Standing in front of a navy tour bus in the pouring rain, public education advocates urged people to vote like their lives depend on it.
About 30 people gathered at First United Methodist Church, located at 418 NE 1st St., Thursday afternoon to urge voters to look at the ballot thinking of education. The event was part of a national tour hosted by the American Federation of Teachers.
The federation, a national union of teachers and other education professionals, hoped to increase voter turnout through its bus tour. The initiative began Sept. 30 in Los Angeles. Gainesville was the first of six stops in Florida.
A lineup of speakers from American Federation of Teachers, the Florida Education Association, UF Graduate Assistants United and the United Faculty of Florida addressed the need to prevent budget cuts and keep schools from fully reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Educators are seeing a reckless risk to their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Candi Churchill, a field staff member for the United Faculty of Florida, an organization that fights for high quality education in colleges and universities and is a bargaining arm for faculty.
“We want to make sure that working conditions are safe and that people are not being forced back to campus,” she said.
Public education is affected by the political process, Churchill added.
“This rally is really a chance to connect with the community here and help people realize that our colleges and universities are getting politicized and corporatized,” she said. “And by voting, we can change that direction and make sure they’re more democratic.”
Graduate assistants are also impacted by government decisions about classrooms as both employees and students, said Meridith Miska, co-president of UF Graduate Assistants United, a union for teaching, research, and graduate assistants.
Miska addressed concerns about racial inequities at UF, such as how she hears from Black and international students and graduate assistants who feel unwelcome and unsafe as minorities, as well as unheard or not understood by administration.
Voters, Miska said, can help control the conversation that administrators are having about faculty returning to classrooms or saving campus jobs.
“The best way to fight back against it is to get our members out to vote, make sure the community is involved and understands what’s going on at UF,” she said.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said people need to go out to vote because so much is on the ballot, including public education.
“If I sound urgent in the rain, I am,” she said. “Because we need to vote like our lives depend on it because they do.”
To Fedrick Ingram, American Federation of Teachers secretary-treasurer, every single person matters in democracy.
“Some candidates want to talk about Wall Street,” he said. “Some candidates want to talk about Main Street. All those things are important, but we want to talk about what’s happening on your street.”
The tour will continue in Tampa, Kissimmee, Sanford, Miramar and Miami until Nov. 1.