AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Ground Game

On Campus
November/December 2012
Feature Story

AFT members are staffing phone banks and going door to door in an effort 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 a country whose guiding principle is survival of the fittest.

It’s a clear and stark choice for members like Cleveland special education teacher L'Taundra Everhart, who vividly recalls last year’s fight to overturn legislation that would have stripped Ohio’s educators, firefighters, police officers and other public employees of their bargaining rights. It’s critical that anti-union, anti-worker laws like the one eventually overturned in Ohio don’t become widespread, Everhart asserts. “You have to have informed voters” and elect candidates who will stop these laws from proliferating, says Everhart, who has regularly participated in the door-to-door canvassing and phone banking organized by the Cleveland Teachers Union and the city’s other unions.

Nlandu Kisenda, a paraprofessional at a high school in Northern Virginia, joined other members of the Fairfax Federation of Teachers in late September for a day of canvassing on behalf of President Obama.

Her reasons for supporting the president are very personal. “My daughter is going to college because of federal student aid programs,” Kisenda says. “She can’t borrow the money from her parents,” a suggestion Romney has made. “I don’t have money for that. There are a lot of smart students out there whose parents are poor.”

President Obama’s support for early childhood education programs and his effort to pass the American Jobs Act, which would rehire laid-off educators and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and crumbling schools, are among the issues driving AFT members to actively support his re-election.

Thousands of AFT activists -from AFT Pennsylvania to the Florida Education Association to the California Federation of Teachers, and everyone in between-are talking to friends and family about what’s at stake this election.

In Wisconsin, Luz Sosa, an economics instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College and a member of AFT Local 212, has been volunteering through labor coalitions like Wisconsin Jobs Now and through Latinos for Obama. She is making phone calls, knocking on doors, talking about immigration issues, jobs and hopes for the next generation. “If we re-elect the president, that might be a way to get the Dream Act passed,” 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.

Bonnie Halloran, president of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization at the University of Michigan, is having her members sign cards pledging that they will vote “yes” on Proposal 2. LEO has been joining forces with the UM Graduate Employees’ Organization, knocking on neighbors doors as Nov. 6 nears. “Clearly, there is a direct impact between passage of Proposal 2 and our upcoming contraction negotiations,” she says.

In a number of states, including Florida,  New Hampshire and Ohio, the political outreach efforts of AFT members and other unionists have been supplemented by those of members of the New York State United Teachers, many of whom have traveled to assist in get-out-the-vote efforts.

Retirees are fired up

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”?