Thursday, June 28, 2018

Cynicism Is Our Deadly Enemy

Predictable though it was, it's disappointing to lose Janus. Those of us who pay union dues will now have to support freeloaders who benefit from our dues and work despite contributing nothing. It's ironic these self-serving individuals hold jobs as teachers. As role models, do we teach our children to get theirs and screw everyone else? In the Trump era, for a whole lot of people who watch government propaganda on Fox, the answer may as well be yes.

In New York, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez sees things differently. She says cynicism is the enemy of the people. A lot of people say, "Why bother voting? Why get involved?" This, of course, is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Ocasio stood up against her sitting Congressional representative, who spent most of the last 20 years in Virginia rather than the Bronx. She organized her community, and now her community has chosen her, one of its own, to represent it.

Her model is the one we win with. We are not without influence in our union. Yet a whole lot of members say, "Why bother?" In fact, three out of four of us could not be bothered to get off our asses and vote in the last union election. How can we, as teachers, be role models when we can't even bother taking part in our own community?

I look at Facebook and read people saying things like, "They killed the union." No they did not. They cannot kill the union. The union lives or dies by our hands, not those of Donald Trump, and not by those of his illegitimate Supreme Court. Despite the Janus ruling, the justices don't get to decide who stays and who goes. That's on us.

I've read a whole lot of comments about how the UFT sucks, how we don't have this or that, and how these people are going to pull their dues, because screw the union. It's funny, because they are the union, even though they seem not to know it. Funnier still is the fact that they are playing right into the hands of the moneyed interests that funded Janus. The Koch Brothers and the Walmart Family, among others, are dancing with joy that you're withholding dues.

If you think they care about your salary, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. The fact is they want to pay wages as low as possible. They don't want to cover your benefits. They're tired of paying for your medical insurance. They don't like work rules saying that you can't be compelled to teach four classes in a row, or do excessive paperwork, or clean the bathrooms. This is what the Janus case is really about. If you think Donald Trump, with a long history of stiffing people who work for him, really cares about people like us, you're either uninformed or under the sway of Fox.

There is a cure if the union sucks, and the cure is not destroying the union and leaving yourself at the tender mercies of Donald Trump and his thugs. No, the cure is getting off your ass and getting involved. I'm not just saying that. I'm chapter leader of the largest school in Queens, with over three hundred members. It's not precisely a walk in the park, but I'm not complaining. I've worked for years to expand my voice, and I've gotten it out not only here, but in a whole lot of other forums.

I'm not a genius. I'm just determined. You don't have to do what I do, and you don't have to be me. But you have to be someone. There is something you can do. You can get involved right in your building. You can spread consciousness of what it means to be union. You can fight to get your principal to stop doing whatever crazy shit she's doing. Look at CPE 1. Look at Townsend Harris.

What do those schools have in common? They have communities who stood up. They have union that wouldn't be silenced. They have union that expanded its voice and reach by becoming part of a larger community. In the case of CPE 1, that was largely the parents. I've seen and met the CPE 1 parents, and man, I would not want to be on their bad side. I would not want to be with Principal What's-Her-Name as she twiddles her thumbs at Tweed for full salary.

In the case of Townsend Harris, the students themselves were allies of the union. They looked at the principal's miserable history and wondered how the hell this person managed to get yet another gig at yet another school. They held sit-ins and filmed administrative abuse. They worked hand in hand with the union and wrote about their efforts.

The UFT is not magic. But our potential is endless. We can stand together. We can make alliances with larger groups in our communities. We won't always win, but it's our job to push the envelope as far as we possibly can. If you're a freeloader, you're nobody. You're not part of our community, and you're a terrible role model for our children.

We are what we make ourselves, and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is the crest of a new wave. We need to grab that wave, ride it together, and move into the future. The GOP House and Senate disappear in November, and Trump follows them soon thereafter. That's the will of the people, and we will not take no for an answer.
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