Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Activists on Paper

Wednesday, March 4th is Lobby Day. That's when UFT and NYSUT send a bunch of people to Albany to speak to legislators about what we want. I went once, a few years ago, largely because I was running a demonstration about overcrowding at our school, along with Bloomberg's plan to fire teachers that year. I thought it would be great to ask legislators face to face.

But when we got there we were in groups. UFT had selected leaders and what they were going to talk about. My friend and I, who had come together, were just bodies to support the preplanned message. I believe, that year, Bloomberg and Flanagan were attacking LIFO, in NYC only, and Cuomo was our hero. Cuomo was basically saying we didn't need LIFO. He felt the new APPR would fire enough teachers. There was, of course, the additional factor of Bloomberg and Cuomo having egos so large you couldn't fit both of them in one city, let alone one room.

This year, a year in which Cuomo has become what he really always was, we're going back. Eva Moskowitz has decided to take her kids out of school, again, for the worst field trip in the world, again. And she's doing it on the same day as us. Despite the stiff competition, the message I got from UFT is that there is only room for 15 high school reps on the bus. That's a pretty pathetic effort in such a crucial year, particularly given Mulgrew's emergency DA against Cuomo's proposals and dangerous UFT tweeters.  They've also limited it to COPE contributors and those who haven't gone in three years. That would be me.

Really, the bus requirements wouldn't phase me in any case. If I really wanted to go, I'd get in my car and pay my own way. I did that last time anyway because I hate long bus rides. If I thought it was important, or that it would change anything whatsoever, nothing would stop me. 

There's an underlying problem here that bears mention, though. If you need a list of talking points to fight Cuomo, you're not all that well-informed. And if you're not all that well-informed, how the hell are you going to present yourself as an advocate? And what exactly motivates your advocacy?

In the case of UFT, it's likely the possibility of a few free trips. That's what you get at the lowest rung of UFT Unity as a reward for signing the loyalty oath. And that, sadly, describes the overwhelming majority of UFT Chapter Leaders. I go to meetings, label value-added measurement junk science, and not one voice will join me. Even AFT President Randi Weingarten said, "VAM is a sham," but as long as the Mulgrew-endorsed APPR is in effect, almost no one will whisper the quietest suggestion against it.

The only way you can whole-heartedly support charter schools, mayoral control, Common Core, a teacher rat squad, two-tier due process, not to mention waiting until 2020 for the raises most of our brothers and sisters got before 2010, is to have an agenda. Sadly, that agenda could not be formed by, say, being a regular reader of Diane Ravitch, who's evinced support for precisely none of these things. and virulently opposes the first two.

If you need talking points, you do not have a very deep understanding, and you will not be able to sustain an argument. If you are motivated by the next free trip to Schenectady, you do not have the interests of members at heart. If you cheer mayoral control, charter schools, colocation (including the colocation of a UFT charter school), junk science-based evaluation, and anything that comes out of Michael Mulgrew's mouth simply because that is where it came from, you are not an activist. You are a follower. If you are motivated by trips, or part-time jobs, you are out for yourself rather than members or students.

It's very, very sad that UFT has allowed leadership to degenerate to that point. It's very sad that UFT leadership will take stands against some nonsense, but not all. It's very sad that those of us who act on what's good for us and our kids are reviled by leadership. I would love to support leadership. I have great respect for many people with whom I do not agree on everything.

But if you're not willing to get behind UFT Unity on absolutely everything, if you persist in asking inconvenient questions, if you think for yourself, you are gone. That's why UFT dumped the leadership of NYSUT last year. That's why Mike Mulgrew will openly ridicule UFT members who disagree with him from the podium of the Delegate Assembly.

And that's why we do not, in fact, have an army of strong advocates to win over the public.
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