Posted In: Activist Profiles, Educator Voices, Nevada
by Colleen Flaherty
This is the second in a series where Education Votes profiles the finalists for the 2013 NEA Political Activist of the Year award. The finalists in the contest were chosen based on the amount and quality of political activism undertaken in the preceding year, and delegates at this year’s NEA Representative Assembly will be able earn points for their favorite nominee and help choose the Political Activist of the Year. These NEA members are the cream of the crop, leading the way in election campaigns and legislative advocacy efforts through actions such as sending letters and emails to elected officials, calling fellow members, and knocking on doors to speak up for their students and public education.
While Loretta Harper has been an avid voter since she was 18, she was never really politically involved. As a Nevada high school counselor, she never raised money, canvassed, made a phone call or wrote a letter. That all changed January 9, 2008, when she saw a a then-U.S. senator from Illinois speak at an event in Las Vegas.
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Barack Obama spoke passionately about Pell Grants, immigration reform, health care and so many things that affect her students’ lives. At a school where many of her students are DREAMers, college bound from low-income families or simply don’t have access to basic needs without the school’s help, Harper was fired up for the presidential hopeful and that day went to a local campaign office to say, “I want to be involved.”
Five years later, she’s canvassed all over Las Vegas, worked at phone banks 47 times, registered voters, was elected chair of her precinct, and worked as a co-chair to Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. And she doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
Loretta Harper: There are a lot of reasons to be involved, but my main reason is I work with over 2,000 students, and I really care about their education. I knew if I sat back and didn’t do anything, my students might not have Pell Grants they need to go to college. I’m also concerned about immigration reform. Many of my students weren’t able to get scholarships because they aren’t citizens. Some have been here since they were five years old, and because they’re not a citizen, they miss a lot of scholarship opportunities. That’s why I’m so passionate about being involved.
EV: Why do you think it’s important for educators to be involved in government and politics?
Harper: It is so important for educators to get involved because it affects our class sizes, it affects our evaluations, and so many other issues that affect our students. We have to become advocates for our students. Recently, I’ve been really worried about the sequester cuts. A lot of my students receive free or reduced lunch, and for a lot of our students, that’s their only meal. If we don’t lobby our legislators, they go hungry and they don’t learn. That’s why we have to lobby and write letters. We have to stay focused on education.
EV: What do you like most about your advocacy work?
Harper: I love having my students involved. I love helping them do community service. I feel like I’m not alone in this fight for education. It’s great to see students knocking on doors, making phone calls, doing data entry, working side by side with me. It’s their community service, and it helps them when applying to colleges. They really motivates me.
EV: How did you get started being politically involved?
Harper: I started one day when a friend of mine at high school told me that Barack Obama was coming back in 2008. I’ve always voted, but I wasn’t very involved. So I went on January 9, 2008, and I listened to Senator Obama. He talked about Pell Grants, health care, Head Start, full-day kindergarten and so many things I was passionate about. I said, that’s who I’m going to work for. I got so excited, and I had never volunteered before in my life. I had never made a phone call or donated money or anything, but I hit the ground running. I’m still passionate about President Obama’s agenda, and I’m still very active.
EV: How do you make the time to be so involved?
Harper: I find time. I make time. You know, I care about the students so much. I work after school, on the weekends, anywhere that it fits in my schedule. Whatever their focusing on in Washington D.C., that’s what I’m focusing on.
Harper: If an NEA member isn’t involved, I would say, ‘The time is now.’ We need to come together and work hard for our
students. Don’t put it off, do it now. Become involved for our students. Every phone call you make, every letter you write makes a difference. One hour a week, 10 hours a week, it doesn’t matter, your voice counts. That would be my mission statement — your voice counts, become involved to work for your students. If they say they don’t have time, I tell them, ‘Do you have one hour to send emails? Can you write a letter? Can you come to a rally? Can you donate money? What can you do?’ You can make a difference, you really can.
EV: Why should the delegates choose you for the 2013 NEA Political Activist of the Year award?
They should choose me because I’ve been involved since 2008. I give my time, I’m not paid. I have recruited over 200 volunteers to help with data entry, voter registration, phone calls and canvassing. I’ve hosted tons of house meetings. I have a lot of passion and energy, and I’m willing to work long hours and do whatever it takes to fight for education. Personally, I have given over 5,000 hours. I’ve never asked for a penny, I only want to make sure our kids are taken care of.