, a retired professor of psychology, attended the training to learn how she can help build and strengthen the retiree chapter of the United Faculty of Miami Dade College. "We are starting from scratch," she says. "This training had some good suggestions and specifics on getting members engaged and motivated."
The wave of attacks on collective bargaining, pensions and retirement security, education and voting rights was a major catalyst for the retirees who gathered in Washington to take part in the boot camp.
"I'm concerned about healthcare, pensions and Social Security," says Lipof, adding that she hopes President Obama is re-elected. "I worry that without Obama, many of the opposition's plans to attack these programs will come to fruition."
Getting members motivated is a key concern for many retiree leaders and activists, and the training gave the attendees an opportunity to solidify a plan to reach members when they return home. "We have retirees waiting to be organized. There is always a need for more energy and ideas," says Barbara Petersen, a retired teacher from New Mexico and a member of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation retiree chapter.
Peterson, who is a recent retiree, looks forward to being part of her chapter's political efforts. "I knew I wanted to focus on the election because I would have the time and the energy to devote."
In addition to learning how to run a political campaign, the retired activists had a chance to network and discover what other retiree chapters are doing to connect with members.
"Volunteering is a perfect opportunity to get involved," says Elizabeth Jones, a member of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers retiree chapter. Jones has been politically active for years, working as a poll monitor during the 2008 presidential elections.
Ken Reid is a retired member of AFT Michigan. "Our retiree locals are not as active as they once were," he admits. Attending the training provided "an opportunity to learn a few things and to light the fire we once had."
Reid is excited about the contacts he made at the training as well as the prospect of working with active and retired members and with other Michigan locals. "The training has given us an opportunity to think about what we are doing and to change our approach to improve retiree chapters," he says. "Our work is cut out for us, but I leave with a better understanding about how to make this happen."
Wellyn Collins, a recently retired social studies teacher from Cincinnati, who wants to motivate retirees in her chapter to get more involved, agrees. "I feel very good about what I've heard here." [Adrienne Coles/AFT Photo]
July 6, 2012