Thursday, November 6, 2014

Dear Randi

Dear Randi-

I just got the email from you that I've reprinted below. I thought I would go ahead and reply. I want to like you. I admire the way you put yourself out there on social media-- I've watched you engage in some fairly heated exchanges on twitter, and as someone whose union leadership has a history of rarely engaging with the rank and file, I find your openness refreshing. But I can't help noticing that in your stirring message to the troops telling the story of the many election fights fought across the nation, you left out one major state.

I'm an NEA member, and a teacher in Pennsylvania, so what the AFT does in NY isn't really my problem-- except that I'm a teacher in a country where an awful lot of people in power are trying to dismantle public education and the profession that I've devoted my life to. So everything that happens in the education biz is kind of my business in the same way that a fire on the back porch of the house is my problem even if I'm sitting in the front living room.

So I've been watching New York, and it has not been fun.

I'm not a NY AFT member. I don't know all the ins and outs of the politics of the union, nor do I know all the history of all the players. And I have been a local union president (through a strike, no less), and I understand that sometimes you have to temper idealistic aspirations with political reality.

But I'm tired of union leaders who won't stand up for teachers. I'm tired of union leaders who don't unequivocally say, "That is wrong. What you are saying about teachers is wrong. What you are doing to teachers is wrong, and we will not support a person who says such things."

I've read the attacks on you accusing you of all sorts of Machiavellian political angling, of putting personal ambition over teacher concerns. I have no reason to believe those things. I have no reason not to believe them. I think they might even be beside the point.

But I do know that when someone gets wrapped in shading and angling and nuancing and carefully crafting messages, it's easy to think that your message is coming across with all its complicated shades intact. That is usually not true.

So I'm not writing to accuse you of anything. But I want you to understand what the last year has looked like to someone out here in the cheap seats, to someone who cares about the stakes of the cause, but who has no dog in the specific fights of New York State or the AFT. Regardless of what you intended for people to see, this is what I saw. take that for what it's worth.

I saw AFT push the Working Families Party to make an utterly senseless endorsement of Cuomo, justified by the notion that they were making a deal with a career politician who historically never makes or keeps bargains. And that was support not just for Cuomo, but turning their back on Teachout, a woman whose understanding of what the hell is wrong is clear and profound and yet prcatical.

I saw you mount a last minute campaign to salvage the primary hopes of Cuomo's running mate, a man who was in trouble because your own members didn't want to vote for him.

And as things became uglier and uglier, climaxing in Cuomo making one of the most clear and direct declarations of war on teachers and public schools of any American politician-- I mean, seriously, we know many of those guys were thinking it, but Cuomo just flat out said it as directly as Khrushchev declaring "We will bury you"-- you didn't call him on it. You did not muster one sliver of the outrage and indignation you directed at Time magazine, a fading magazine that may have insulted teachers, but does not have the power to turn insults into policy. Cuomo, who has announced his intention to exert that power to break public education and teachers, got a pass, an excuse made for him (though he never asked to be excused for his words).

I don't know if there was a carefully crafted message that AF brass put together. Out here in the cheap seats, it looks like rank and file teachers do not have leaders who will stand up for them when it matters. Again, I am not trying to make an accusation-- I am telling you what I see.

Maybe from my vantage point I just don't see enough, and I'm missing all sorts of things that would make me feel better about all of this. But when you send out a Rally the Troops letter that pointedly ignores the New York governor's race entirely, it makes me think I was probably right with my first impression.

I confess to being mystified by some aspects of New York politics. I don't know why people try to get along with Cuomo, when that clearly doesn't really do anybody any good.

Out here in the communities of PA, we do indeed unite behind many of these issues. But, honestly, at this point it's not really clear to me what side AFT leadership is on. It makes me nervous. Cuomo is just across the border, getting ready to rip the guts out of public education and the teaching profession, and for some reason, the AFT can't bring itself to say, "Boo." I know there's a bigger fight coming. I just don't know if we count on you when it gets here. If you think there are reasons that I should feel reassured, I'm telling you that you are not currently communicating those reasons to me or my colleagues.

Thanks for listening, 



First and foremost, thank you.

Whether you knocked on doors, made calls, talked to your friends and neighbors, or simply cast a ballot for working families, thank you.

Over the last few months, we’ve crisscrossed the country—from Miami to Anchorage—working side by side with you, our members and community allies, to elect leaders who share our values.
Tuesday night was tough. All day Wednesday, people asked us whether all the work was worth it. We’ve said the same thing to all of them.

Whether you win or lose, it’s never a mistake to go all-in for working families.

Tuesday, Randi spent the day in Pennsylvania, knocking on doors and making calls for Tom Wolf. And the evening began with the great news that we had won.

Sadly, it got a lot tougher after that. In Wisconsin, Mary Cathryn came back from a day of canvassing for Mary Burke only to watch as Scott Walker won re-election. After a day of door-knocking in Baltimore, Lorretta looked on in disbelief as Larry Hogan won in Maryland.

There’s no denying that this election will be a setback. Ironically, Wall Street—whose reckless actions helped caused the economic malaise that motivated voters to vote against Democrats—has already expressed its joy over the Republican takeover of the Senate.

Which gets to our point. There’s something important that people aren’t talking about as much: Where the election was clearly about everyday concerns—education, minimum wage, paid sick leave—working families prevailed.

From the governor’s race in Pennsylvania to minimum wage ballot measures in places like Nebraska and Arkansas, we see that communities are with us on the issues. We beat back restrictions on women’s healthcare, and defeated ballot measures that attacked due process, pensions and collective bargaining. When we campaign on real issues and offer big ideas, people agree with us. That’s an important lesson. But where the choices were less clear, voters took out their frustration with our seemingly broken system by voting against Democrats. It’s a reminder that we must make it clear what we stand for, and stand up proudly to tell people what we believe.
And here’s another thing: Everywhere we’ve been, we’ve seen the power that people feel from participating.

Yes, we lost many of the races we fought in. But we fought. We stood up—together—and said, “Our communities deserve better." And every time one of us stands up, it gives another person the courage to do the same.

We will not stop fighting now. In fact, we’ll redouble our efforts. From the statehouse to Capitol Hill, we need you with us now.

Power never yields without a fight, and to change the balance of power, we must stand together. That’s what unions are about—working together to make things better for working families. Today, we promise this union will stand strong with our members, our families and our communities.

From state capitols to Capitol Hill, we need your voice. We are calling on all governors—Democrats and Republicans—to fully fund public education, to lift up workers and protect our basic rights. We’re calling on Capitol Hill to break the endless logjam and move us forward.
To make that happen, we need you—your voice, your courage, your commitment—to help show our leaders that we demand better.

There’s a very simple promise enshrined in America. If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to get ahead, and each generation will do better than the one before. We must continue our work to reclaim that promise.
In unity,

Randi Weingarten, AFT President

Lorretta Johnson, AFT Secretary-Treasurer

Mary Cathryn Ricker, AFT Executive Vice-President

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