Water, water everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
This stanza from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” describes a mariner with an albatross around his neck aboard a ship in the doldrums surrounded by the briny deep without fresh water to quench his thirst. If you follow my columns and know my love for literary leaps, perhaps you can see what’s coming.
With apologies to the poet and to the valiant English teachers who guided us through this long poem, it reminds me of how some of us feel surrounded by angry, self-proclaimed, in-your-face assertions of populous democratic rights, but too often with nary a drop to acknowledge and nurture the great tradition of enlightened democratic achievement that organized labor and its progressive political allies fought to enshrine in our social contract over the last century.
The albatross? You decide. Could that symbol of misfortune be one or more of the presidential candidates who may be overlooking our need for optimism and American faith in the future? Let’s not let go of it. Even in the doldrums.
What offers us hope? Not ephemeral hope or rhetoric, but real, practical, step-by-step, actionable hope?
Some elements of hope involve preserving what we fought to accomplish in the past: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), employer-based health coverage like ours and pension security. These are the basic mainstays of all retirees.
Having helped elect a labor friendly House of Representatives in 2018, we can breathe a sigh of relief that some of the damage wrought or planned by the president can be mitigated. Our labor and progressive political allies are already pressing the Congress to start enacting favorable legislation so we can be ready as we find broader support in the near future.
Some states have passed laws to counter assaults on unions and attacks on voter accessibility, health coverage, climate change and environmental safeguards. New York recently passed legislation allowing farmworkers to organize and pursue better wages and benefits through collective bargaining. So we have not been idle.
Now, on the eve of campaign 2020, the American Federation of Teachers is asking each of us to voice our opinion. The AFT has been hosting town hall meetings with the presidential candidates so we can see and evaluate their policy positions and participate in the endorsement process. To have your voice heard, please go to AFTvotes.org, then go to VOICES and/or AFT Endorsement Policy, take the survey and express your concerns, positive views and fears. When the AFT does make an endorsement months from now, we want all union members’ views to be acknowledged.
At the UFT, starting this November, we will devote part of every RTC General Membership Meeting to political action. New York’s presidential primary is April 28, 2020, and New Jersey’s is in June. Volunteers are ready to roll as Michael Mulgrew’s Daytime Union to help get out the vote locally and around the country and to do the things our in-service colleagues cannot. To enlist, write to email@example.com or call 212-598-9576.
Our political action will be the sign of hope that can lift any albatross from around our necks and help us sail back to a safe harbor.