We may have to stand 6 feet apart, but we’re standing together. Crossing half the country from west to east since the end of September, the AFT Votes tour bus is making critical stops to engage voters, distribute free books, and rally with our members and other unions—all done with pandemic safety precautions in place to keep everyone safe.
At the first stop in Los Angeles Sept. 30, a caravan of members of United Teachers Los Angeles drove to a Chevron refinery for a rally. They shamed the giant oil company for failing to pay its fair share of taxes for public services, and urged Californians to vote yes on Proposition 15, which would encourage housing development and provide desperately needed funding for public schools. In particular, UTLA and its allies cited the urgency of providing funding to make school buildings safe.
“We want nothing more than to be back in our schools with our students,” said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz. “But we’ve got to keep it real: We’re in a pandemic, and lives are at stake. This is our moment to be bold and create the schools our students deserve.”
All three top AFT officers joined the Los Angeles teachers: AFT President Randi Weingarten, Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick C. Ingram and Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus. Together they urged UTLA members and their allies to support both Proposition 15 and the Biden-Harris presidential ticket. They also checked in with local leaders via Zoom on the wildfires and disaster relief. And they visited California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who is making sure Californians can vote by mail or in person, early or on Nov. 3.
Los Angeles students delivered a report card to Chevron, giving it an F for failing in its civic duty by avoiding $100 million per year in property taxes. In fact, the oil giant not only has failed to pay its fair share of taxes, but has kicked in hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to stop Proposition 15. “Shame on you, Chevron,” DeJesus said as she brandished a sign reading, “Sí a la 15.”
Next it was on to Las Vegas, where the AFT team met in person and virtually with members of the Culinary Workers Union, an affiliate of UNITE HERE and a longtime ally. The three AFT officers joined the culinary union’s team of 250 members in a kickoff for canvassers, going door to door urging Nevadans to vote blue, starting at the top of the ticket with Joe Biden for president and Kamala Harris for vice president.
“The work that the culinary union members have done is inspiring,” Weingarten told them. “It sends a message that we will have a voice in our future. Together we’re fighting in Washington to get the funding we need, the healthcare we need, and to deal with the five crises we’re in: a pandemic, a recession, a crisis of racism, a climate crisis and, now, a democracy crisis” as the president refuses to commit to a peaceful transition of power.
During their visit in Las Vegas, the AFT leaders distributed free books and supplies from First Book to schoolchildren in need. In the afternoon, they took part in a Mi Familia Vota event for voter registration. They stopped by and left flowers at the Las Vegas healing garden, a memorial to the dozens of victims of the 2017 mass shooting at an outdoor music festival, on its third anniversary. And Weingarten couldn’t resist giving a virtual hug to AFT retirees in Nevada during their phone bank training.
From Nevada, the tour bus motored on to Colorado, where the AFT team met with local members of Mi Familia Vota to continue their work on getting out the Latino vote. In Denver, Weingarten and Secretary of State Jena Griswold conducted a live discussion about voting in Colorado. The team also dropped in to say hello to workers at a distribution center for Joe Biden swag. Later they met up for chats with activists from Coloradans for the Common Good, AFT Colorado, Colorado WINS and other unions.
The next day, Oct. 3, AFT and other union leaders came back together to do a literature drop for candidates who care about working people. They kicked off a texting program with Great Education Colorado. They also held a roundtable conversation on COVID-19 and reopening, and an in-person voter registration drive sponsored by Mi Familia Vota.
Topeka, Kan., was the bus tour’s next stop, with AFT Kansas hosting a “lawn chair chat” in Overland Park on Oct. 6 with Dr. Barbara Bollier, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. AFT Kansas President Sarah LaFrenz noted that the union’s membership includes lots of essential workers, including teachers who have to go back to school in person and correctional workers, some of whom have lost their lives in the pandemic.
“We have to get out the vote,” she said. “Not just one person, but every person.”
Weingarten gave a shoutout to public employees in the Kansas Organization of State Employees, as well as to members of AFT Kansas. She said the bus tour is traveling from California to Pennsylvania, and then from Pennsylvania to Florida, pointing out that the bus will have to miss some states because of COVID-19 spikes in a few states, like Wisconsin.
Weingarten introduced Bollier, a state senator and a physician, as someone who “knows her stuff, is compassionate, is extraordinarily competent, who has conviction about the importance of expanding healthcare, and someone who is morally righteous.” She commended Bollier for taking the risk to switch from the Republican Party and run as a Democrat.
“This is one of those elections where you will see a difference in our country going forward or backward. It is an election about the common good, and common sense,” Weingarten said. “I can’t wait until Nov. 3 because I want to see Dr. Bollier in the Senate.”
Bollier thanked Weingarten for working on behalf of the entire country, not just one state, region or narrow interest. She stressed that lawmakers need to do the same—not merely looking out for their own states but “pursuing the best we can for this country and the world.” She called on the Senate to step up and provide state and local pandemic relief funding, jobs, protective gear for frontline workers, and loans to keep small businesses afloat.
“I am about people over party. We must work together,” Bollier said. “That’s a Kansas value I’ve always had: neighbor helping neighbor. Who doesn’t need healthcare? We all need it. We need to move forward and make sure that happens.”
After a beat, Bollier exclaimed: “Let’s go win some races!”
“Vote like your lives depend on it, because they do,” LaFrenz exhorted, adding in her best mom voice: “Don’t make me come and talk to you!”
Your union will never stop fighting to protect and secure your right to vote, Weingarten said. “If we vote, we win.”
[Annette Licitra / photos by Haley Potiker, Jeff Gillan and AFT staff]
Get everything you need for the election, including voter information, social media graphics and Zoom backdrops, at the AFT Votes website.