WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION
by Steve Quester, UFT Representative
1. Washington, D.C.
On July 28 and 29, 2011, I joined hundreds of other educators, parents, youth, and education activists at the Save Our Schools conference in Washington, D.C. While endorsed by both national teacher unions (NEA and AFT), the conference, and the July 30 rally and march that followed, were organized by a grassroots coalition of people who are recognize the urgency of stopping the corporate-led education “reform” movement and building an effort for real education reform. The S.O.S. demands are: Equitable funding for all public school communities; An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation; Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies; and Curriculum developed for and by local school communities.
The conference was amazing. The keynotes were given by my heroes, Jonathan Kozol (Shame of the Nation) and Diane Ravitch (The Death and Life of the Great American School System), and the conference was closed by amazing youth activists from New Orleans. I was privileged to attend a workshop on organizing Black and Latino parents facilitated by Sam Anderson from Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence, a workshop on corporate reforms’ impact on early childhood education given by Nancy Carlsson-Paige (War Play Dilemma: Balancing Needs and Values in the Early Childhood Classroom), and a workshop on union/community organizing given by the Congress of Rank and File Educators (CORE), the caucus that has recently won leadership in the Chicago Teachers Union.
The conference was followed by a rally on the White House ellipse and march to the White House. I was pleased to march with P.S. 321’s principal, Liz Phillips. The rally was opened by Linda Darling-Hammond (The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future), the person who should have been President Obama’s Secretary of Education. Please take a moment to watch this speech by Perrin-Whitt (Texas) school district http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFgrt95OD0U , and this one by Dr. Carlsson-Paige’s son…Matt Damon http://parentsacrossamerica.org/2011/07/matt-damons-speech-at-the-sos-march-that-made-teachers-cry/
La lucha continua, as they say. The latest assault from corporate privatizers has been this summer’s publication of Steven Brill’s toxic Class warfare : Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools. You can watch Dr. Ravitch take him on here.
2. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
For a week at the beginning of August, I joined other members of the AFT, many other public and private sector unions, and community organizations in the effort to unseat Republican state senators in Wisconsin who voted to take away public sectors workers’ collective bargaining rights in the state where public sectors unions were born. Most of the volunteers were from Wisconsin, but there were also people who came in from states all over the union.
Here’s the back-story. In February, the newly elected Republican governor and legislative majorities tried to rush through an anti-collective bargaining law under the banner of a “budget repair” bill. All 14 of the Democratic state senators left the state, depriving the Senate of a quorum. Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin workers and supporters occupied the capital and rallied in Madison in the bitter cold, but in the end, the measure passed.
Wisconsin Democrats then set about petitioning to recall the Republican senators who had voted to end collective bargaining, and Wisconsin Republicans set about petitioning to recall the Democratic senators who had left the state, forcing a delay in the vote. All in all, there were 8 Democratic senators and 8 Republican senators who had been in office long enough to be subject to recall under Wisconsin law. Democrats collected enough signatures to recall 6 of the 8 targetted Republicans. Republicans collected enough signatures to recall only 3 Democrats.
The 3 Democratic senators all won their recall elections, and remain in the Senate. 2 of the Republicans, however, lost, and have been replaced by Democratic challengers. That leaves the Wisconsin senate with 17 Republicans and 16 Democrats, but since one of the Republicans has refused to go along with the governor’s anti-labor agenda, and in fact voted against the budget repair bill, the Wisconsin senate now has a 17-16 pro-labor majority. More important, the results of the recall elections indicate that a 2012 recall of Wisconsin’s Governor Walker is a real possibility. See Wisc. Results Suggest Recall of Governor Would Be Close.
So, while the race I worked on—the effort to recall Senator Alberta Darling, the governor’s right hand in slashing public budgets, and to replace her with the excellent Wisconsin Assembly member Sandy Pasch—failed, the number of voters who chose Pasch in this very Republican district is one of the indicators of Wisconsin’s readiness to ditch to the anti-worker politicians who took control in 2010.
So why does Wisconsin matter to us? Randi Weingarten, AFT president, put it all in perspective when she addressed us at the Milwaukee Area Labor Council the day before the election. She reminded us that in 2008, the year that Barack Obama won Indiana, the Republican governor of that state ended collective bargaining rights for public employees by executive order, and there was no concerted reaction. It was Indiana’s success in destroying public sector unions that led the newly elected Republican leadership in Wisconsin to go after public workers in 2010—with Ohio and Michigan quickly following suit. We were clearly dealing with a regional assault on teachers and other public employees that threatened to go national. The occupation in Madison, the senate recalls, and the 2012 recall effort against Governor Walker are a signal to the nation that this stops here and now. Public servants will not be stripped of our rights.