Saturday, September 26, 2015

An Open Letter to Lily Eskelsen-Garcia

Dear Lily:

I am a thirty-seven year classroom veteran, a former local EA president, and a lifelong NEA member. I am a member, and I have concerns.

The internet has been buzzing with the news of an upcoming endorsement of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Presidential nominee. In particular, there is talk of a procedural move that will sidestep the general membership and their representatives. The most likely motivation would seem to be that Clinton's campaign is sinking, and it is reported that while you admit Sanders is more in line with our interests, you see Clinton as more electable.

I am asking you, as a member-- please don't do this.

It is true that I'm not a fan of Clinton, and that I see her as likely to carry on the corporate, anti-public education policies of the last two administrations. And it's also true that I am, cautiously, a Sanders fan. But believe me when I tell you that, even were this maneuver being considered in support of Sanders, I would still oppose it.

Here's why.

The assault on public education-- the push to close public schools and replace them with money-making charters, the various "reform" actions to redirect public tax dollars to private corporate coffers, the use of Big Standardized Tests to foster a narrative of failure, the constant attempts through all political avenues to break down the teaching profession so that an experienced well-paid unionized workforce can be replaced with a cheaper, inexperienced, short-term more easily controlled pool of pseudo-teachers-- all of these are part of a larger assault.

An attempt to circumvent democracy itself.

At Dyett High, in New Orleans, in Newark and Camden, in Detroit, in Philadelphia to Eli Broad's new LA takeover, the push is to disenfranchise voters, taxpayers, citizens, community members. Reformsters of all different stripes, from Bill Gates to Reed Hastings to Campbell Brown to Arne Duncan-- they all share one simple belief: that in this country there are some people who should have a say, and some people who should not. It's a movement that says that some peoples' voices just don't matter.

NEA cannot become part of that narrative.

I've been a local president during  a strike. I know how seductive the old belief about ends justifying means can be. I know how easily and often union leaders end up in a meeting about how we need the members to make a particular decision, so here's how we'll stage manage the meeting so that they decide what we want them to decide. There have been times, I suppose, when such realpolitik was an acceptable choice.

But now more than ever, NEA cannot sidestep democracy.

It's a mistake, and it's a mistake for two reasons.

Read Anthony Cody's more complete analysis of how an early endorsement will backfire within the NEA. Teachers are tired of having their voices silenced and ignored. We have been silenced and ignored by political leaders, corporate leaders, virtually every big name in the last fifteen years of education reformy fiasco. To ask us to accept the same from our own national union is just too much. The democratic process is under attack in our country; we do not want to see it under attack within our own union.

It is a mistake on the larger scale as well. The early endorsement is just another attempt to circumvent the democratic process, to say, "Well, it looks like the voters at large might make a choice we don't like, so we are going to take steps to keep that from happening. We can't just be letting the Democratic Party make these choices based on the will of the voter. We need to tip the scale." This does not say, "We have faith in the American voters." It says, "The American voters are boobs, and we need to push them where we want them."

It won't work. The howls from NEA members will be loud and palpable, and the whole mess will feed the narrative that NEA is NOT the voice of three million teachers, but a group of political operatives who try to harness those voices for their own purposes.

Democracy is under attack. The voices of ordinary citizens are being ignored and silenced. NEA must not become one more big organization saying, "Some peoples' voices just don't matter."

I am begging you not to offer an early endorsement.

Let the candidates make their case to the members. Let them earn an endorsement from the members. And if they find that the members are slow to embrace them, let them think long and hard about why that might be. We handed Barrack Obama a blank check and he used it to bring in Arne Duncan and policies that simply built on the failed policies of Bush II.

Take a step back. Reach out to some rank and file (hell, give me a call-- I'll be glad to talk).

But do not let the NEA be one more group that is more interested in circumventing the democratic process than embracing, preserving, and advocating for it. How will we stand up for students in communities where parents and neighbors have been silenced, when we have been silenced by our own union? How will we stand up for a representative, democratic process when we don't use it ourselves.

Do not do this.

Do. Not. Do. This.


Peter Greene


  1. I hope Lily reads this and the many, many similar pieces pouring out. But I fear that she is one more person who believes that only certain people deserve to have their voice heard.

  2. I hope it doesn't happen, too. My local union does good work. Our state is not too bad. But if Lily's NEA endorses Hillary, I will have to find some way of making my protests heard. Can NPE begin to organize us against this horrible mistake ?

  3. Peter, well written! I was proud to be in the room of my own state's committee meeting where a vote of No Endorsement at this time rang loud and clear. It spoke to the voices of the "rank and file" members also know as the Foundation of Our Union just as it should!

  4. Beautifully said! I wrote my own letter to the CTA this week, trying to say the same thing (with a little less clout as I'm a former, not current, member), but this is much more eloquent than mine. For sure I'll be passing it along.

  5. You've inspired me, Peter! I'm going to write a similar letter to the head of my national, too, Randi Weingarten. Oh, no, wait...

  6. part of the problem is, if I heard Lilly correctly on the telephone town-hall, what her covering her ass with the statement, "I am just one vote." Political BS.

    1. Just one vote my ass. She's in charge. She's been lobbying state boards and everyone who might vote her way. None of the rest of us can do that.

  7. This blog by Heather Poland is very telling about where Lily is coming from and why.

  8. I am a member of the NEA and I do not want my union to endorse Hillary Clinton at this time. I do not believe that she will do anything different than Bush and O'bama. Hillary seems more likely to support big business than community schools.

  9. Well, I suppose people could threaten to not join the Union next year if an endorsement simply comes down from "on high."

    But then...Hmmm? Suppose many, many people withdraw support next year in protest. What then? You kind of wonder: Has Miss Lily been co-opted as a secret operative to destroy the Union? Is defection, disloyalty, and dissolution the goal? Oh-Don't tell me how many years she's been writing "Lily's Blackboard." Means nothing, when someone might be dangling "real money" in front of her. No jaw-dropping corruption is beyond my belief at this point.

    Sorry. Old, y'know. Seen too much.

  10. Can we trust anything anymore? I fear not. So sad.