Vegas photo by http2007 / member photos by Gerald Lillard
By Amanda Litvinov
Upwards of 270 NEA-Retired members gathered in Las Vegas at the end of March—and they weren’t looking for Lady Luck. They were seeking to improve their skills and savvy in political action and member recruitment and mobilization at the NEA-Retired Leadership Development and Organizing Conference.
These veterans of America’s public schools are tired of the high-stakes political games they see being played all around them—Wall Street players gambling away working people’s retirement security, extremist governors placing middle class families at risk by taking away workers’ rights, and some lawmakers putting children’s futures on the line with massive education spending cuts.
That’s what inspired the new format and focus of this year’s NEA-Retired Leadership conference.
All of the sessions aimed to help our activists with member organizing and taking the lead on key political issues,” said NEA Retired President Tom Curran, a former teacher of 35 years who taught seventh and eighth grades in Westbrook, Maine. “We want to establish our already active Retired members as some of NEA’s ‘superactivists.’
Attendees could choose particular tracks, such as Political Action, Retirement Security Issues, or Organizing and Membership Recruitment, or they could build their own itinerary of sessions they thought would be most useful to their state and local chapters’ work.
“I chose the Political Action track” said Frank Bing , a Retired member from Arizona, “because I’m a hopeless political junkie, and because 2012 will be very important, both nationwide—with the presidency, the House, and the Senate in play—and statewide and locally in Arizona, where we hope to elect more moderates to reverse the Tea Party movement to the far right.”
Other attendees commented that they found the conference inspiring, although some of the things they learned at the conference were downright “scary”—like the prevalence of voter suppression tactics that extremist politicians are using in states across the country to try to influence the outcome of the 2012 elections.
Another frightening topic was the nefarious dealings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). “I learned the importance of watching the new state laws that are given to our state legislators from the ALEC organization,” commented Barbara Cunningham, the current president of the Iowa Education Association-Retired. “Wonder why the same bills are appearing in multiple states? Lawmakers are getting the same laws.”
But the experience also reaffirmed what she has long known: “NEA Retired members are active all over the country,” said Cunningham. “We use our time to lobby, demonstrate, collaborate and stand tall for public education.”
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