Stepping Up to the Plate
Defending public education takes persistence, dedication, and know-how. That’s where NEA’s Retired members come in.
By Meredith Barnett and Lance Fuller
NEA-Retired members are like expert ballplayers. They’ve got years, even decades of experience. They’ve faced classroom curveballs and weathered stormy school seasons. They know the field like the back of their hands.
So it’s no surprise that now, as public employees across the nation face massive battles for benefits, pensions, and collective bargaining rights, Retired members aren’t sitting this one out.
Instead, they’re banding together to speak up for public education and workers’ rights. They’re protesting the removal of a pro-labor mural in Maine. They’re collecting petition signatures in Ohio. They’re rallying in state houses from Hartford to Madison to Washington, DC, rain or shine. They are filling the shoes of the mentors and activists who paved the way for them, serving as role models, compatriots, motivators, fighters, and friends.
NEA-Retired President Barbara Matteson says, “We’re in this together.” No act of activism is too small, and now is the time to take a swing, just like Donna, Gerald, Ed, Dennis, and countless others have done. The challenge is great, but thanks to the energy of these devoted activists, the game is far from over.
Team: Wisconsin Education Association Council — Retired
Years of education experience: 34
Signature move: Fighting in Wisconsin, anti-worker policy’s ground zero.
“It’s really polarized our state, and I wonder how it’s going to go in the long run. I never thought this would happen in the state of Wisconsin.”
But: “It’s time to act. We’re not dead yet. If there ever was a time, now it’s that.”
Motto: We’re in this together!
“Many retirees remember what it was like before we had bargaining rights and do not want this country going back to the ‘bad old days.’ We fought for those rights and they have improved the lives of education employees and the quality of education that our children receive. Our colleagues need us to help win this battle for all the workers of America.”
Team: Maine Education Association — Retired
Years of education experience: 37
Motto: We’re not gonna take it!
In Maine, even workers like Rosie the Riveter are on the chopping block—but activists, including retired educator Donna Dachs, say they’re not going to take it.
Rosie, the iconic World War II-era worker, appears as a shipbuilder in the 36-foot mural celebrating Maine’s industry that Governor LePage has had removed from the state’s Department of Labor building.
“What a slap!” says Dachs, who joined a sea of protesters on March 25, to voice her objection to the move. “It depicts a life that none of us should ever forget.”
Dachs, who loved her 37 years of teaching elementary and middle school, has become a fierce education and labor advocate in retirement. She recently wrote her first letter to the editor and, since she conveniently lives in the state capital of Augusta, she hops over to the state house for legislative hearings.
“I had never been to a hearing until I retired, because I always thought my place was in the classroom. The moment I retired, I said, ‘I’m going to be there,’” she says.
Though she’s worried about pensions and salaries for her fellow Mainers, she sees a silver lining in all the controversy.
“It’s an exciting time to be a union person,” she says. “It’s inspired us to join together and become brothers and sisters.”
And she sees retirees playing a vital role in standing up for the middle class.
“Retired teachers in this state have always made a difference,” she says. “They motivate others and I’m proud to finally be one of them.”
Team: Tennessee Retired Teachers Association
Position: During his 33 years in public education, he taught at four schools, was principal twice, served as director of technology, and specialized in K-8 science, math, social studies, and technology.
Signature move: Taking it to the web!
When the national NEA-Retired organization planned to build a social media presence, it looked to seasoned veteran Gerald Lillard for advice. It was Lillard’s effort to establish Tennessee Retired on Facebook that served as the springboard for the NEA-Retired Facebook page.
“We try to get locals to look at different forms of communication to educate and encourage our members to vote,” he says. “Stamps and letters are fine, but other means are faster and technology is where we need to go.”
Lillard says during the last seven years of his education career, when he was back in the classroom, he became more politically involved along with his wife, Diane, an NEA board member and 27-year teaching veteran.
“Retired members play a major role in staying politically active. We fought for and battled for rights like collective bargaining and those are things that are a part of us and being taken away,” says Lillard. “Younger teachers are taking too much for granted.
As they say, ‘united we stand, divided we fall,’ so we all need to come together.”
Team: Ohio Education Association — Retired
Years of education experience: 30
Signature move: Bucking the trend in the Buckeye State
Though he retired in 2007, Dennis Lewis has been busy battling legislative curveballs from the Ohio government.
“You work for 30 years as a teacher advocate, and to have a governor sign it away in a matter of months is disheartening.” says Lewis, who attends rallies and supports candidates with pro-worker policies. “I have informed my state legislators that there is no way budgets impacted by the economic downturn can be balanced on the backs of public employees.”
Three Easy Things You can do to stay in the game:
- Visit EdVotes for the latest state-by-state updates. http://www.educationvotes.nea.org/
- Join NEA-Retired on facebook and connect with fellow activists. Go to www.facebook.com/ and search for NEA Retired.
- Read policy briefs and learn all the political lingo at the Legislative Action Center. www.nea.org/home/LegislativeActionCenter.html