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Ground Game

Healthwire
November/December 2012
Feature Story

AFT members like Karen Haglund are staffing phone banks and going door to door to help re-elect President Obama.

What will be the fate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the millions of Americans who now have healthcare coverage under this legislation? Will young people and families continue to have access to Pell Grants and other college tuition assistance? And will right-wing governors and other elected officials feel emboldened to go after the bargaining rights of teachers and other public employees in a naked attempt to silence their voices?

These are questions that AFT members and others are pondering as they prepare to go to the polls on Nov. 6. Put simply, it’s a choice between President Obama’s vision of an America that cares for all of its people—the young, the old, the middle class and the most vulnerable—and Mitt Romney’s vision of a country whose guiding principle is survival of the fittest.

It’s a clear and stark choice for members like John Epple, a cytotechnologist in Milwaukee. The Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (WFNHP) member says he is supporting the president because he is worried about potential changes to Medicare and Social Security and wants to keep the Affordable Care Act in place. “It’s very important to get insurance coverage for as many people as possible,” says Epple. “I know the ACA is not perfect, but it is a starting point.” Epple has been participating in neighborhood canvassing and other political activities. Being part of a group that shares his beliefs is “uplifting” for Epple, who says he’s been much more politically active since the protests in Wisconsin. “This is an opportunity to spread our message in more ways than one,” he says.

Pat Forrai-Gunther, a school nurse in Cleveland, spends many afternoons with other members of the Cleveland Teachers Union phone banking on behalf of President Obama. Forrai-Gunther says she is supporting the president because he champions the middle class, working families and children. “He supports getting children good healthcare, and that is evidenced by the Affordable Care Act. As a school nurse, that’s important to me.”

WFNHP member Karen Haglund has come full circle. Haglund is a former Republican who never paid much attention to politics  until she got involved in her union. Haglund, a mental health nurse in Milwaukee County, did not vote for Obama in 2008, but she says she has grown to like him over the last four years. This year, she is canvassing and phone banking with the WFNHP in an effort to get the president re-elected.

Haglund and her family have been hit hard by the economy, but she believes things are getting better. “I’ve been paying attention to the numbers, and I think Obama is doing the right thing.” She is also pleased that the Affordable Care Act has helped her adult children. And as a mental health nurse, she worries about Paul Ryan’s plan to convert Medicaid and Medicare to a voucher program. “They don’t have a clue how many people these programs are helping,” says Haglund.

Talking about what’s at stake

Thousands of AFT activists are talking to friends and family about what’s at stake this election.

Cynthia Wynn, president of the Wisconsin State Public Defender Association, has volunteered at the Obama for America phone bank in her Milwaukee neighborhood. As a public defender, Wynn wants to preserve the social safety net and is concerned about Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and services for the mentally ill. “I’m also very concerned about the horrible positions the Republican Party has taken on women’s issues,” she says.

Bruce Ewan teaches economics at Wayne County Community College in Michigan, where he is active in the WCCC Federation of Teachers. He is mobilizing colleagues to vote and to talk to other members one-on-one. The conversations are about re-electing Obama and, especially important in Michigan, about passing Proposal 2, which guarantees collective bargaining rights in the state constitution.

Retiree Tom Luvison spends most afternoons helping manage a phone bank at the Cleveland Teachers Union offices. In addition to the usual issues that concern seniors—healthcare, Medicare, a decent retirement—Luvison wants to help preserve the middle class for his grandchildren.

“We are at a crossroads,” he says. “Do we want a progressive agenda that cares for the majority of people and tries to include them in social programs that promote the general welfare?” Or, Luvison asks, do we want a Romney administration that would steer the country toward privatization and an attitude he describes as “you have to survive on your own”?

The way Ken Goodfriend sees it, this year’s election is about choosing between two very different views of the future—especially when it comes to healthcare for seniors.
Goodfriend, a retired member of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, is concerned that under “a President Romney,” changes made to Medicare and other healthcare programs would have a negative effect on senior citizens.

Goodfriend, who now lives in Boca Raton, Fla., is an active member of his Florida retiree chapter. He’s been helping coordinate the chapter’s phone banks and letter-writing campaign, where he and his colleagues are encouraging other retirees to vote for President Obama either by using the “early voting” option or by casting absentee ballots.

Across the country, AFT members are actively working in local and state campaigns and, of course, in the presidential election, to get out the vote for candidates who support working Americans and the middle class.