Women: step up your activism with the Anna Stewart Program

Activism can take on many different forms. As a high school English teacher in a country school, until recently, my activism looked like turning up to Association meetings to scoff down chocolate biscuits while writing notes and speaking about what was applicable to my school specifically.

However, after dipping my toe into the pond of Federation through my involvement in the New Activist Country Observer program — allowing me to observe Council — the New Educators Networkand the New Activist Conference, I realised that activism can be so much more than what I was doing.

It was time to find out more about Federation, and to build my confidence to participate at a broader level. So I took the plunge and applied for the Anna Stewart Program, something that had been suggested to me by women I knew in Federation, some of whom had done it themselves and were full of glowing reviews.

For those of you who don’t yet know about this program, it’s a two-week placement open to women members at Federation’s Sydney office, under the mentorship of Women’s Coordinator Leeanda Smith.

The purpose of this placement is to allow women the chance to observe and get involved in many aspects of Federation, and to gain confidence and skills to allow them to pursue activism in a way that is meaningful to them. It pays homage to the late Anna Stewart, a union activist who fought tirelessly for the improvement of women’s rights at work.

I was an Anna Stewart participant in early May — preparation for Council was especially busy; the election was imminent, so the fight for Fair Funding Now! had reached fever pitch; and I found myself in the thick of May Day rallies and celebrations. It was exciting stuff!

I have spoken to a lot of different people with different roles within Federation, and observed a wide variety of meetings and events, during my time there, and this has allowed me to learn a lot in a relatively short time.

Being in the Federation building every day gives you an awareness of the different people working together in the organisation to achieve the ongoing rights of students and educators, and I have certainly learnt more about union activism from a practical and operational perspective than I have in the years I have been an active member.

I have gained valuable insight into the hard work our Organisers do behind the scenes, and their incredible commitment to activism as a conduit between the executive, Federation staff and the members in their local associations.

I was able to accompany Amber Flohm, Hannah Archer-Lawton, Dianne Byers and Paul Robson to a variety of Association meetings and it was incredible to see them in action. I’ve learnt about the power our Organisers have to really galvanise activism on the ground. I spent time with Charline Emzin-Boyd our Aboriginal Education Coordinator and members of the Aboriginal Education Restricted Committee as they worked on updates of policy for Annual Conference.

I have found out more about the valuable and time-consuming work of our Women’s Coordinator Leeanda Smith and our Industrial/Research Officers (in particular, Greg Butler and Lenore Hankinson, who kindly gave me their time), and have learnt from them that there is more than one way to pursue activism.

It was interesting to see what can be achieved by considering policies and researching relevant data to see what issues are affecting our members and how they are being affected, and the range of approaches you can take to your activism, be it couched in radicalism or professionalism (or somewhere in between).

From meeting with Professional Support Officer Angela Catallo, I learnt more about the thorough care that goes into working with members with concerns or issues that need to be managed at a Federation level.

A chat with Mary Schmidt in the Federation library has given me a new perspective on the valuable archival work of the library, as well as seeing all of the amazing resources it has for all members to access and borrow.

Overall, because of my participation in the Anna Stewart Program, I have gained the confidence to know where to direct member concerns when I get back to school, and to understand the way decisions and information from Federation (and Council) can be responded to and implemented at an Association level.

I am currently the Women’s Contact at my school and in my Association, and I feel I can bring more direction and support to my role for my colleagues because of my participation in the program.

I also gained an insight into the need for active members to turn up and participate in Federation events, prompting me to immediately sign up for the 2019 Women’s Conference. I feel more empowered to participate actively in the shaping of our Association, and of pursuing other union roles — you might see me at Council in the future!

I can really see what Federation has achieved and is achieving for our profession, and I have a greater appreciation for the work still ahead. I would not hesitate to recommend this program to any woman interested in activism and unionism, or who are considering a future career in Federation.

You don’t have to leave the chocolate biscuits behind when you sign up, but you can gain a much broader understanding of what your union is and does, and your role within it.

— Rebecca Dymond, Anna Stewart Program participant