Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Damn Unity

Last Sunday I went to the Rockaway Theatre Company where blogger Norm Scott was in a production of Damn Yankees. It was wonderful, with really impressive singing and music. The orchestra was mostly teachers and students, and there were also a lot of teachers in the cast. It's great to see that such talented people are working to help our kids. Particularly inspiring was the use of children in the cast.

As I watched, I kept thinking of parallels and contrasts with our clueless and counterproductive leadership. Clearly the unbeatable Yankees were the Unity machine, which allows no dissent and shuts out the voices of most working teachers. Would someone sell their soul to oust Unity? Probably not, because the prime mode Unity preserves power is already via a soul-sucking loyalty oath.

In contrast, Unity dissidents gotta have heart. James Eterno had it when he ran an uphill campaign against Mike Mulgrew, and so did Julie Cavanagh. Lauren Cohen had it when she spoke truth to 800 poorly-behaved members of the Unity machine, and Mike Schirtzer showed it when he followed her. Neither let the juvenile catcalls of the paid Unity supporters sway them. Beth Dimino, Brian St. Pierre, and Rob Pearl of the tiny PJSTA showed it when they resisted NYSUT's ouster of Dick Iannuzzi et al, tossed out by the machine for the unforgivable offense of belatedly having heart themselves. We all showed it when we came out for Zephyr Teachout even as NYSUT and UFT abandoned her.

When I was enlisted last spring to run for Executive Vice President of NYSUT, I learned whatever Randi wants, Randi gets. It was certainly an uphill battle. Statewide few people one knew my name, and though I attended every forum I could get to I saw a very small percentage of voters. I myself had no vote, and every single UFT voter, 34% of the total, had signed an oath to oppose not only me per se, but pretty much anyone they were told to. All through the state I heard tales of the statewide Unity Caucus offering patronage gigs and/ or additional representation, often directly via Randi, if they'd vote for Revive. I now regularly hear from patronage recipients what a great job Revive is doing, even though its candidates have now broken most of their campaign promises. That's neither here nor there if they threw you a gig, though.

Then there's the devil, Mr. Applegate. I won't name the insufferable hacks he epitomizes, but I see them fairly regularly. Sometimes they visit here and spout personal insults. In a way, I don't blame them. If I had no argument and felt compelled to say something, I might go straight to ad hominem too, I guess. I know some very smart people in Unity too, but I find them the exception rather than the rule, and that bodes ill for us. I'm absolutely persuaded that people who live 24/7 in the Unity cone of silence are those who negotiate the contracts and decide to get in bed with reformy types, to the direct detriment of teachers, students and communities.

It's not much of a secret that in the end of Damn Yankees. protagonist Joe keeps his soul. At least he was offered baseball stardom, rather than a few convention trips and a $30 an hour gig. I don't know whether we'll ever make inroads into leadership. After all, whatever Randi wants, Randi gets, and she's still out there, actively making cute little deals to keep opposition from making inroads toward actual representation.

But we are still role models, and it behooves us to leave the world a little better for our children and students. Selling out has gotten us nowhere, and we need to show our kids to resist hurtful nonsense. So whatever the odds are, you gotta have heart. And it's on us, the teachers, to lead the way.

That, in fact, may be our most important job.
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