Thursday, November 3, 2016

Telephone town hall pulls no punches about election stakes | American Federation of Teachers

Telephone town hall pulls no punches about election stakes | American Federation of Teachers:

Telephone town hall pulls no punches about election stakes 

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 We can gather our strength for one last push to turn out our vote for a supremely prepared and qualified candidate who listens to voices on all sides and will work tirelessly to make life better for all Americans. Or we can ease up and allow a grudge-driven reality show TV star to become the nation's next commander-in-chief, free to roll out the Oval Office welcome mat for white supremacists, misogynists, xenophobes, anti-Semites and other hate-filled actors who are trying to warp our national dialogue.

Those were the stark choices laid out for more than 180,000 AFT members in a Nov. 2 telephone town hall conversation led by union President Randi Weingarten and other national education and political leaders. With less than a week remaining, the nationwide discussion also addressed how every AFT member can help in these final few hours by talking with family, friends and colleagues, and by canvassing neighborhoods or making calls, including at-home phone bankingthrough the AFT's Action Network. (Almost 500 people on the call volunteered.)

"I believe with every bit of my soul that Hillary Clinton will be a great president," especially if we get a Senate elected that will partner with her, Weingarten told the audience. The choice on the other ticket, she added, is no choice at all. "We all want change, but do we want the type of change that elects a man so unhinged and disqualified" for high office?  

Weingarten's passion was matched by town hall guest Diane Ravitch, a historian of education, New York University professor and one of the nation's most persuasive voices on education issues. The tone of Donald Trump's campaign is unprecedented in its viciousness, she said, and it "uses the language of authoritarian dictatorship, not the language of democracy."

Public education would be staring at catastrophe with Trump in the White House, Ravitch warned. "Donald Trump looks with contempt on public schools and the people who teach in them." Under Trump, there would be a "renewed push for privatization and destruction of the teaching corps."

Ravitch went on to describe Hillary Clinton as a leader who "is not the lesser of two evils but a wonderful woman, and I'm sure she'll be a great president." While she may hold somewhat different views in areas like charter schools, those differences pale in comparison to the threat posed by Trump. And they are areas where Ravitch felt certain there was common ground to be found. "Hillary Clinton will listen," she said. "I don't know if I'll convince her—but I know an intelligent, thoughtful and open-minded person will listen."

Down-ballot hopes
Weingarten was also joined in the town hall discussion by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who described tight but eminently winnable matchups in Senate races that will be key to securing a new majority in the upper chamber. Such a majority is essential, he told the audience, if the nation is ever to make progress on such vital matters as seating a full Supreme Court, which the current GOP majority has blocked by refusing to fulfill its constitutional responsibility for White House nominees.

States where Democratic holds or pickups will secure a new majority are Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Tester said, and the deciding factor in each contest could easily be the Democratic Party's superior ground game. "What wins close races is people helping candidates win by knocking doors and contacting friends," said Tester. "We have to have a Democratic Senate to apply a little common sense to a crazy place like Washington."

Two of the most effective areas for the AFT's get-out-the-vote efforts have shaped up to be pivotal on election night: South Florida, and the region in and around Philadelphia. And approaching voters in ways that present a team for change—candidates both up and down ballot—has proven to be effective, AFTers in these areas report.

The town hall also heard from Chicago teacher Erika Wozniak, an AFT 2016 Everyday Hero and a self-described "hard-core progressive," who made an impassioned appeal for other Bernie Sanders supporters to rally behind Hillary Clinton in these final days. "I am all about quality education, first and foremost, and Hillary is the candidate who will fund our public schools [and] set the example of respect" that educators deserve. Should the Democratic standard-bearer ever visit her classroom, "I'd welcome with her with open arms," Wozniak remarked. "Donald in my classroom is the scariest thought in the world."

Final push
The AFT has been firing on all cylinders in this election, laying the groundwork for Hillary Clinton and strong down-ballot candidates, and for school-friendly results on key ballot questions. Union get-out-the-vote efforts are up and running in 22 states, with more than 300,000 voter contacts, Weingarten reported.

Today, more than 4 out of 5 members are backing candidates endorsed by the union in 2016, but more remains to be done to ensure victory up and down the ballot. The way to start is by contacting your local to see how you can help, or by joining the AFT's call team.
Too much is at stake to let it slip away in these final few hours, Weingarten said. This election "is the clearest assault on our democracy and the closest we have ever come to fascism that I have seen in my life," she told the audience.

What it boils down to, she added, is a choice between "hope and fear, anger and aspiration, democracy and fascism."

[Mike Rose]
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