Marty Bennett

COVID-safe ground game delivers in swing states

Since I retired from teaching at Santa Rosa Junior College in 2013, I have worked part-time for UNITE HERE Local 2850 as a research and policy analyst. The union represents hotel, food service, airport, and gaming workers in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Sonoma Counties. I served as volunteer coordinator for the local’s Biden-Harris phone bank from mid-September through the November election.

Over the last half century, I have participated in countless grassroots electoral campaigns. The 2020 election cycle was the highpoint without question. The experience even topped my never-to-be-forgotten participation in the thrilling victory by Senator Eugene McCarthy over President Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 Wisconsin Democratic primary!

This year UNITE HERE focused its efforts on the swing states of Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania. It was the only national union to organize a socially distanced, door-to-door canvass in Reno, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami, Orlando, and Philadelphia.

Our 1,700 canvassers were rank-and-file workers (many unemployed), and a majority were workers of color and bilingual immigrants. They were required to adhere to the safety protocols of consulting epidemiologists at all times. For instance, a conversation at the door required that voters wear masks that canvassers could provide (handing them to the voter using tongs!). No members contracted COVID-19 as a result of their participation.

The field operation focused on Democratic, independent, black and brown, and infrequent voters. Simultaneously, the union mobilized its members and allies to phone these voters. The information obtained by callers was transmitted to tablets carried by canvassers in the field.

Canvassers in these four swing states knocked on 3 million doors, and hundreds of phone bankers made 10 million phone calls to voters. We contacted 440,000 infrequent voters who pledged their vote for Biden-Harris; two-thirds were voters of color; and, in Nevada, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, 125,000 who had not voted in 2016 pledged their vote for Biden-Harris.

UNITE HERE believes the unique ground campaign was responsible for the winning margins in Nevada, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. I was most inspired by the courage and persistence of our walkers (many in their 20s as I was when I got ‘Clean for Gene’ in 1968) who risked their health daily and often encountered hostile and racist Trump supporters at the door.

And we are not yet finished. UNITE HERE deployed 500 canvassers to Atlanta for the U.S. Senate races in Georgia and has launched another phone bank.

Marty Bennett is an Instructor Emeritus of History at Santa Rosa Junior College and former president of the Santa Rosa Junior College Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1946.

Sandy Baringer

Flipping a rural Midwestern county proves no easy task

I spent the latter part of the election season volunteering with the Clarke County, Iowa Democrats. We sent out a two-page letter and list of bullet points about Democratic priorities, candidate positions, and facts — yes, facts — to over 1,700 local voters registered with no party affiliation.

Clarke County is more rural and more red than the state as a whole, but it voted narrowly for Obama in both 2008 and 2012. In 2016 it flipped — Trump got 61.4 percent of its votes to Clinton’s 33.2 percent.

Our hypothesis was that the decline in newspaper readership had created an information vacuum that we could step in to fill, and thus counteract the sloganeering and distortion we were seeing in TV ads and candidate-financed direct mailings.

There wasn’t much, if any feedback from these letters, but we also put money into boosting some of our Facebook posts. These generated some comments, though the most common was “Trump 2020.”

Even among the growing Latino population in this county, there was skepticism about Biden. A Latino commenter said, “[Biden] has been a career politician and has made a good living at it and it’s hard to believe he can truly relate to the underprivileged folks he panders to!…dancing and playing ‘Despacito’ is not going to do it Jose!”

Most other comments were less thoughtful. One of our posts pointed out that the 2018 Iowa Republican Party platform called for having the Iowa legislature select the state’s U.S. senators. A highlighted page from the platform was included (though anyone could google it). We were accused of lying. In a different Facebook group local to Clarke County, I recently saw someone dismiss as a liberal fake news source.

In my 2004 book The Metanarrative of Suspicion in Late Twentieth Century America (based on my dissertation), I addressed conspiracy theories both in fiction and in real life. I received some mild criticism from peer reviewers and my dissertation advisor for failing to adequately theorize my topic. Sixteen years later, I still cannot.

When the votes were counted — all on the first night, including mail votes — Trump won Clarke County by more than a 2-to-1 margin, with 67.5 percent to Biden’s 31.5 percent.

Sandy Baringer was a lecturer in the writing program at UC Riverside for 21 years before she retired. She is secretary treasurer of the CFT Council of Retired Members and president of the UC-AFT Retiree Chapter, AFT Local 9999-R.​

Dennis Cox

“Retiree Power” rules the CFT Council of Retired Members

Anxious as the national elections this year made us all feel, (especially on the first Wednesday night of vote counting), I also felt blessed by three opportunities to serve with union activists fostering the restoration and expansion of American democracy and social justice.

Fortunate to be a division officer (southern vice president of the Council of Retired Members), I helped to establish the CRM electoral plan. Our leadership team encouraged members to join us in working with the California Alliance of Retired Members and to attend CARA’s town hall Zoom meetings, where we reviewed and then later worked to pass key statewide propositions. We also encouraged members across the state to participate in letter-writing campaigns and phone banks that urged union members to vote in their key swing states.

As chair of my own Retiree Chapters Social Justice Committee, I also worked with other ABC Federation of Teachers’ retirees on phone banks and letter writing. We followed our initial debate parties held during the Democratic primaries with three more debate debrief parties that engaged our members in lively discussions about Biden vs. Trump and Harris vs. Pence and his pet fly.

But in my most important position, as a rank-and -file union member, I was able to add some 470 phone calls to the many more of other union activists contributing to successful elections in swing states. Playing this small part with so many wonderful members of the family of labor makes the rewards of Democratic victories even sweeter.

Watching bogus efforts to overturn the election fall one by one into the murky depths of the dying, corrupt swamp of the last four years, we now have the opportunity to rejuvenate the soul of this country and continue even more boldly the struggle for social justice. Retiree Power” and union solidarity never felt better.

Dennis Cox taught high school English and Language Arts for 47 years, mostly in the ABC Unified School District, where he was a substitute for nine years after he retired. He is southern vice president of the CFT Council of Retired Members and a member of the ABC Federation of Teachers, Retiree Chapter, AFT Local 2317-R.

Ann Killebrew

Revitalized Retiree Chapter embraces need to pass Prop 15

A decade ago, I walked into the office of AFT Local 2121, the City College of San Francisco faculty union, and asked how could I thank the union for all the support it had given me and so many faculty members. The answer focused on the Retiree Chapter.

At that time the chapter was without a chairperson and only three members had paid dues. In short order, I requested lists of retirees and sent letters asking them to join the Retiree Chapter. The CFT supported this expansion and AFT conducted courses for retiree organizing. Our membership doubled, tripled, and quadrupled.

Little did we know about the political campaign underway to downsize our college. While our Retiree Chapter was growing, the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges was seeking to reassess City College and ultimately to threaten its accreditation, placing the college on probation. Both CFT and AFT vigorously supported our local during the years of struggle to “Save City College.”

Retirees joined the effort, strategizing, garnering support from county supervisors and labor organizations, testifying in Superior Court, a few of us even traveling as far as Washington, D.C., to testify before the Department of Education. Active and retired faculty united in the many battles to Save City College.

We also campaigned for citizens to pass bond funds to support our struggling college, and they did. The state chancellor’s office, however, has continued to appoint administrators intent on downsizing. Enrollment has declined. Looking for new ways to finance our now severely underfunded college, we eagerly joined CFT’s campaign seeking corporate tax reform.

Our retirees gathered signatures to put Proposition 15 on the November 2020 ballot. Our chapter even formed a Prop 15 committee with Susana Atwood as chair. Throughout the fall campaign, the committee divided tasks between virtual and physical contact. Labor history faculty member Fred Glass organized caravans. Some retirees rode their bicycles, others of us drove cars to support Prop 15.

I distributed CFT window signs to committee members, who then passed them on to other retirees (all wearing CFT face masks) for distribution to friends and neighbors. Our virtual committee contacted all 203 members of our Retiree Chapter by phone or by email. In the end, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly passed Prop 15.

Ann Killebrew taught vocational nursing at City College before she retired, and has been involved in public health work in Kenya, India, Sweden and Australia. She is northern vice president of the CFT Council of Retired Members and president of the San Francisco Community College Federation of Teachers, Retiree Chapter, AFT Local 2121-R.

Paul Karrer

Armchair activism and humor matter too

I have a politically active super-friend. He retired this year. He went to Nevada to canvas for Biden. This is good. But I also know my friend’s a bit tetchy. So I told the wife, “Two weeks max. He’ll be back, either fired or quit.”

 As for me, I’ve donated every penny of my stimulus money ($1,700) to Dems. I also legally influenced six ballots. My wife is Korean, a U.S. citizen now, and we are politically aligned. We don’t like Señor Trump. We voted against him and my wife couldn’t be bothered to know the ins and outs of most propositions. I made suggestions, she agreed and signed. That’s two ballots.

I received a call from Poland. A former teaching couple, up in their years, wanted to know which propositions they should vote yes on. I gave them my 50 cents worth of opinion. They are U.S. citizens now but escaped from Poland in the late 70s. They were in a refugee camp in Austria for years. They worked their way to USA. He taught math in Salinas High. She taught Black history at CSU Monterey Bay. They take voting very seriously and they don’t like Señor Trump either. That’s four ballots I got my arthritic fingers in.

My good neighbors, a married couple, who also don’t like you-know-who, wanted my opinion on the propositions. Accordingly, I gave them my 50 cents worth. So I influenced six ballots.

 My friend came back from Nevada. I was right, but wrong. He lasted three weeks. He got annoyed with the policy of knocking on doors and asking the homeowners to put on a mask to converse about voting. He quit.

He also said he’d turn me in for illegal balloting my friends and collect the $1 million bounty proposed by one of you-know-whose cross-eyed deputy governor minions. Mostly I think he’s upset I may have influenced more voters than he did. And I stayed home. But he did say he’d split the bounty money with me. 

Paul Karrer taught fifth grade for 37 years at Castroville Elementary. He is also an accomplished author, writing a regular column in the The Salinas Californian while he taught, and award-winning articles for California Teacher (now CFT United). He is a member of the North Monterey County Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 4008. You can find more of Karrer’s work on his website, and learn about his avocation in a recent article in Carmel Magazine.