Friday, October 2, 2015

Dammit, NEA

The national leadership of the NEA today is one step closer to ramming the endorsement of Hillary Clinton down its members throats.

Steven Singer zeroed in on the maximum-irony quote from NEA president Lily Eskelsen-Garcia:

“We are what Democracy looks like.”

With those words, Lily Eskelsen Garcia took the reigns of the National Education Association (NEA) as President in 2014.

Well, no. This is not what democracy looks like. Not even if you squint real hard and tilt your head.

This is not what a recruitment drive looks like, as NEA continues to wish that it could take a stronger hold among younger members. In my corner of the world, the state called some local union leaders together to talk about the secret of getting more contributions for the political action committee. This does not look like how you do that, either.

You do not build a union by going to young professionals and saying, "Hey, we'd like you to give us some dues. In return, we'll tell you what we want you to think about national issues without ever checking with you to get your opinion." You do not build a union by telling your members, "Hey, we know what's best for you. Shut up and sit down."

Democracy is under attack in this country. In Alabama, where the system is now rigged to deny poor, black voters the ID now required to vote. In city after city where the model for running schools has become to silence local voters and taxpayers.

Now more than ever, the union should be standing up for democracy, modeling for the world how it works. But a union that acts like this simply throws away whatever moral authority it might have had. It turns the declaration "We are what democracy looks like" into a cynical joke.

And in return, we get what? Nothing. Not a damn thing. Has Clinton made even an empty politician's vow to come out in support of public education? Nope-- not a peep, not a sound, not a word. And we did not so much as demand that she court us, not even a little.

There is a special kind of anger that comes when you have tried to defend someone and they insist on doing something indefensible, and that's the anger I'm feeling right now. At a time when so many people are punching holes in the ship, NEA shows up with buckets of water.

On what principle will this early endorsement of Clinton be defended? We figured it might get us more power, maybe? It might earn us a seat at the fabled table? It can't be defended as an expression of the will of the members, because NEA's leaders have no idea what the membership wants. It can't be defended as a stand on principle. And it certainly can't be defended as a rush to stand up for a friend of public education, because Clinton, who has long ties with Broad and praise for Bush's work on education in Florida, has not shown us one reason to be trusted.

In fact, the Clinton campaign has tried to establish its bona fides by sticking to safe issues around the edges-- pre-school and college availability. On public K-12 education, where there is plenty of room to come thundering out in favor of traditional public ed, in favor of preserving the voice of communities, in favor of preserving one of basic pillars of democratic process, Clinton has offered nothing.

I am, as you might have guessed, pissed. Pissed like I was when Dennis Van Roekel implicity accepted the notion that we needed Common Core because America's teachers were falling down on the job.

What the hell does my national union stand for? At what point will my national union leaders actually demand something from politicians in the name of public education and the teachers who work there? And what is the point of belonging to an organization that does not appear to value any of the things that I value?

How many times can I enter a conversation with my non-union friends about the union where I have to wade in with a sheepish, "Well, yeah, but--" when I am running out of things to put after the"but"?


  1. Seems like anyone who's been through the high school dating scene should understand how effective it is to desperately throw yourself at someone in the hopes that they'll take a tiny glimmer of notice of you. Guess Lily's never played hard to get. And there are words for that.

  2. And how will the NEA actually benefit from this endorsement, especially so early in the game?

  3. Supposedly Lily thinks it will give NEA "a seat at the table," which is just pathetic. It would be giving up all leverage.

  4. So, nothing, there's no benefit that anyone besides Lily can see.

  5. Besides being undemocratic if done without a membership referendum. It's just stupid, unions are in enough trouble without alienating their members.

  6. Teachers have been political orphans for some time now. Reduced to crying on the doorstep of the plutocrats, oligarchs, and their minions.

  7. Democrats are no friends of education. Most Republicans are outright enemies. It is time for us to form the Education Party.

    1. Perhaps having a political party with real focus, and the Education Party, as Gregory Sampson suggests, will put some weight in the voices of voters who realize education needs support and optics in the media.

    2. Our unions ought to be the Education Party, but I think we need new unions to make that happen.

  8. I cannot for the life of me find a "contact us" link anywhere on the NEA website. Does anyone see where it is?