How do you build advocacy? A coalition joins with another coalition, and so on, and so on, until you have a chain strong enough to wrap around tires and take on winter ice and snow.
In the Capital Region, two coalitions met last week for their first joint event with a single goal: “To build leadership in union women,” according to Liz Moran, president of the Kate Mullany chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). She is also a national board member of CLUW.
“Members forget the value of their own voice,” she said.
The regional CLUW met with members of the Albany chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), led by Shana Davis.
“It’s everybody’s issues and not one. That word ‘solidarity’ comes back to the table. We have a bigger force,” Davis said.
True advocacy, she said, means talking to people, instead of speaking for them, so that way they are included.
“Don’t bring me in the room just because you need a black person, or because you need a woman,” she said. “That’s not what advocacy is all about. You need the best person for the job.”
As an advocate, she said, it is important not to discount other people’s experiences, nor to interpret them. “Listen and figure it out,” she said.
Part of being an ally is to understand your privilege, she said: i.e. What rights do I have and others don’t?
“Ask yourself: ‘Who have we let down? Who have we left out?'” Lovelady-Hall said.
“Once you get in, you reach back. Who did we leave out?” added Sandy Carner- Shafran, a School-Related Professional at Saratoga BOCES and a NYSUT board member. She is a past recipient of the American Federation of Teachers Shanker Pioneer Award.
“An advocate is an ally and that’s what a coalition is,” Lovelady-Hall said.
Alice Brody, a NYSUT staff retiree and a longtime activist in the labor movement, said she attended many awards dinners where it was only men getting awards. When she finally asked why women weren’t getting awards, she was met with the following response: “Name one!”
Brody brought the comment back to her friends, and they started a Bread and Roses awards program for women that lasted for many years in the Capital Region.
NYSUT has a “Not for Ourselves Alone” award presented each year to a woman activist.
Alan Lubin, executive vice president emeritus of NYSUT, informed the group about the threats to unionism in the Friedrich v. California case pending before the Supreme Court. The solution, he said, is internal organizing. Connecting with colleagues is key.
“The Koch brothers will tell you, ‘Save your union dues,'” Lubin said. “But people who know what unions deliver will stay.”
Reach out to members, he said, and keep educating them on the many facets of unionism. These include health and safety on the job, fair wages, having a voice in the workplace and social justice activism.