Grassroots energy at the heart of Member engagement
In the fall of 2020, OSSTF/FEESO selected eight Election Organizers to mobilize Members and assist Districts with election readiness planning for the provincial and municipal elections in 2022. The eight Election Organizers working for OSSTF/FEESO Provincial Office during the provincial election, under the guidance of Paul Kossta, were: Domenic Bellissimo, Richardo Harvey, Bill Hewitt, Jared Hunt, Rose Lepage, Tim Mathewson, Susan Rab, and Vanessa Stoby. Mark Kissel and Pawel Mazurek also spent significant time as Election Organizers throughout the process.
The Election Organizers began meeting in October 2020 to lay the ground work for our planning. One of the first jobs they were tasked with was helping Districts prepare for candidate endorsements. We spent 2021 meeting with locals, including District Political Action Committees (PACs), some of whom formed for the first time, to discuss the endorsement process and election engagement plans. In May of 2021, riding-by-riding consultations were held with local leaders to look at historical data and narrow down a list of ridings on which to focus local efforts.
Throughout the process, the pandemic played a significant role in our work. As a result, the majority of our meetings with each other and with Districts were over Zoom. The Election Organizers met in person for the first time at the end of the summer of 2021 to map out plans and timelines up to the election. We helped organize and run the OSSTF/FEESO Election Readiness conference at the end of October. The Friday night plenary included a talk from polls analyst Eric Grenier (founder of The Writ), and a roundtable discussion from three grassroots organizers: Sandra Huh from York Communities for Public Education, Samantha Krishnapillai from On Canada Project, and Arlene Slocombe from Wellington Water Watchers. Saturday featured workshops run by the eight Election Organizers and Provincial Office staff about local outreach to allies and community groups, promoting OSSTF/FEESO’s Education Platform, organizing members, as well as PAC growth and preparation for the election.
The work of the fall Election Readiness conference was built on in the Spring Regionals conference at the end of March. Friday night’s plenary included a return visit from Eric Grenier to touch on some of what were expected to be the tightest races, as well as speeches from the three opposition party leaders. Saturday morning’s regional workshops, run by the Election Organizers with help from provincial Communications/Political Action (CPA) department staff and Communications/Political Action Committee (CPAC)members, focused on election planning timelines as outlined in the OSSTF/FEESO Election Manual, a discussion of our social media toolkit (a collaborative effort between election organizers, the CPA department and CPAC) and a relational organizing exercise designed to increase volunteer capacity. The social media toolkit focused on messaging related to platform planks in OSSTF/FEESO’s Education Platform as well as specific messaging related to job classifications.
OSSTF/FEESO’s 2022 Lobby Day was a big step forward towards making endorsements. Election Organizers and local Members met virtually with MPPs representing ridings in their District at the end of January to discuss elements in OSSTF/FEESO’s Education Platform, Strengthen Public Education: Rebuild Ontario. We met with most of the opposition MPPs but only a handful of PC MPPs attended (though all were invited). The endorsement process continued throughout the spring with Election Organizers and local leaders interviewing dozens of candidates throughout January, February, and March before discussing endorsements in local PACs and bringing recommendations forward to District executive councils.
The first round of OSSTF/FEESO endorsements were announced at our Annual Meeting of the Provincial Assembly (AMPA) with additional endorsements announced throughout April and even a few more made during the election campaign. Helping to boost the publicity of these endorsements, OSSTF/FEESO President Karen Littlewood, visited a number of Districts for an endorsement tour. Behind the scenes, Election Organizers helped coordinate the details of the events with locals and candidates. These endorsements received extensive media coverage from local outlets, including a live broadcast of the NDP endorsements in Toronto from CP24.
All of this set the stage for a significant increase in Member engagement and participation during the provincial election. OSSTF/FEESO utilized new ways of communicating on a mass scale with Members to inform them about the election. In addition to emails from locals, two voice broadcasts (recordings) were sent to Members from President Karen Littlewood—one at the beginning of the campaign to remind them that the election had started and to participate, and one at the end to remind them to vote. Members were also sent a mass text from provincial OSSTF/FEESO near the beginning of the campaign to let them know who the endorsed candidate was in their riding and to provide them an opportunity to opt-in to receive additional election information from the Federation. This work was supplemented in many Districts by local Members who made phone calls and sent out other texts with more information. The work of the Election Organizers would culminate in Members participating in education canvasses, labour canvasses, phone banking, and OSSTF/FEESO-specific canvasses in support of endorsed Black women candidates.
For the Election Organizers, the provincial election campaign was a busy and challenging time. Between our work with Districts and volunteering on campaigns, it meant that we were busy for most of our waking hours, 7 days a week. It was also a challenge to continue to ask Members who were exhausted from the past two years of the pandemic (and the past four years of this government) to participate in the election. Despite these challenges, it was an incredibly energizing and fulfilling experience to work with so many Members, candidates, and campaign volunteers towards such an important common goal. It was reaffirming to see so many good people doing such good work in their communities. While the results of the provincial election were not what we wanted, there were many positives to come out of our work. Many Members came out to volunteer for election campaigns for the first time. The opposition parties borrowed many parts of our Education Platform in their own platforms, and we heard strong references to elements of the OSSTF/FEESO platform during the main provincial leadership debate. This shows that OSSTF/FEESO continues to be a leading voice in advocacy for a strong publicly funded education system. Our efforts were also noticed by campaigns, candidates, and other unions who frequently noted the presence of OSSTF/FEESO Members on social media and as volunteers on campaigns. This work will help us build organizational capacity to play an even greater part in future campaigns and in the years between elections. I look forward to assisting with OSSTF/FEESO’s efforts in holding this government accountable over the next 4 years.