By Caroline Schmidt
- What is COPE? The Committee on Political Education (COPE) is a unique team of BTU members whose main purpose is to educate BTU members on current political issues and candidate activity, and present official recommendations to the Executive Board on formal candidate endorsements.
- Why do we have COPE? BTU is a large labor force in Baltimore City and we know that political activity has a massive impact not just on education and our students and families, but also on the very ability to carry out our profession in a safe and fair environment. Funding, legislation, and decision-making by our political leaders is something we as a union cannot ignore and COPE works to educate our members and help hold our elected leaders accountable.
- Who is COPE? COPE is a unique assortment of rank and file members, both experienced and new, comprising teachers, paraeducators, psychologists, and secretaries. COPE is currently being co-chaired by Angela Campbell and Caroline Schmidt, with Krystal Cornish serving as treasurer. COPE has had meetings with as many as 40 members in attendance and we are always looking for new, fresh voices to help build our political coalition and harness our voice. We currently have a vacancy for secretary and are eager to have that position filled! Email us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
- Where is COPE? Political education committees are nothing new. Most local unions across the city, state, and country have political committees to help inform and advocate for their particular political and legislative needs. BTU COPE frequently works in tandem with the AFT Maryland COPE team and the Metro-Baltimore AFL-CIO Labor Council COPE team; this collaboration allows us to share information, collaborate on Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts, and build probing questionnaires to help vet candidates during the interview processes and reach informed decisions on endorsement recommendations.
Have a question you would like to have answered by candidates in the upcoming Maryland Gubernatorial election? Submit your question to email@example.com and we will share with the other COPE teams to try to have your concern raised. Here’s an example of a question that was asked on the 2020 AFL-CIO questionnaire to candidates for Mayor and Baltimore City Council:
Baltimore’s population loss has contributed to enrollment declines in City Schools. Lower enrollment has also been caused by underinvestment fueled by systemic racism that’s lowered the quality of City Schools’ programming. As part of the 21st Century Schools initiative, Baltimore was required to close a number of schools in order to qualify for renovation funds. School closures have also been triggered by low achievement, as part of the district’s portfolio approach to schools. These policies have resulted in a disproportionate number of vacant schools in black neighborhoods that are already under-resourced. If elected, what is your plan to utilize these potential community resources?
- When is COPE? Every 3rd Wednesday of the month at 6PM! You can find the dates listed in your BTU calendar, but to save you the trouble, June 16th is the last remaining meeting date before summer break. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to get added to the email invite and join us on Zoom!
- History of COPE – COPE has been a major committee in the BTU for years. In 2019, under the leadership of President Brown, COPE has made a renewed commitment to have as much transparency and garner as much membership participation and feedback as possible, especially in regards to political endorsements. During the 2020 election cycle, COPE implemented a membership poll to serve as the major piece of guidance in forming the official endorsements recommendations of Mayor Brandon Scott, Comptroller Bill Henry, and former City Council member Shannon Sneed for City Council President.
- How to join COPE? Anyone in BTU can join COPE and/or be a COPE contributing member! In order to vote in COPE committee meetings, a person must be a BTU member and must contribute to COPE. COPE is unique in that it has its own special fund to support political candidates and campaigns. Members can opt to make a contribution bi-weekly by completing this form online and selecting an amount from one to five dollars that gets deducted from your bi-weekly paycheck, same as your union dues.
- What has COPE done? This past year was a busy one!
- We successfully launched a membership poll to collect data on member preferences in the local mayoral, city council, and comptroller races.
- We held online townhall forums for five of the major mayoral candidates that were aimed at our members but open to the public.
- We independently and formally endorsed Mayor Brandon Scott, Comptroller Bill Henry, and City Council President candidate Shannon Sneed.
- We engaged in GOTV efforts in collaboration with AFT Maryland and the Metro Baltimore AFL-CIO Labor Council that greatly contributed to the victories of Mayor Scott and Comptroller Henry.
- We reformed the COPE bylaws, ensuring that only COPE dues-paying members can make endorsement votes and that membership polling is a major guidance piece for any formal endorsements.
- What is COPE doing now? Currently COPE is marking progress reports. We’re in the process of following up with the candidates we endorsed and seeing if they’re making adequate progress on the agenda that won our endorsement. This will involve a series of “check-in” meetings, researching their progress, and assigning them a “grade” to mark their effectiveness and hold them accountable on behalf of the BTU.
- What will COPE be doing next? Once our progress reports are marked and delivered (hopefully by July 2021), we’re off to the races again. The Maryland gubernatorial race will have a major impact on public education and organized labor in the coming years; especially with the passing of the Kirwan legislation and the Biden administration’s plan to re-open school buildings completely. One of the first steps will be to create powerful questions regarding education that all candidates must formally respond to. What do you think we should ask? See #4!
Join COPE now! Help build not only a stronger BTU, but make Baltimore educators the greater political force that they should be!