By Amanda Litvinov, Colleen Flaherty and John Rosales
With Election Day just around the corner, educators are fired up about exercising their right to vote and taking the lead in making sure their friends and neighbors can do the same. That’s a good thing — as trusted community members, educators like you are just the civic-minded folks who can encourage other eligible voters to make casting a ballot their top priority on November 6.
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Face-to-face conversations about the importance of voting and which candidates are best for public education can have enormous impact when educators are the ones delivering that message. And believe it or not, wrapping up those conversations by simply asking eligible voters to commit to going to the polls is an important step.
If you live in one of the 19 states in which voter laws have changed in the past few years (in some cases in the past few weeks), you can also play a role in educating other voters about their rights.
It’s not too late to get involved and make sure we elect those who will do right by public education and the middle class.
Here’s how your colleagues are making a difference — and you can, too.
Do what you do best—educate!
Jane Ligon grew up in the segregated South, and she remembers wishing there were something she could do to change things. Today she’s one of the longest-serving educators ever in her Tennessee county, beloved by generations for 40-plus years, and a long-time political activist.
Ligon has participated in numerous voter registration drives, canvassed countless streets in her state, and lobbied legislators at the Tennessee statehouse as well as on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
“This is the time to get out there and organize members and community stakeholders,” she said while attending an activist training session over the summer. “We need to check our legislators’ report cards and see who our friends are and remember them at the polls.”
With public schools under attack from all sides, Ligon is particularly irked by elected leaders who would designate education support professionals as at-will employees and give school directors the power to dismiss ESPs without due process.
Remember that linking your local and state issues to the importance of elections is key in speaking with others about why elections matter. Use your National Education Association colleagues as a resource on how to talk about the issues that affect your community.
“I have a network of NEA friends I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” she says. “We work together to fight anti-public education politicians. These are trying times, but issues of fairness, equality, and protection of workers’ rights have never been more important.”
— John Rosales
Inspired by Miss Jane? Talk to colleagues and friends about the importance of voting and what’s at stake for public education and the middle class in this election.
Help defend voter rights
Voter education is extremely important in this election: Nineteen states have passed restrictive new laws since 2011 that voting rights experts say will deprive people of color, the poor, seniors and students of their fundamental right to vote. Thanks to voter outcry, some of them have been blocked, weakened or repealed (find out more on the Brennan Center for Justice’s easy-to-read maps), but confusion can be a barrier in and of itself.
“A lot of people aren’t aware that laws like these 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 who traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend a two-day training hosted by NEA and the NAACP to help them hone their 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 NEA Secretary-Treasurer.
“If we don’t step up right now, more than 5 million eligible voters could be disenfranchised— more than enough to decide a close election.”
Her message was not lost on Robert Gaines III, a special education paraprofessional from Farmington, Mich., just outside of Detroit, who is committed to doing all he can to help voters exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot.
Gaines drove more than 10 hours each way to be part of the NEA/NAACP training. “As educators, we believe the children are the most important thing for this country, and that means our voices must be heard and we must get to the polls.”
Use these online tools to check to see if voting laws have changed in your state and help voters locate their polling place in advance of Election Day.
Commit to vote
If you were to meet future educator De’Jon Davis today, there’s a good chance she’d be wearing a pin that says in bold red letters, “Committed to Vote.”
Davis wants those around her to know she will exercise her right to vote in November — and she’ll do so with her future students in mind. “Too often, special needs children are overlooked, and it’s about time that they get the support they deserve,” said the Bowie State (Md.) University special education major.
“Same goes for early childhood education. Those are crucial years in a child’s development, and we need a president who understands that.”
The teachers of tomorrow have displayed the depth of their concern about what this election means for the future of their profession at a series of Commit to Vote events hosted by the NEA Student Program on campuses around the country.
“When I talk to these students about why they’re voting, it comes down to education,” says David Tjaden, chair of the NEA Student Program, an organization of more than 60,000 students in education programs on more than 1,100 campuses across all 50 states.
“It’s education funding, it’s making sure I’m not teaching in a classroom with 50 students in it, making sure that my school has a library, making sure you give me the basic resources I need to teach,” said Tjaden, a graduate of the University of Iowa.
Voter commitment efforts are more than just a reminder that the election is coming up. They also serve as another way that voters like you can show the people you’re connected with just how important it is to exercise this fundamental right.
Sign our voter commitment card! Like it on Facebook and your networks will know just how important voting is to you.
Get out the vote!
Many educators in states that allow early voting take advantage of that option to ensure that their voices will be heard in this election. (Find out if you’re eligible to vote early.)
“As a teacher who lives in a different town from where I work, it’s hard for me to make it to the polls on Election Day,” said Oscar Ortiz, a middle school instrumental music director in small town Chariton, Iowa.
Now that his vote is squared away, Ortiz is focused on getting out the vote. “Once I’ve voted, I feel an even stronger need to advocate for my candidates,” he said. “I’m geared up to make calls and knock on doors. I feel more determined than ever that I want my candidates to succeed.”
Ohio high school teacher Kelli Green, another early voter, is equally determined to get her peers to the polls.
“Educators can’t afford not to vote,” said Green. “For us in Ohio, it’s pretty obvious from the last gubernatorial election that we need all our teachers voting.”
Green was referring to the election in 2010 of Governor John Kasich, who led the effort to pass a divisive law that severely weakened the collective bargaining rights of 360,000 public servants, including teachers and education support professionals. The law was defeated last year, thanks to volunteers like Green, who together collected hundreds of thousands of signatures to force a referendum.
Educators like Green are ready to switch from constantly playing defense to making the ultimate offensive play: Getting the right people into office.
Your vote is critically important in this election, and so is your voice. Here are a few more tips for getting voters to the polls:
- Let people know that while voter turnout is expected to be high, the presidential election will be close and their votes are needed.
- Walk voters through Election Day: Do they know the location of their polling place? (You can use this Voter Protection smartphone app to help them find out.) How will they get there, and what will they need to bring with them?
Talk, talk, and talk some more to friends, colleagues and neighbors about how important their vote is in the upcoming election. Spread the word in person and on social media.