Over two warm, sunny days in October, NJEA, NJREA and NJEA Preservice members from all 21 counties and scores of local associations pounded the pavement, worked the phones, and mailed postcards to help elect pro-public education candidates who have been endorsed by NJEA PAC. Four counties in the northeast region of the state sponsored a Fall Family Festival. The home visits, the phone calls, the handwritten postcards, and the festival are all part of an ongoing effort to make personal connections among members and shift the power dynamic in Trenton.
The events were dubbed “A Day of Action.” Some members worked in their home communities and counties, while others traveled up and down the state to lend their assistance to races in competitive legislative districts. No matter where they volunteered, members campaigned enthusiastically for Ambassador Phil Murphy in his bid to be New Jersey’s next governor.
While home visits, phone calls, and personal postcards have been part of the campaign since August, the weekend of Oct. 21 was set aside for concentrated and coordinated action.
On Saturday, Oct. 21, members from Cape May, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, and Salem counties visited members’ homes and made phone calls to other members. That Sunday, members in Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union counties held the Fall Family Festival.
Fall Focus events are traditionally hosted by each county education association at the beginning of the school year. They are an opportunity for members to gather and learn about the upcoming year’s challenges and opportunities. Some counties went as far as to cancel Fall Focus altogether, replacing it with advocacy opportunities for members. Those counties that continued to host Fall Focus refashioned it into opportunities for action.
Deanna Nicosia-Jones, the president of the Cumberland County Council of Education Associations, summed up the Day of Action by noting that “Fall Focus” has taken on a new meaning in 2017.
“In the election season this fall, we are focusing on our members, and we are focusing on action,” Nicosia-Jones said. “We are meeting our members on their doorsteps and taking the time to listen to what they have to tell us.”
In Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester counties, the focus of the day was to support Salem County Republican Chairperson Fran Grenier in his bid to unseat Senate President Steve Sweeney for the Legislative District 3 Senate seat. A team of members from Cape May County made the hour-long drive to Bridgeton to work with their fellow members in Cumberland County. Members from Camden County traveled to Woodbury to support their Salem and Gloucester counterparts.
Grenier and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., met with members who volunteered for the NJEA Day of Action before and after they visited voters at their homes in the communities surrounding Woodbury and Bridgeton.
Kean thanked NJEA members for their work on behalf of Grenier and for the impact they, as teachers and educational support professionals (ESPs), have on future generations.
Grenier said that with NJEA members’ enthusiastic support for him, he is gaining in Legislative District 3.
“Thank you for all the phone calls and all of the door knocking,” Grenier said. “It means a lot. Together we are dramatically closing the gap in the polls.”
In Gloucester County, NJEA President Marie Blistan described Grenier as the change needed in the state Senate following a decade of broken promises from Sweeney. She said that when candidates are considered for endorsement, members from the counties that include a given legislative district interview the candidate on issues that matter to public school employees. Blistan noted in particular Grenier’s beliefs about school funding, the overuse and misuse of standardized testing of students, and the privatization of the work of ESPs.
“On every single one of those questions, Fran Grenier aligns with us,” Blistan concluded. “He is truly a breath of fresh air. And to those who have the audacity, to say that we are in the pocket of any political party I will quote President John F. Kennedy: he said, ‘Let’s not look for the Republican answer or the Democratic answer. But let’s look for the right answer.’”
NJEA Vice President Sean M. Spiller canvassed with members in Cumberland County. The highlight of his group’s day was meeting 95 year-old NJREA member Elizabeth DeLussa who already had a sign on her lawn for Grenier and knew the issues at stake for NJEA and its endorsed candidates. She was thrilled to have NJEA members, including Spiller, at her door saying that she would invite them in, but she was too busy baking for Sunday’s coffee club at her church.
NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty staffed phones with members in Essex County, proudly tweeting that they made 500 phone calls, knocked on 40 doors, and wrote “a bazillion” postcards.
At each event, retirees and college students preparing to enter the teaching profession stepped up to join active members. Extending the Day of Action into Monday, Oct 23, Morris County REA members sent 2,600 postcards to active and retired members in support of NJEA PAC-endorsed candidates.
At their annual Fall Focus meeting, the Monmouth County Education Association veered away from its traditional program and instead held a Legislative Action Team session. With 13 endorsed candidates on hand to assist, members made phone calls to other members in support of the candidates and wrote over 1,200 postcards.
Members in Bergen, Burlington, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex and Warren counties wrote postcards from their Fall Focus events to fellow members explaining the importance of supporting Murphy and PAC-endorsed legislative and local candidates. Members from each of these counties have canvassed in neighborhoods with their counterparts in other parts of the state to support endorsed candidates in the Nov. 7 election.
Members living in the highly competitive Legislative District 16, which includes Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset counties, have been campaigning door-to-door throughout September and October for Assembly candidates Andrew Zwicker and Roy Freiman.
County associations in Hudson, Mercer and Union will be holding their Fall Focus meetings later this month and will take the opportunity to write personal postcards to members and engage in other activities to support NJEA PAC-endorsed candidates at all levels.
The Atlantic County Council of Education Associations will replace Fall Focus with a day of canvassing on Saturday, Nov. 4.
Excitement filled the air for NJEA members and their families from local affiliates across the Northeast Region, as they enjoyed the Fall Family Festival on Sunday, Oct. 22 at Costa Del Sol in Union. The counties that comprise the UniServ Northeast region—Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Union—teamed up to host the event.
The Fall Family Festival provided plenty of fun-filled activities for the children of NJEA members, and engaged their parents in activities designed to promote and support the candidacy of Ambassador Murphy. As the children enjoyed pumpkin decorating, face painting, balloon animals, an inflatable obstacle course, a DJ dance station, and a photo booth, their parents wrote postcards to NJEA members across the state urging them to cast their vote for Murphy on Election Day, Nov. 7.
Members created signs completing the statement “I’m 4 Murphy because…” That opening was followed by “…he will get New Jersey moving in the right direction,” “…he understands that educators need relief from Chapter 78,” “…he believes in educators and students,” among other sentiments.
While NJEA members have always been engaged in political action in support of the candidates who share their values, the 2017 election cycle is noteworthy for the creativity and enthusiasm members have shown after eight years of inflammatory rhetoric and devastating economic decisions by the Christie-Guadagno administration. With that hard work and dedication, Nov. 7 should begin a new era for public school employees and public education in New Jersey.