When seven NYSUT staff members joined more than 40 other teacher union staff and local leaders in a hotel room in Racine, Wisc., the marching orders were simple: knock on 16,239 doors and get loyal Democrats, union members and signers of the petition to recall anti-union Gov. Scott Walker to the polls on Tuesday.
For five days now, we’ve been part of a giant ground game to help Wisconsin Mayor Tom Barrett unseat Walker, as well as elect a new state senator from Racine as part of the recall effort. We’ve fanned out in rural areas of the county, steering our rental cars down mile-long driveways bisecting farm fields, and tip-toeing around broken bottles in the underbelly of this small city on the shore of Lake Michigan to meet voters who came out big to elect President Obama in 2008, but stayed home two years ago and allowed Walker’s Tea Party politics to take power. With polls showing the race very close, union organizers are counting on a turnout as a big as 2008′s to send Walker packing.
Through sophisticated political computer software – and the gift of more than 800,000 names and addresses of those who signed the recall petition – teacher union volunteers from as far away as Alaska have been banging on doors and talking to “our” voters who have been thankful and enthusiastic in their response.
“Thank you, brother,” said one young union member playing basketball in his driveway with his 10-year-old son. “What you’re doing here is for this guy (his son) and his future and we can’t thank you enough for coming out here to help.”
Added Jen Omer, a program support teacher for the Racine School District, “This whole time has been so stressful. We feel so disrespected and scared about what will happen next. I’ve never been so appreciative to have a union and to have union brothers and sisters.” Omer, 61, said she feared that under Walker, she would lose seniority rights and would be laid off because she is among the higher-paid teachers on the district’s staff. “I worry about my pension and I worry about keeping my job, and I shouldn’t have to worry about those things.”
The effort has brought former President Bill Clinton to nearby Milwaukee and the Rev. Jesse Jackson to a community center in downtown Racine on Sunday night. Jackson reminded the audience that “we must remember that our vote is our power, and we should not take it for granted.”