Election Day is moving closer, and the AFT Votes bus is racking up miles. The get-out-the-vote bus tour rolled through Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, making multiple stops to engage voters, distribute free books, and rally with our members, state and local lawmakers and other union allies.
AFT President Randi Weingarten was joined by Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick C. Ingram and Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus on the tour. They urged support for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and encouraged AFT members to make their voices heard—by voting early either by mail-in ballot or in person. “We know that if we vote, we win. But we have to get out and vote,” said Weingarten.
Weingarten began the Michigan leg of the tour Oct. 17 with a canvass kickoff in Dearborn featuring U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell and other union leaders. The bus then moved into Detroit with another GOTV rally, where Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, told attendees that human dignity and access to a high-quality education are on the ballot. “We need labor brothers and sisters pushing our memberships to make sure that we turn out the vote,” said Martin. “We know what lack of leadership looks like. Just look around. Look at the last four years. It is imperative that we remove Donald Trump from office. It is imperative that we get Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the White House.”
From Detroit, the AFT Votes bus rolled into Ohio, with stops in Cleveland and Cincinnati. At a news conference at a Cleveland high school on Oct. 20, Weingarten was joined by Cleveland Teachers Union President Shari Obrenski, former CTU President David Quolke, Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper and Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon. They distributed free First Book books and supplies to students and rallied support for Issue 68, which would renew a Cleveland school levy that has been vital to improving education and opportunity for the city’s schoolchildren.Weingarten said she is proud of the work that the union and the school system have done to find solutions that will help children, families and their communities. She noted that the willingness to work together has created a level of trust that has allowed people to come up with solutions like the school levy. “We need this levy. We need to continue this progress. We need to make sure that we reward the collaboration and the trust that is happening in Cleveland.”
The tour’s next Cleveland stop was a PPE giveaway to nurse members of the Ohio Nurses Association. Weingarten was joined at the Oct. 21 event by ONA leaders and AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler.
Personal protective equipment has been a top issue for nurses and health professionals since the start of the pandemic, said ONA CEO Lisa Ochs. “For months, nurses have put their health on the line as they are forced to ration equipment and reuse masks that, in a pre-COVID era, were deemed acceptable for one-time use, and for months our government has sat idly by letting this happen,” said Ochs. “They have had the power to step up … by invoking the Defense Production Act [which would allow] … our country to ramp up production of PPE we desperately need—but they haven’t,” she said. “Fortunately, where the government has let us down, others have lifted us up.”
“It’s atrocious that seven months into this pandemic we are still talking about the needed PPE,” said the AFL-CIO’s Shuler. “We are facing a second wave. We know what’s coming, and we are still in short supply. We need a coordinated response from the federal government, and we know that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have plan for adequate testing, supplies and PPE to keep workers safe.”
The last stop of the day was Cincinnati, where AFT leaders once again met with nurses to hand out more PPE, followed by a GOTV rally with members of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers to support the passage of Issue 17, a school levy on the ballot.
The AFT Votes bus pulled into Pennsylvania Oct. 22, stopping in Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton and Philadelphia over the next few days.
“The fight goes right through Pennsylvania,” said Weingarten at a GOTV rally in Pittsburgh on Oct.22. Weingarten and DeJesus were joined by Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Visgitis, U.S. Rep. Connor Lamb and several state lawmakers.
“We have a job to do,” Weingarten told the crowd. “This is the moment we can beat back the chaos, the fear, the division that is Donald Trump’s calling card,” she said. “We can get to the fairness, the hope, the aspiration that everyone wants. It’s within our grasp, but it means the work we need to do is not just vote—we need to be out there talking to everyone, getting them to the polls. That’s our job. We can win this, but it means digging deep.”
Lamb spoke to rallygoers about how people would approach him and thank him for his service when he was on active duty in the Marine Corps. He said that teachers deserve the same treatment. “I think, as a society, we need to learn to thank teachers and nurses and firefighters and sanitation workers and essential workers for their service, ... not just with our words, but with our actions … by giving them the tools they need and deserve to do their jobs,” said Lamb. “You are essential workers—you are essential to our way of life and to our democracy. … We will not stop working until you truly have the tools you need to do your jobs.”
On Oct. 24, at a GOTV press conference at the Liacouras Center, an early voting location, in North Philadelphia, Weingarten and DeJesus distributed AFT Votes T-shirts and other items to members. They were joined by Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan, AFT Pennsylvania President Arthur Steinberg, several elected officials and former presidential candidate Tom Steyer.
“I got off the bus and I looked at this line, I got teary-eyed,” said DeJesus, who said it was important that she was here today for all of the people lost to COVID-19, including her mother. “I’m here today for all the ones who we lost and can’t vote.”
“There is more at stake in this election than there’s ever been before,” Steyer said. “People are aware of what’s at stake, and everybody knows they have to show up.”
“Make no mistake about it, our democracy is at stake,” said Steinberg. “This election is the most important of our lifetime. We can't just vote for Joe Biden, we need to vote for candidates for state Legislature who stand up for education equity.”
“There are so many reasons to vote Donald Trump out,” said Weingarten, but the fear is that there are a lot of people who are quietly saying their vote does not matter. “You know that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris … will turn things around, … but that’s not the issue. The issue is getting out the vote. … If we get out the vote and we count every vote, then Biden and Harris will be in the White House on Jan. 20.”