In his travels around the state, NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale could easily have fashioned a primer on turning members into activists.
In the North Country he met with small and rural locals that face ongoing reductions in programs and services. Often, cutting one position in a small school means eliminating an entire program.
"They are finding students are not able to be competitive because they don't have the proper resources for higher level course offerings," he said. Union members protesting these moves have become activists.
In Cooperstown and Voorhesville, he met with School-Related Professionals who spoke up about the importance of the Fight for $15 and why it would make so much difference in their lives.
"I spent time at the Capital for lobby day where SRP's guided legislators through the learning curves of what they do. Some got up at 4 a.m. to travel to Albany to tell their stories. They were nervous," Pecorale said. "That day, they put themselves in front of government officials. They squared their shoulders and told their stories about the need for better wages and their health and safety needs on the job.
"They have found their voice through the union, and now they are using those voices to carry their message. I witnessed members be coming activists," Pecorale said.
Activism at the bargaining table was evidenced when 2,000 community nurses represented by the UFT/Federation of Nurses, working for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, held back the employer's giant, anti-union firm that has dismantled schools, programs and jobs from one of the country to the other. They were able to secure their pension, negotiate a wage increase, and maintain their health insurance.
Members of the UFT/Federation of Nurses at NYU Lutheran Hospital also gained salary increases and improved the nurse/patient ratio in certain units.
"And in that fight and settlement, members became union activists," he said.
"We all need to become activists, to speak out at the grocery store or a neighbor's barbeque about why tenure matters, why better wages matter, why standing up for students and patients everyday matters, and why unions matter and how they shaped the middle class in this country," Pecorale said.
An opportunity to explore activism will be available for many on May 4 with school walk-ins held as part of the national Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools movement.
Local leaders can focus on whatever issues are important to their school community, whether they are issues to celebrate, or to fight against cutbacks, over-testing and privatization.
Another opportunity for activism will arise on May 17, when the NYSUT LGBTQ Committee has scheduled a day of advocacy.
In his work as vice president, Pecorale also oversees social justice initiatives, and is helping move forward the AFT's work on Reclaiming the Promise of Racial Equity. The NYSUT Civil and Human Rights Committee is asking members to join the "Start the Conversation" campaign about racial justice.
Posters and postcards to get members talking about race, diversity and tolerance were distributed at the convention. More ideas and resources will soon be available on the NYSUT website at www.nysut.org/socialjustice.
NYSUT has also created "Why In Five" cards with five explanations for justice on the topics of racial equity, hunger and poverty, women's rights, fair trade and wage equity. Resources for this campaign are also on the NYSUT website.
To recognize the importance of social justice work as part of unionism, NYSUT has created the Ken Kurzweil Social Justice Recognition Award.
A longtime chair of the committee, Kurzwell is an educator and has logged nearly 30 years as a champion for social justice. "He has traveled the world and continues to be a champion of the voiceless," Pecorale said.
In yet another form of activism, retirees have built a social consciousness program called Bridging the Gap from In-service to Retirement.
The document, scheduled for completion this fall, will help those who want to secure their own economic justice and plan for the future.