Campaign notes from the road
By Sherry Friedman
From March 1–16, I had the privilege of volunteering with a dedicated group of fellow UFT retirees along with AFT political organizers from around the country on Hillary’s campaign trail in Florida. Equipped with our phone app “walk list” of registered Democrats represented by 37 unions that have endorsed Hillary Clinton, we canvassed in towns from Fort Lauderdale to Miami.
We worked 8–10 hours per day with a daily list of up to 70 doors to knock, distributing literature, asking for signed commitment cards, and “getting out the vote.” Although the experience was sometimes exhausting, it was a gratifying learning opportunity to talk to voters and discover why — and if — they support Hillary Clinton. Let me share this with you.
I learned that Florida is more than luxurious gated communities for northern snowbirds. Instead, it is also a state of native Floridians with varied social and economic problems, a microcosm of America. We were amazed at how many people said, “God bless you for coming to see me” because they were hungry for contact with other union members and the chance to discuss their views. We met a range of people from young in-service workers to retirees, from the wealthy to the poor, the elderly and disabled. With most, their eyes lit up at the sight of our blue AFT For Hillary 2016 t-shirts.
In Riviera Beach, a mailman making rounds, who told us he relocated from “anti-union Wisconsin,” was glad to see us, yet urged us to leave before sundown. He warned we were canvassing “Kill Zone,” an impoverished area that had suffered recent street violence. Undaunted, however, we continued knocking on doors of the modest stucco houses where we met a senior citizen recovering from recent surgery. “Life needs to get better here,” she told us, “and I need my pension, Medicare and Social Security. That’s why I’m for Hillary.” A retired painter in Lake Worth invited us in to see his gallery of President Obama pictures. “Look at my shrine,” he boasted. “We need Hillary to continue Obamacare!”
In Lighthouse Point, a teacher told us that she was moving because she feared pressure and bigotry from right-wing Republican neighbors. She welcomed us in and called three friends to come and meet us. “We’re with Hillary!” they chanted. In West Palm Beach, an ex-New Yorker would speak to us only in whispers. “I’m a black woman and this is still the South. Life is hard for us here. Hillary can change things,” she explained, as she offered to volunteer for the campaign. In upscale Jupiter, a young mother pointed out, “Bernie has good intentions. But I admit he hasn’t accomplished much in his 25 years in the Senate. So, I’m with her.”
Besides canvassing, our group attended exciting events. That was us at the Miami-Dade campus debate between Hillary and Bernie, waving our placards to cheering crowds and cars honking in support. The culmination of our activities was the thrilling victory rally in West Palm. The atmosphere was electric as we were stood proudly on risers near the stage, believing we helped Hillary win that winner-take-all state. “We love the AFT and all you do for Hillary and your students,” a staffer told us.
Back home in New York, I continue to support our candidate, attend local rallies and donate to the campaign fund. You may have spotted me behind Hillary onstage at the Apollo Theater. As she and Senator Schumer walked by, she smiled at my blue AFT t-shirt and gave me a thumbs up. After her speech, she thanked me for going to Florida for her as she snapped a selfie of us. “Please ask the AFT to keep up the good work. I still need you,” she added, not taking anything for granted. Gladly, I relayed her message.
Now, the AFT, UFT and most labor unions urge you to join us on Tuesday, April 19 to vote for Hillary Clinton in New York, or your own upcoming state primary, and then the General Election this November. I recommend that you volunteer your time and money, too. She is the most qualified person to be our nominee and the next president of the United States. She has always had our backs, and on Primary Day and beyond, it is time to have hers.
Sherry Friedman is an AFT, NYSUT, and UFT/RTC member. She taught English and creative writing in the New York City public schools for 35 years and trained teachers citywide as a UFT/Department of Education Peer Intervenor. She is also a published writer whose work has appeared in numerous national publications.
Originally published at medium.com on April 18, 2016.