Saturday, May 12, 2018

MORE and the Mission from God, Part II

I wrote a few years ago about how it was tough to come to grips with MORE. It was composed of several groups, and there were varying viewpoints coming together, I thought, to form a united opposition. That seemed like a great idea to me. There were people I admired, like James Eterno, who were part of it. Norm Scott is simply a force of nature, and he was instrumental in its creation.

It's been a learning experience for me, too, because I've always thought of myself as leftist and progressive. James would tell me he felt like a right-wing conservative at some MORE meetings. This was hard for me to understand, because I've always known James as a union activist, and he's forever been my role model as chapter leader. He knows the UFT Contract better than anyone I know, without exception, and has instant recall of what seems to be every clause, every comma and semicolon. He's been an enormous help as I've tried to navigate the borderline impossible task of leading a large chapter. (And no, I'm not complaining. I love this work.)

Yet when I went to MORE meetings, sometimes I understood why James felt like George W. at the Democratic Convention. I think my first experience with MORE was when they united with Long Island union activists. They were looking for someone to stand for Executive Vice President of NYSUT and I stepped up. For the first time, I went to a MORE meeting.

Much to my surprise, there was a great deal of debate about whether or not MORE would put people up in the NYSUT elections. Some people said you get corrupted if you win. I suppose that's frequently true. Yet for me, the drive to win was pretty strong. For me, if we weren't running to win we might as well stay home and blog, or read, or catch up on The Flash, or whatever. It was hard for me to understand why that discussion was necessary.

Of course we didn't win, but I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. I got to meet great people within MORE, like Mike Schirtzer, and I'm still working with him today. I got to meet amazing activists, most notably Beth Dimino and Brian St. Pierre, who taught me what it was like to be union outside of New York City.Who were all those people standing around and advocating for ideas worthy of Diane Ravitch? How could they have been so close to me all this time without my knowledge?

I've had a few low points in MORE, too. I'm at a complete loss when I'm sitting around a group of white people and the question is how we can attract more educators of color. This has happened to me more than once. I sit there and think, well, if that's what our goal was, why didn't we just call them up or ask them to come? And if what we're doing is so great for them, why aren't they here?

A few years ago, I agreed to run with MORE for the UFT Executive Board. I was thrilled beyond belief when New Action offered to ally with us. I said, yes, let's do it, without a doubt. But there was some debate in MORE. Will this compromise us? Well, maybe it would. After all, you've already warned us that winning could corrupt people. But oh my gosh I really wanted to win. For me, there was simply no other reason to be opposition.

I agreed to run, and was told I could pursue issues as I saw fit, but that I'd agree to support priorities of MORE. That sounded fair. I thought the only difference between me and those who were more ideological would be that I'd have a stronger focus on member issues. The first clue I got that I may have been mistaken was last school year, when I brought up a class size resolution.

I went to a MORE meeting and some guy stood up and complained that I hadn't run the class size resolution through steering. At the time I had no idea who or what steering was or why I might seek their approval. More importantly, I had no clue why fighting for reasonable class size was even debatable. Every teacher knows the difference between classes of 25 and 34. Every teacher knows that for every student they add, every other student gets less of your attention. (I'll likely have more to say about MORE steering later.)

Now MORE has effectively expelled my brother Mike Schirtzer. A few members secretly distributed some sort of manifesto stating the only work that was important was circulating their contract demands, or something of that nature. They also seem to wish to move NYC into being more like West Virginia, which is untenable and preposterous on multiple levels. They circulated this thing without showing it to their Executive Board members or anyone with an eye on teacher issues, and I'm sorely disappointed in every individual who signed it under those conditions. I got one person to withdraw his signature.

I'm willing to talk with almost anyone. My mission varies from that of MORE in that I want to win better working conditions for my brother and sister teachers, and that I want to do it in a way that will succeed. I don't care what this or that socialist organization considers a priority, and I don't care about putting up a noble fight just to fall on my ass.

Social justice is a priority for a lot of people in MORE and of course I support social justice. In fact, I believe when we embrace education issues we are demanding social justice not only for ourselves, but also for the children and communities we serve. Class size is social justice. Fighting crazy administrators is social justice. Family leave is social justice. Non-punitive evaluation is social justice. Protecting the ATR is social justice.

I've had it with failure. I've had it with sitting around and pondering issues about which I know little or nothing. We are powerful when we stand together. When we get into our little cliques and plot against one another we go nowhere.

MORE should know better.
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