Young educators unite to take back the vote


by Amanda Litvinov

On Wednesday, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that a new Republican-engineered voter ID law does not violate the state’s constitution, which means it could be in place by Election Day.

Judge Robert Simpson wrote that there was not clear evidence that voters would be disenfranchised by the law, which requires a photo ID that opponents say as many as 1.6 million registered Pennsylvania voters lack. He also said there was not enough proof of widespread partisan motivations behind the law, though many disagreed after State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai bragged at a meeting of GOP activists that the law “is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania—done.”

Educator-activist Ashley Anthony

“A lot of people aren’t aware that laws like this one could actually take away their right to vote,” said Ashley Anthony, who has taught elementary school in Abington, just north of Philadelphia, for the past six years. “Getting the word out to help others learn what their rights are is the first step in fighting it.”

Anthony is one of 70 educator-activists from across the country attending a two-day training hosted by NEA and the NAACP to help them fight back against laws passed nationwide in the run up to the November elections that may deprive people of color, the poor, seniors and students of their fundamental right to vote. At the training, educators will hone organizing skills and share best practices in engaging communities most likely to encounter barriers to exercising their right to vote.

“These laws could fundamentally change the composition of the American electorate in ways not seen since the poll tax barred poor African-American citizens from voting in the post-Reconstruction Era following the Civil War,” said Becky Pringle, a Pennsylvania science teacher and current NEA Secretary-Treasurer. “If we don’t step up right now, more than five million eligible voters could be disenfranchised—more than enough to decide a close election.”

Pringle is one of the presenters slated for this weekend’s training. Session topics will include voter registration and mobilization, as well as a primer on the state of voting rights in America.

“When voter suppression is the problem, voting is the answer,” stated NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous. “In the last two years, more states have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any time since the rise of Jim Crow. From cuts to early voting and felony disenfranchisement to attacks on third party nonpartisan voter registration efforts, these laws disproportionately disenfranchise people of color.”

“But we can turn this situation around, if we vote,” Jealous said. “That is why we launched this historic voter registration, education, and protection effort—to ensure our voices are heard and our votes are counted on Election Day and for years to come.”

Anthony compared attending the training to preparing lesson for the classroom: “I wouldn’t go in without reviewing the most current information and making a plan for how best to deliver it. I want to learn how to help people see the difference between candidates, so they can determine who will be best for public education,” she said. She intends to stay engaged in local, state and federal politics far beyond this fall’s elections.

“I would say to other educators that if you’re that passionate about your career as an educator, it’s worth saving, and the best way to do that is to know politics. We see how things take a turn when those who aren’t pro education get into office.”

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