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Ready, Set, Get Active!

Retired Members Can Help Save Public Schools Through Political Activism

By Cindy Long

Elections are like traffic circles, says Marjorie Clark, a retired educator who served Virginia public schools for 32 years.

“We have a new opportunity to decide on our future direction,” she says. “We can change direction, continue forward, or veer slightly, but whatever direction we choose will determine the next four years for our country.”

The direction we choose can also shape the course of education for a decade or more, as we’ve seen with President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, which was enacted in 2001.

With the 2012 presidential election almost upon us, Clark says it’s more important than ever for all educators—whether they’re retired or still in the classroom—to stand up for public education.

“If you believe a solid education is the best preparation for each person’s future, and that preparing all students to lead productive and worthwhile lives benefits our communities and country as well as ourselves, we must select the president and congressional leaders who will commit to standing with us in achieving this excellence,” Clark says.

But it’s not just public education that’s at stake. There are community issues, the state of the economy, and the very principle of democracy our country was founded on.

“With no limits on corporate and PAC spending, will we continue to be a democracy where every vote matters, where people can make individual choices, and where candidates and campaigns will listen to voters and seek their support?” she asks. “Or will we become an oligarchy where four or five individuals who can spend billions of dollars to support a particular candidate can control the media message and the election for their own interests?”

Clark became involved actively in politics in the 1980s when an alumnus of her college was running for public office. 

“I got hooked on the involvement and have been an activist ever since, serving on the Virginia Democratic State Central Committee for more than 20 years, serving as chair of the Democratic 7th District (Congressional) Committee, and being a delegate to the U.S. National Democratic Convention five times.”

But you don’t have to be a political “junkie” to make a difference. If you’re reading this magazine, Clark says, you’re already a committed education advocate. And if you’ve built a career in the field of education, you certainly know how to be a self-starter.

“Retired educators are in the perfect position to take on a more active role in politics,” Clark says. “Not only do they have more time than when they were working, they have a broad educational background. They have wide experience with diverse populations and their needs and interests. They are used to planning ahead and then carrying out the plan within a specific time frame, and they have a broad spectrum of leadership abilities.”

With all of that in your arsenal, you can make a big impact in the upcoming election. Here’s how you can get involved right now:

• Call your local association to find out which campaigns they are endorsing and the contact information for those campaigns.

• Call the campaign offices to volunteer by helping at the polls on Election Day, or by making phone calls either at a phone bank or from your own home.

• Write letters to the editors of your local publications.

• Hand out brochures and materials at community events or in your own neighborhood as you are walking your dog or exercising.

• Host or attend events to support a candidate.

• Encourage the campaigns you support to address the issues that are important to you, like education, retirement, or health care.

• Sign on to email lists that announce campaign developments and forward information to your own email contacts from home.

Clark also recommends doing everything you can through email, telephone, snail mail, and other contacts to “discourage dirty campaign tactics like voter suppression through false rumors about registration, inaccurate election calendars, incorrect precinct locations, and outright campaign lies.” 

PolitiFact reports are helpful in determining the truth or falsehood of campaign statements, and you can find them online with a quick Google search. 

Finally, Clarks says when advocating for a candidate, don’t go on the attack against his or her opponent.

“All candidates have both strengths and weaknesses,” she says. “Speak most strongly about how your candidate addresses specific issues of importance to our future.”

Like a traffic circle, the political system goes around and around and there seems to be no end to the cycle of partisanship, but Clark says it’s absolutely vital to continue pressing for public education.

“It’s sometimes discouraging for those of us who feel like we have fought all of these fights to go back and fight them again,” says Clark, who retiried in 2002. “But if we have to fight again, we will.”

Republicans Join the Fight

By Emma Chadband


Republicans in the NEA shouldn’t feel lonely. Nearly 1 million NEA members—one-third of total membership—identify themselves as Republicans, and many of them are busy promoting public education in their party.

Larry Fells, a retired educator from Anderson, California, attended the NEA Republican Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C., on July 6, along with nearly 70 other Republicans. Fells said people usually don’t think of teachers as Republicans, but he’s quick to counter what he sees as a misperception.

At the conference, Fells said, “When you say [to lawmakers] that you’re a teacher and you’re also a Republican, Holy mackerel! It’s like a little light goes on and they think, ‘There are Republican teachers?’ ”

Fells is the treasurer of the Republican Educators Caucus, which works to unite educators and Republican lawmakers to create better public schools.

“We teachers want to work with Republicans to make the schools in America the best for our children, but they need to stop hammering us because we’re NEA,” said Fells.

The keynote speaker at the conference, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), said it’s difficult to make compromises in Washington, but, he added, “We must not surrender to the idea that education is a one-party issue.”

In fact, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said some of the most important accomplishments from the last legislative session never would have been possible without the help and support of Republicans who are friendly to the cause of public education. They helped block a proposal for a federal mandatory goal on teacher evaluations and worked to protect personnel files from being made public.

“I recognize, in this environment, how very difficult it is to buck the party line,” Van Roekel said. “We’ve got to find more ways to support our friends who believe as we do in the power of education.”

The President Believes in the Power of Education, But Does his Opponent?

By Amanda Litvinov

As Lois Jacobs’ job evolved from library teacher to media specialist over the course of her 23-year career, she saw the first computers, Apple IIs, brought into school libraries to replace paper card catalogues. Now retired, Jacobs doesn’t recall feeling nostalgic about the transition.

“I am not interested in going backward,” said Jacobs, referring not only to library operations but also to politics. The Massachusetts resident, who was a public employee and Massachusetts Teachers Association member during Mitt Romney’s single-term governorship, says one of her top concerns these days is the possibility of a Romney presidency.

“It was very much an imperial governorship,” she recalled. “He didn’t work that well with the state house, and he wasn’t open and available to us as citizens.” And that’s not all. “Trust me,” Jacobs continued, “he’s not here to see the public schools survive.”

That’s why Jacobs picked up and headed to New Hampshire after receiving an email alert that Mitt Romney would hold a fundraiser there. She joined fellow educators and other supporters of President Obama for a counter-rally.

“I decided it was time to put my boots on the ground,” she said. “I am a retiree on a fixed income, and I make donations when I can, but what I can give is my time versus my money. If they need me to show up holding a sign to say, ‘We’re not going away,’ then that’s what I’ll do.”

Jacobs supports the president’s re-election because of his efforts to keep educators in the classroom, as well as his strong standing for women’s rights and health care reform.

“There is no doubt that President Obama is supportive of public schools, the kind that serve every child in the neighborhood. If we don’t get him re-elected, educators will have no say in the classroom—and that’s if we can even keep our jobs.”

Romney did not get high marks from public school educators during his years as governor. He slashed funding for higher education by $15.9 million shortly after he was sworn in, and he relentlessly targeted early childhood education programs in sweeping budget cuts. He has long insisted that class size doesn’t matter to the quality of a child’s education.

Jacobs fears that decades of progress made through collective bargaining and educator-led reforms would be “out the window” if Romney were elected president. Romney’s promise to take so-called “right-to-work” legislation nationwide indicates that she’s right.

The bottom line for Jacobs, what really gets to her, is that Romney ”would put people in charge who would take us backward in terms of the rights of working people and education philosophy.”

“I don’t want to go back,” Jacobs says. “It’s time to move on. That’s how our country moves forward.”


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