President's perspective

An inspirational trip

UFT President Michael Mulgrew

The presidential elections are nearly upon us, and I cannot stress enough their importance for both our union and the nation as a whole. We are at a crossroads, faced with a fundamental choice between progress and a return to the failed policies of the past.

That’s why I recently traveled to Florida, a critical swing state, to meet with our retirees there and campaign with them for President Obama. The trip was inspirational. I met some amazing and very passionate people who know just how important politics are to the work that we do.

Take, for example, Paul Bradford, 80, of Sarasota. Paul is originally from Brooklyn, where he taught for many years, and is a former UFT special representative. We met in Orlando, and Paul told me he carries his UFT banner — the same one he has had for the last dozen years — with him everywhere he goes.

“There’s always an opportunity to fight,” Paul told me. “Whether it is for teachers’ rights in Florida or for Obama for president, the UFT and its retirees are ready.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Then there’s D.J. Johnson-Hubbard, 60, from Naples. D.J also taught in Brooklyn schools, spending years of her life dedicated to the students at JHS 35, JHS 145 and PS 174. She told me that this election is critical because she sees it as a struggle to secure the rights of all Americans, not just those of the privileged few.

“Language, color of skin — none of these things should matter,” she said. “We should all have the same opportunities.”

In one meeting in Orlando, our members came from as far as Ocala in the north and Tampa in the south to discuss their fears and hopes for this election. They were concerned about Social Security and Medicare, but also, significantly, about the general state of education in New York and across the country. They expressed great interest in the fate of our in-service members here in New York City under Mayor Bloomberg and in next year’s mayoral race and how they can support us in it.

The members in Florida with whom I spoke each phrased it differently, but they told me the same thing: The stark differences between the candidates made it a clear and easy choice. Although we have not always agreed with him, President Obama is the candidate who will move our country forward into the future. He stands for fairness for working people and the middle class, for the preservation of programs like Medicare and Social Security which protect our seniors, and for a fundamental belief in the importance of unions and public education in making sure ordinary, hard-working Americans have a chance to make a better life for themselves.

They’re right, of course, which is why the UFT is proudly supporting President Obama.

The president has a real plan that will help ensure everybody — not just the banks and the very rich — has a fair shot at success. That’s why he signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which protected critical public services and saved or created 400,000 education and public-service jobs. It is why he wants to end tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas and make large corporations and the richest 2 percent of Americans pay their fair share in taxes. And it is why he signed the landmark Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to cover an additional 30 million uninsured Americans and guarantee insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Why would we want to return to the trickle-down economics of George W. Bush that in eight years took the greatest surplus in our nation’s history and turned it into the greatest budget deficit? Those policies failed everyone except the wealthiest 1 percent, but that’s what Republican candidate Mitt Romney wants us to go back to.

When it comes to education, the president believes that public education is the great equalizer and that we need to invest more in it while Romney believes that we should cut funding in our public schools and get rid of thousands of teachers, and that every child is nothing more than a voucher or a dollar sign.

Romney doesn’t have a plan to help working Americans. He will cut the taxes paid by big corporations and the wealthiest among us, increasing the share of taxes paid by ordinary Americans. And he will remove the regulations that protect consumers from big banks and Wall Street greed. All of that equals more support for the 1 percent.

Romney will also “voucherize” Medicare and repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As a result, the members I spoke with in Florida worry that under Romney they and future generations of Americans will be left to fend for themselves as individuals in negotiations with powerful health insurance companies.

But none of our members said Romney’s retrograde policies came as a surprise. How could they after Romney said that as president he would not represent the interests of the 47 percent of Americans — including veterans and seniors receiving Medicare or Social Security — whom he said see themselves as “victims” entitled to unlimited government support.

That’s why, despite some disagreements, our choice is clear and we must do everything in our power to re-elect President Obama.

Our members in Florida are hard at work calling their fellow retirees and other union households to encourage them to vote for the Obama-Biden ticket. Here in New York, we’re hitting the phones too, and, with your support, expect by Election Day to make more than 200,000 calls to union households in critical swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina as well as in New York State.

But we cannot do it alone. It takes all of us — both in-service members and retirees — working together and mobilizing our friends, families and co-workers to turn out and vote. That’s how elections are won.

For all of you who are already doing this work, I thank you. Anyone who wants to lend a hand, please visit www.uft.org/phonebanks to sign up to volunteer at a UFT phone bank today.

Related topics: UFT elections
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