In the last iconic scene of the movie “The Darkest Hour,” Winston Churchill decided to oppose the old guard members of his own political party who were pushing for surrender-like negotiations with the Nazis during World War II. He knew he was risking his position as prime minister, but he decided to stop catering to them and take the risk.
As Churchill finished giving one of his most inspiring speeches in Parliament, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden said: “Changed your mind?” Churchill responded, “Those who never change their minds never change anything.”
Change can be a friend or a foe, welcomed or feared, a crisis or an opportunity. Through all our years as UFT members in schools or in health facilities, change was a constant. Think of that first day, week or year on the job and the thrill of newness and the determination to succeed. You did what you had to do, including things you didn’t like doing. Change became your friend, and you gained the strength to stand up for what you believed in with help from colleagues and union allies.
If, at times, you were challenged by an arbitrary administrator or by social or political pressure, you learned to use your strength to fight the worthwhile fight, win or lose. That fight may have included carrying a banner, marching across the Brooklyn Bridge and around City Hall, or simply voting for the candidate who shared your values and beliefs.
Over the past year, retirees have borne witness to cataclysmic change that had the potential to bowl us over. But most of us withstood the onslaught and channeled it to our advantage. The “How are you?” calls and digital outreach by our chapter to our members come to mind. Checking in on one another was a tonic for both those called and those reaching out. And there were no strings attached. We simply cared about each other.
And a political maelstrom was foisted on us. Teddy Roosevelt once said someone is going to make decisions for good or ill that will affect our lives. We have the choice to either sit back and let it happen or do something about it. The UFT, in its earliest days, stood up and acted when faced with the national political nightmare of anti-labor retrograde forces.
Today we continue that fight. By our votes, the progressive gains made in Congress in the 2018 elections led into the 2020 presidential and Senate victories for progressives that are helping us regain our national balance.
The pandemic has wrought unimaginable change. We closed UFT headquarters in the early months and canceled in-person meetings. We could have hunkered down and waited for the storm to pass. But that is not in our nature. Soon we found a way to hold virtual RTC general membership meetings via Zoom. Instead of 300 to 400 loyal retirees showing up at UFT headquarters, we now have in excess of 1,200 participants from across the country.
Zoom also afforded us the opportunity to have our annual benefits meetings virtually — meetings usually held in person all across the country. Attendance was up because the meetings were not limited by geography.
We experimented with remote Si Beagle Learning Center courses and seminars and found the same uptick in attendance.
Instead of bowing to the fear of change, we looked it in the eye and made it our friend. How UFT is that?