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District teams get training

New York Teacher

About 200 UFT members gathered for a weekend retreat in February to learn how they can make a difference for their co-workers, families and communities as members of the union's new district-level political action teams.

UFT Political Director Cassie Prugh said the new teams will enable the union to more effectively champion issues on behalf of its members.

"This retreat was a first step in building our union's political capacity and ability to more effectively engage in both political and issue-based campaigns," said Prugh, who credited the union's six existing political action coordinators for turning UFT President Michael Mulgrew's idea of district political teams into a reality. "Now with political teams in every school district across New York City, we can get out the count for Census 2020, we can register new voters and we can collect additional COPE contributions to fund our campaigns."

The weekend began with a session on the 2020 U.S. Census and the union's Everyone Counts campaign. In the previous Census 10 years ago, New York City's participation rate was well below the national average of 74%, which cost the city and state billions of dollars in federal funding over the last decade.

"Learning about the funding programs affected by the Census, including Title I and National School Lunch, helped me understand the need to motivate people to participate," said Mavis Yon, the chapter leader at the PS 156 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and a district team captain.

At the retreat, Julie Menin, the director of the city's Census efforts for 2020, shared her vision of UFT member volunteers armed with tablets, laptops and translators coming to PTA meetings and parent-teacher nights to have parents fill out the Census.

The political action team members brainstormed ways to get the word out about the Census, including teach-ins, pop-up Census centers, classroom lessons, union phone banks, text-a-thons and rallies. Participants also divided into breakout groups for each Census region and came up with ground plans to reach the communities in each zone.

The event also featured three seminars on vital aspects of the union's political work. In Making the Leap from the Classroom to the Campaign Trail, the participants discussed mobilizing UFT members, particularly women, to run for elected office. In UFT Political Action: The Power to Persuade, the UFT's political action staff talked about the political landscape the UFT faces at the state and national levels. And in Vote/COPE — How the UFT Ensures Your Voice is Heard, participants received a report on the political work on behalf of UFT members made possible by COPE contributions.

"We had all kinds of professionals who were very knowledgeable about the political arena," said Rebecca Lopez, a special education teacher at PS/MS 279 in the Bronx. "The experts who spoke to us encouraged us and fired us up."

Related Topics: Political Action