Monday, October 20, 2014

MORE and the Mission from God

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with MORE since its inception. Though I ran a few times with ICE in ill-fated union elections, I was never completely sold on MORE. As they were the only non-Unity endorsed option, as I knew and respected some of their candidates, I supported them in the last election, and asked members at my school to vote for them too. But my name didn’t appear on their ballot.

There are some people I admire intensely who’ve worked very hard for MORE. I’m not going to name them here, as I’m certain I’ll miss someone pivotal, probably the person I admire most. I'm sad to disappoint some of them. I've been to 3 or 4 meetings. At the first, I saw factions within the group, and it was simple for me to determine where I stood.

My friend James Eterno was quite frustrated at their September meeting, which I suppose I was blessed not to have attended. Apparently the lion’s share of it was devoted to the crucial issue of whether or not to retroactively endorse the Staten Island march to protest the death of Eric Garner. James found that absurd, as did I. If you wanted to endorse it, you went. If you didn’t, you didn’t. I saw 15 or 20 reps from MORE at the march, and honestly I didn’t see many more from Unity.

James held an ICE meeting last month in Manhattan. He proposed that MORE, with limited resources, focus on issues that actually effect those of us working in the schools. I agreed strongly with him that whether or not MORE retroactively endorsed the march was not one of those issues. Issues important to us are things like class size, reasonable evaluations, fair contracts and better treatment of and placement for ATRs.

I went to the MORE meeting  last Saturday. James introduced a resolution that MORE focus on member issues. Preceding that resolution was one to propose UFT endorse Howie Hawkins, the only pro-education candidate on the New York ballot. I made the egregious error of speaking in support of that resolution. I had not anticipated that the chair, eager to break into groups or something, would make it a point to give precedence to people who had not previously spoken on the next issue, which was Eterno’s proposal. Alas, that proposal was the main reason I went out and bought an LIRR ticket to be at the meeting. I felt we needed to save ourselves before we saved the world, but I never got to say so.

I listened to people comment on how bad racism was, how badly people are treated, and how we had to fight it. I’m not really sure what to say about that. My household is two-thirds Latino, far more diverse than the MORE meeting. My full-time job is teaching and helping newcomers to this country. I can’t help it if I happened to walk into a room full of white people. I don’t know why the room had that makeup. But there were the repeated cries about the importance of social justice, with grudging acknowledgement that teacher issues were also important.

Actually, while I have major issues with the Unity leadership, racism is certainly not among them. It’s ironic that, for all the talk I heard at the MORE meeting, Unity is considerably more diverse than they are. I take people one at a time or I could never be an ESL teacher. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the last 30 years, teaching kids of every color, nationality, and religion is this—there is absolutely no stereotype that holds true.

If MORE wants a more diverse membership, they can achieve it by appealing to a wider group of teachers. But as I listened to them say they need to talk about the motion more, they need to vote on whether to talk about it more, they need to table it so they can break into groups, they need to send it to the steering committee, they need to vote online, they need to have a retreat, they need to go to happy hour, and various other priorities, I realized those objecting were on a mission from God. I’ve learned repeatedly that you can’t reason with people who are on a mission from God.

Though no one said so outright, there was clearly no room whatsoever for the Eterno proposal in this mission. It had to be discussed, analyzed, sent to this committee and that, scrutinized, t's crossed, i's dotted, studied, considered, placed online, tabled, and forgotten at the earliest opportunity. Pedestrian concerns must never be allowed to interfere with missions from God.

I have a much more modest mission. My mission is to introduce real democracy to the UF of T. My mission is to get a voice for the members I represent. My mission is to break the half-century monopoly on power held by a flabby and complacent leadership that finds two-tier due process acceptable. My mission is to improve not only the education of my students, but also their future prospects.

Some members in MORE are not primarily interested in that mission, or the simpler one of representing member interests. They will go along with it if it doesn’t get in the way of their saving the world, eradicating racism, and promoting the Revolution, but it’s clear to me their priority to save the world, and if it doesn’t occur in any of our lifetimes, that’s fine too. Make no mistake—I also believe in saving the world, and I’ll contribute in some small way if I can.

But I work in a school, I represent hundreds of people, and the most they ever approach me and ask me to save the world for them is never. It makes me very sad that MORE and I will not work together, at least for now. They’ve spent years promoting their brand. Were they willing to help working educators with what they really need, I’d back this brand 100%.

What's even sadder is that the failure of MORE, an ostensible labor union caucus, to focus on labor union issues means there is not much hope that anyone is. There's New Action, which met with Randi Weingarten and agreed to endorse her and her successors in perpetuity for a few seats. There's another guy Randi met with who, by sheer coincidence, created a new caucus and nominated himself for President two weeks later. I don't think Mulgrew's losing a whole lot of sleep over potential opposition.

I like the idea of a brand people know. But this brand is problematic, because there are a lot of people with overarching goals that dwarf mere interests of teachers, students,  parents, and education. You can't dwell on such petty details when you're on a mission from God

I once had a student teacher who I asked to bring in pictures to help teach present progressive. You know, The people are walking. The girl is singing. He brought in pictures of Jesus healing the sick and people kneeling before Jesus. Of course he too was on a mission from God and was not particularly receptive to my response (which I'll spare you). I was there to teach English, not to proselytize. There's a time and place to proselytize, but it's not during my English class.

Teachers are desperate for representation. Teachers need someone to speak out for them and inspire them to speak out for themselves. It's high time to stop appeasing Bill Gates and do what's right. Our union leadership has failed at that, repeatedly and spectacularly. If MORE wishes to succeed, they need to drop the mission from God and focus intensely on these three things:

1. Represent the members.
2. Represent the members, and
3. Represent the members.

That's a prerequisite for not only success, but also relevance.
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