2018 was quite a year for educators. The #RedforEd movement brought thousands of educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and North Carolina to their respective capital cities, demanding that their state leaders stop the decades of disinvestment and inadequate funding of our schools.
As we begin thinking about the Oregon 2019 legislative session, one thing that is abundantly clear is that educators have real power to make change, not only in their own schools and communities, but nationwide. More educators ran for public office in 2018 than ever before. Classroom teachers won house district seats against incumbents in four of the five states in which statewide walkouts happened. In Oregon, communities rallied behind candidates who put education issues at the top of their priority list.
The Oregon Education Association gives members a chance to make their voices heard in political matters through our political action committee, OEA-PAC. In March of this year, OEA-PAC held its bi-annual convention in Portland. Any OEA member who contributed to OEA-PAC in the previous 12 months was eligible to attend and hear considerations from candidates for open Senate, House of Representatives, and gubernatorial seats. Over 300 OEA members attended and voted to endorse Congressional and Gubernatorial candidates.
In 2018, almost 8,000 members donated nearly $375,000 to OEA-PAC, allowing us to provide financial support to the candidates our members chose to endorse. At our PAC members’ direction, OEA sent out mailers, created social media ads to encourage voter turnout, and organized huge canvassing and phone banking efforts in the weeks leading up to Election Day. Many of our endorsed candidates were first-timers with little or no political experience who were running against incumbents with much more funding and experience in running campaigns.
OEA-endorsed candidate Anna Williams ran for the House District 52 in seat against incumbent Jeffrey Helfrich in Hood River. She decided to run for office when, after years of advocating for issues like affordable housing and in-school social services for students as a private citizen and social worker, she realized that she could only do so much to help her fellow Oregonians as one individual. “It felt like I kept bumping into a state-level block,” she says, as she recalls feeling shut down by lawmakers during conversations about these issues.
As a newcomer to the political world, Williams was grateful for the support that came with an endorsement from OEA-PAC. Williams’ husband is an educator and OEA member, so she understands many of the issues facing Oregon educators. OEA staff was able to connect her with local association leaders, which gave her the opportunity to attend meetings and speak to members in her district. “I got to hear from them on the ground what they wanted to see in their own schools, which isn’t always the message that you get when you get it from higher up in the chain,” she said.
OEA staff also organized members to provide support for Williams during the most crucial times in her campaign. Going door-to-door to ask the people in her district for their vote was a new, and sometimes scary, experience, but support from OEA members and staff made her feel much more at ease. “The thing that I appreciated more than anything was the canvassing support...it was emotional support at times when I really needed it,” says Williams.
OEA-PAC is our path to help solve the issues facing educators and students and make real, sustainable changes in our school system. It can continue to be a powerful voice for educators if you step up and make a contribution today – and remember, Oregon taxpayers get a free donation each year toward a political cause of their choice.
If every OEA member were to contribute $50 to OEA-PAC, we could raise $2.3 million a year in grassroots political contributions and elect more candidates who will fight for education professionals, your students and our schools.
Our power comes from our collective action and in our undying dedication to give our students the best education possible. Add your voice and become an OEA-PAC contributor today!