May 2018 Advocate: AFT 1493 wins 8 Communications Awards


Our Academy Awards: AFT 1493 wins 8 Communications Awards at CFT Convention

by Katharine Harer, AFT 1493 Co-Vice President

The lights dim, epic movie music sweeps over the room, the big screen glows. Jane Hundertmark, CFT Publications Director, takes center stage, grinning like the party host she is, and welcomes us to this year’s CFT Communications Awards. Your AFT 1493 union reps give each other significant looks. Some of us are squirming in our seats. I admit to sweaty palms and a racing heart. As a regular writer and organizer for our Local, the announcement of the winners of the CFT Communications Awards, which takes place at the yearly Convention, is my Academy Awards.

AFT 1493 consistently provides top communications in the state

In 2015, 2016 and 2017 our Local won more Communications Awards than any other union in the CFT: 9 Awards at the 2015 CFT Convention, 10 in 2016 and 9 in 2017.  (See this year’s list of AFT 1493’s 8 Communications Awards winners.)

Like all faculty members in the District, union activists work long and hard for our students. We fight the good fight for our colleagues and push back against the District when pushing back needs to happen. At the same time, we’re working to send clear information to our members – to you. Not too much – everyone’s busy. Not too little – everyone needs to know what’s going on. And now this: our moment of recognition in front of 500+ teachers’ union activists from all over California. Or not. Maybe this year our publishing and writing, design and organizing won’t be appreciated. Maybe one of the bigger unions, like UTLA or UESF, will knock us out of the water. We root for them too! But not quite as much as we root for our local.

Background on the CFT Communications Awards

Each year the California Federation of Teachers holds this statewide contest to honor excellence and innovation in local union communications. California teachers’ unions, large and small, are invited to submit their best work in seven different categories which may include newsletters as a whole as well as specific articles, posters, flyers, organizing campaigns, special projects, websites, social media and online communications. (See the interview with Jane Hundertmark for more background on the Awards.)

AFT 1493: A Winning Local

We dug into our archives for this article and learned that our Local won our first award, a First Place, in 1981 for a cartoon! Five years later, in 1986, we won another First Place for a news story. We began winning multiple awards in 1988, when we brought home 6, and we’ve pretty regularly won multiple awards each year since, although there were years when we won nothing at all.

Here are some more highlights from our archeological search: starting in 1981, our Local has won 42 First Place Awards in a variety of categories, and we’ve won 4 Jim Herndon Awards, a special prize that isn’t awarded every year but only when the judges see something that is especially inspirational, representing the spirit of the Federation. We won a Jim Herndon Award for “Tri-Union Conference: Schools Our Children Deserve” on April 1, 2017, to recognize the public education conference we organized in collaboration with the Jefferson Elementary and Jefferson High School unions. We won the Jim Herndon Award for “Who Are The Workers?” by Katharine Harer on March 21, 2009 and for “Thousands March for Community Colleges” by Katharine Harer with photographs by Eric Brenner on March 20, 2005. Our first Jim Herndon prize was awarded in 1998 for “Joe, Say It Isn’t So!” by Anita Fisher and John Kirk.

So why does our Local win so many Communication Awards?

I asked Jane Hundertmark this question in my interview with her but here’s my insider take: first and foremost, we could not do what we do without the skill and devotion of Eric Brenner, Advocate editor and AFT 1493 website master. Eric makes it all happen. He is patient with procrastinators, but he makes sure you get it done. He’s a fantastic copy editor, knowing just which clumps of garbage to chop out to make a sentence ring. He will talk you through your illogic and help you develop your thoughts. Plus, Eric does the onerous, un-fun work of researching and compiling information to ensure you’re supporting your arguments with precise facts and statistics. He regularly uploads information to our website, making sure the site is current and that it’s easy for members to find what they need.

And this is important to know: Eric is kind. He remembers to compliment my writing when I send him a draft, and he encourages me when I’m stuck or flailing. Sometimes he’s the only person who tells me I’ve written a good piece, and if he forgets, I worry that it wasn’t good enough.

Dan Kaplan, our Local’s Executive Secretary, works with Eric to plan the content of each issue. Ideas for The Advocate, or for one of our other forms of communication with members, also come up during our Executive Committee meetings, and Dan does a great job of finding the right writer for a particular piece. When that person is an overworked teacher who doesn’t really love to write, Dan is very good at cajoling them into doing it anyway. Most of the time he’s successful, and Dan has brought a wonderful array of opinions, voices and expertise to the pages of our newsletter.

Our Communications Awards are a reflection of our organizing

Another reason our local’s work has drawn the attention of the CFT Communications Awards judges has to do with the increased organizing we’ve done over the last four or five years. We’ve expanded our website, grown our Facebook page and created an Action Network email alert system, famous for our No Take Back Tuesdays weekly messages during the last contract campaign. The more active we are, the more messages we send through Action Network, the more flyers we make, events we organize, protests and campaigns we carry out, which means we’re communicating more with our members. Finally, it’s not just the tools we use to get our messages out but our team of people who, like a relay, pass the message from one brain to the other, from one set of hands on computer keys to another, back and forth in a collaborative froth, finally landing in Eric’s lap who fixes whatever needs fixing. A shout out to Teeka James for initiating our Action Network system, working tirelessly to get the lists compiled and our messages out, and to Michelle Kern for her amazing art and design work on flyers, posters, our beautiful red t-shirts, tote bags, new members’ packets, brochure and so many artful and informative communication pieces. How lucky we are to have an artist-in-residence.
You too can be a published author! Is there something that’s been bubbling in your brain: an issue, a change you’d like to see or a change you think is horrible, improvements, scandals, good stories that need to be told? Photographs, drawings, cartoons you’d like to draw? Talk to one of us about it. Maybe next year, or the next, you’ll walk up to the stage and pick up your Communications Award Certificate under the bright lights with your colleagues clapping and yelling for you. How often does this happen in our lives? “And the winner is…….”