Sunday, August 28, 2011

Issue #22- August 28, 2011--Protest Video, News and Rebuilding Unions

Issue #22- August 28, 2011, Reflections on a Trunk Full of Protest Signs, News From the Week, Rebuilding Unions

Now Available Weekly…
Look for new issues on Sundays during the school year.

The major topics that will be addressed in the future will fall into three main categories:
            *Union Building/Rebuilding Ideas
            *Upcoming Events to Participate In and Ways to
              Connect with Others in the Movement
            *Important News/Information Associated with

As always these will be ideas and information drawn from a variety of sources and mixed with my own thoughts and opinions.  My ideas are constantly changing and evolving and my intent in sharing them is to encourage others to think about what is happening and how they can impact events.  I hope that all of us who value unions, public education and democracy in general will continue to discuss and implement ways we can advance our cause during the coming school year. 

Cleaning Out The Trunk…
Movements like ours go through a variety of stages.  At each stage different types of action are emphasized and become the focus of the group's collective energy.  We started our response to Governor Walker's aggressive attacks with mass protests.  Those cold days of late winter/early spring were filled with trips to the square on a regular basis.  Our actions were supported by some, vilified by others, and a source of uncertainty for many who found themselves wondering what exactly was happening there.  Media reports were frequently inaccurate and misleading and served to further divide opinion.

For those of us who found themselves "walking in squares" or occupying the capitol on a daily basis these days will be forever etched in our memories.  To this day you can't say "something's disgusting" in my house without a call of "union busting" from somewhere.  Memories of these events are a source of pride for the members of my family and I'm sure for countless other families who "lived" downtown during the protests. 

I found the need to clean out the trunk of my car the other day and as I was pulling out the signs that were stacked there it made me pause and think.  I got my older son to help put together a video using all the signs and buttons from my trunk and from around our house.  The song is a great tune with a message that makes you think a little too.

Union Building, Hope for the Future…
The climate at my school is different from previous years. 
            There is still the excitement of getting a new year started. 
            There is still the joy in seeing colleagues again. 
            There is still the enthusiasm for applying new ideas learned over the                                  summer. 

So, what's the difference?

Under all the anticipation the new year brings there is another set of feelings.         
            Instead of anticipation, there are feelings of apprehension. 
                        What will happen to our profession next? 
                        How will the changes in wages affect me
                        over the school year? 
                        How will the district apply their new "tools" next? 
            A feeling of being disrespected as professionals.
            A sense of desperation and feeling that we are under attack.

What do those feelings mean for our profession and our unions?
            With the implementation of the "Budget Repair Bill" payroll deductions will be
            eliminated and unions will need to rely on different methods to collect dues  The
            negative emotions, loss of hope and the restrictions
            that limit a union's ability to negotiate will cause
            members to think about "saving" money by not keeping
            their union membership.

            The battering that educators have taken from political sources and in
            the media has left many disheartened and questioning their career choice.        

Are public educator unions still relevant?
             The reality is that when school districts face budget
             issues they will continue to look at their biggest
             expense category for savings.  That means 
            cuts in positions, programs and other changes that
             impact personnel.         

            Individuals alone can not win the fight against larger,
            more influential groups and organizations.

            The unions also provide a voice for the families and
            students who rely on us to give them a better path to
            the future. 
            We must not forget that the rights and privileges we
            currently enjoy are built on a foundation of struggle.  A
            foundation that we need to protect or else face the
            onerous task of rebuilding in the future.  

 Of course they are relevant, actually they are essential to our survival as a democracy!!
            At their core, unions represent a belief that there is hope for the
           This is a key point to remember.  When we engage in our collective
            struggle to defend our profession and our community we make a
           strong statement of hope for future 

What can we do?
            How do we reenergize people who are discouraged and afraid? 
            How do we unite groups of people who have not been united before?
            How do we create an atmosphere of cooperation when so much effort is
            being made to divide us by outside forces?             

One School's Story
I will share the efforts being made to build community and increase solidarity at the school I work at. 

We face significant challenges (most of which are true at any school this year):
            *Many new staff because of retirements and transfers.
            *Significantly different political beliefs
            *Staff at different stages in life (new hire, new baby, close to retirement…)
            *Different ideas about the function of a union
            *Different levels of engagement in political actions
            *Different opinions about the past performance of the union

We have significant strengths as well:
            *New staff and new ways of thinking
            *Significantly different political beliefs
            *Staff at different stages in life (new hire, new baby,
             close to retirement…)
            *Different ideas about the function of a union
            *Different levels of engagement in political actions
            *Different opinions about the past performance of the

Sounds like our challenges are also our strengths.  We just need to harness all the energy and build a positive environment where ideas can be shared and solutions pursued. 
My first step in building my school's solidarity is fairly simple.  It is to go around and talk to people.  I did this at the end of last year and we identified three areas that our school felt were of importance:

            *Equity between all bargaining units
            *Having fun together and building community
            *Communication of information

After talking with staff I will reassess our focus points and we will establish goals and plans for the year.  Together the staff at my school weathered the storms of last spring and I believe we can do so again.  I'll be sharing the ideas we come up with in the weeks to come.   

Factors that help build solidarity.
*Time- Building a relationship (personal, organizational or any other) takes time.
*Understanding, Recognition and Respect of Differences- Each of us comes from a different background and unique set of experiences.  These differences guide our decision making and we need to recognize and value to diversity we bring.
*Organization- There needs to be a guiding sense of purpose and a way to get needed information to people.
*Opportunities to Gather- These opportunities need to be in friendly settings where people are comfortable to be themselves.
*Supportive groups without cliques- It is natural that people group by interests, professional goals, etc.  In a school people are naturally divided into grade levels, content areas, job title, etc.  These groupings are helpful in some ways, but hurtful in others and groups need to be flexible and open.

The Angry Elf Strikes Again…
A new school year always brings a fresh sense of hope and excitement to me.  I enjoy what I do and look forward to a new school year.  So why the angry elf?

**With fellow teachers and other public workers I will be facing a budget shortfall as the pay cuts forced on us take effect.  Yes, pay cuts!  Remember that we have been taking less in salary in order to get the benefits like employer contributions to our pension and insurance for years.  Finally, an admission that these cuts to our pay will help districts balance their budgets, for now.    

**Seems pretty obvious that this loss in pay for public workers will affect many businesses in every community. 

**The facts don't add up.  We were promised a balanced budget, more jobs, a better economy, etc.  The Walker administration likes to put forward examples of how their "tools" have helped school districts across the state.  However, even these success stories don't appear to be sustainable.  What happens in the future when employees have no more to give?  Here are a couple of examples of what can happen, but there are many more from Wisconsin and from around the United States.

**We are told that we don't need union protections.  I guess we should just trust that everyone will look out for the teachers that they love, right?  Maybe not, we can already see how school districts are implementing the "tools" provided in many places.  Another example…

**Union busting from Illinois.  We can't forget that this is a nationwide attack.

**What's true in Ohio is also true elsewhere.  Conservatives should read pieces like this and then analyze their beliefs.

**We are facing opposition that simply won't compromise or change their approach.  They hold their position no matter what the consequences to others are. 

**Every day we are faced with some new attack on something that I value.  From the environment to economic equity to public education to…  There is such an obvious effort to undermine the rights of all Americans and it is such a struggle to get accurate information out to people in a way they can find accessible.  Even the federal government is facing opposition in sharing information.

There Is Hope…
We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that this summer was one where we successfully continued the fight in many ways. 

Future Protests…
As time goes by and the effects of Walker's agenda are felt more acutely the need to protest will continue to grow.  The initial wave of mass protests gained significant attention to our cause, but without ongoing action the mainstream media and general public will lose interest.  Jim Bevel, a civil rights activist, said mass action is a way to "get the whole community to see the real issues.  Problems must be on the front page every day."  We must do what is necessary to help frame the debate and not allow political leaders to have the only voice that is heard.

At the same time we must keep the debate focused on the issues, not the methods we use.  Remember how the damage to the capitol became an issue?  While eventually totally discredited, the myth of massive damage is still out there.  It diverted attention from the real issues and gave anti-labor forces a talking point.  What made our efforts stand out was the power and message, combined with the sense of community and the peaceful nature of the protesting.  We need to continue to keep the strong message and positive energy going. 

It is likely that future protests will not have the same numbers as the original February ones.  It is also true that people will have increased feelings of anger and disenfranchisement as the economic effects of Walker's policies hit and the majority party continues to ignore opinions that don't support their views. 

We need to work together and organize our efforts to avoid becoming a reactionary movement with all the negative acts that come with that. 
There are many options for protesting.  The key is the need to have some organization in place to keep things focused and positive.  Here are a few ideas currently out there:

This has been a very powerful action that has had ongoing support.

Another idea to try and draw attention to the problems caused by standardized testing.  What if families decided to take control of the issue?  Of course school districts will feel the pinch because any student who opts out is still counted against the overall scores for that district.  However, with a coordinated effort the impact could be significant.  Standardized testing is an industry that drives our educational system to a great degree.  It is currently driving our system to the edge of a cliff and we need to address ways to change the way we assess our kids.

This movement continues to grow and gain coverage.

We can't forget that other states are struggling with similar "leaders".  Solidarity means helping others out in their efforts.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Issue #21- August 21, 2011, More Recall Analysis, News, Next Steps

What This Is…
Issue #21- August 21, 2011, More Reactions to the Recalls, News, Next Steps 

More Analysis of the Recalls…
As I've said before the analysis of the events in Wisconsin will need a historical perspective to be fully completed.  Even so, it is necessary to analyze recent events in order to effectively plan our future actions.  A few more thoughts: 

Mainstream media loses focus quickly- Without headline grabbing events our major media outlets don't keep attention on any issue for long.  Without continuing coverage of long term issues the general public loses track of what is happening and assumes things are resolved satisfactorily.  This is clearly demonstrated by the lack of coverage of the last recall elections on 8/16.    

Many "Independent Voters" feel they have been given an out- Many of our so called independents that I talked to when canvassing or phone banking spoke of being disenchanted with all the money spent on races, harsh rhetoric and the intrusion of politics in their daily lives.  As a result they felt vindicated for expressing disdain for the whole system.  I have no way of proving it, but I feel safe in assuming that many of these independents either didn't vote, or voted based on a last minute decision heavily impacted by advertising.  We have a large segment of our citizenry that is content to grouse about the system until it directly affects them.  One message we should all take from the past 6 months is that sometimes you wake up too late to prevent a disaster.  Then you are left with limited recourse and are fighting from behind.  These independent voters form a large bloc and have the potential to impact elections significantly.

Troubled times don't always give rise to greatness- To say our economy is hurting is an understatement.  Unfortunately, it seems that challenging circumstances can sometimes bring out the worst in people.  The idea that if one person is struggling then everyone should struggle has resulted in an electorate that is divided and actively seeks to bring down other groups.

That concept of fairness twists the labor slogan, "An injury to one is an injury to all."  That mantra speaks to looking out for each other and trying to get the best situation for everyone.   Instead of pulling people up there is a genuine movement to bring others down.  How many times have you heard about how tough it is for private sector workers and how the public sector needs to pay?  Why not put an emphasis on improving everyone's situation? 

Most importantly, the Democrats need leadership and a well articulated, organized response to the Walker agenda- Most successful movements have strong and charismatic leadership.  For example, it does little good to go through the recall process for Gov. Walker if there isn't a viable candidate to oppose him.  I was reminded of this by several readers and meant to include it in my earlier post.  Strong leaders provide a focal point for media attention and solidify public support for the cause.  There can be several leaders from different perspectives (as long as they are able to work together for a common purpose), but the need for leadership exists in any organization. 

There also needs to be a clearly defined, well organized, cohesive effort to keep momentum for a movement strong.  The leadership of any organization needs to articulate the goals and objectives so that the membership feels a sense of purpose and recognizes how their efforts help.  Wyatt Walker, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the early 1960's, talked about three lessons they learned from protests that had failed earlier. 
These lessons were:
            *Protests need to be well planned and calculated for logistics and intent
            *Internal divisions should be minimized or proactively dealt with
            *Specific goals aid understanding of the protests' purpose and
              give participants a sense of success when any gains (even tiny ones)
              are made
All three of these points are just as important in our current labor movement as they were for the Civil Rights Movement.

New News…
A few items that I found interesting during the past week:

~This is why it takes real courage to vote for any type of progressive legislation.  The hateful nature of comments like this make compromise nearly impossible.  Great respect and praise for those NY GOP Senators who knew they would face comments like this when they voted on the bill.

~A great piece about the economy and why the Republican/Tea Party agenda is harmful to almost everyone.

~Money is truly corrupting our political system.

~It can't be stated often enough, voter fraud isn't the biggest threat to our electoral process.

~Maybe we should take this advice and really look at our tax laws and policies.

~Another strand in our efforts, the legal system. MTI, here is your lawsuit....I love the part where Sen. Fitzgerald is quoted!
From Facebook:  Hi MTI brethren. West Allis here. Wanted to put this out there for anyone who's looking to carry the torch eastward:

WEAC posted a plea a couple days ago to attend a Greenfield school board meeting on behalf of the district teachers. Apparently the Greenfield superintendent is adding 6 days to their schedule without compensation; is forbidding teachers to address concerns at school board meetings and has sent a message to all district employees stating there will be "significant changes" to healthcare benefits. Apparently there is no dialogue between the teaching staff and the school board/administration. The meeting takes place Monday, Aug. 22nd at 6:30pm @ 4850 S. 60th Street, Greenfield, WI.
~More news keeps coming out about ALEC…
~While in a small Illinois town this weekend I saw a sign offering personal loans for purchasing school supplies.  Very sad.
Teachers, families bear burden of school supplies - JSOnline

What's Next?…
Middle class uprisings are, by the very nature of the middle class, difficult to sustain.  Because people in this demographic have achieved some success and are usually pretty content (broad generalizations, I know) they typically are looking more for an equilibrium than a radical change.  As this summer of recall draws to a close I find many of my friends feeling a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of relief that, "Now we can just wait for the Walker recall." 

Nothing could be further from the truth.  If we become complacent and relax then the current situation will become our "normal".  Nearly everyone I know in the teaching profession has already looked at their family budget and accounted for the loss in pay.  It's been painful and in some cases traumatic, but after a few months we will adapt and change.  "We lost X amount of money and now we need to make these changes", is a refrain that will be heard in households across Wisconsin.  That is my greatest fear, not that we can't succeed in our efforts to undo the damage already done, but that we will not really put forth our best effort and will accept what has been done to us. 

Governor Walker has been talking about bi-partisanship and reaching out to other viewpoints.  Of course he has, he has nothing to lose by doing so.  Do we think that he will change the status of unions for the better in his next effort to repair our budget.  He has already gotten what he wanted.  He offers to pick us up and dust us off after he knocked us down and stole our lunch money. 

Politically he has everything to gain by looking more moderate.  Citizens not directly affected by his legislation will forget what the uproar was all about and will not support a recall.  Remember that it is very difficult to recall an elected official and this is even more true if he avoids significant controversy for the rest of the year.  He can even make Democrats look bad if they don't come to the table with him.

We must all do our part to not let the rest of Wisconsin forget what has been done to us.  We must work together and make changes that will protect and preserve our state and the values that we hold dear to us. 

What Does the Future Hold?…
A news article grabbed my attention today:

To be honest, I really don't know what to make of this event.  On one hand, It is exactly what I feared would happen in Wisconsin.  Union members will for many reasons choose to let their unions be decertified because of the loss of bargaining power. 

On the other hand, I read from some members of this union that they will continue to act collectively.  They just won't be state certified.  In a way it appears to be a protest of the restrictions on collective bargaining.  The members are saying, we don't need your approval, we'll just act on our own terms. 

My main concern with the loss of union status is that any group of people will lose cohesiveness unless faced with a threat to themselves.  Look at the public sector unions in Wisconsin as an example.  It seems safe to say that most union members were not incredibly active in their locals.  A relatively small number of names appear in the minutes of most union meetings and even fewer people have been willing to take on leadership roles in these organizations.  Suddenly that changes with the Budget Repair Bill and its aftermath. 

What if we didn't have unions and Walker had made his other draconian changes to education and public sector workers?  Would a group of individuals have been able to coordinate such an effective response so quickly? 

 I'm sure the TAA members have the best of intentions, and I sincerely hope that all goes as they plan.  Once again, we'll have to wait to see how it all plays out. 
In my mind it is still important to preserve the unions that we have.  The continuation of union activity rests on the shoulders of current members and current union leadership.

What Can I Do?…
In addition to any organized protests, writing letters and otherwise expressing dissatisfaction with the current situation there are additional actions that I feel are vital to our resistance efforts.  Each of us needs to begin networking and discussing ideas for activities and actions that can help our cause.  Find other citizens who think progressively.  Brainstorm ideas and then try to find ways to implement them.  In the same way that each of us was able to contribute to the recall efforts, every one of us has strengths that can be applied to improving the status of labor and all the other groups/issues under attack here.  It takes leaders to guide a movement, but it also takes many people working together to make things happen.  Deciding on our next steps needs to be a priority as we begin the school year.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Issue #20 August 17, 2011- 8/16 Result Analysis, Where to Now

What This Is…
Issue #20- August 17, 2011, Election Result Analysis, Where Do We Go From Here?

Election Result Analysis…

While last night's wins by the two Democrats wasn't a surprise, it certainly was a relief.  Throughout the past 6 months (or so) there have been enough unexpected events to make me cautious about anything political.  The funny thing about watching the results last night was that Holperin was ahead for the whole time I was following the coverage and it was Wirch that trailed for the first hour or so. 
In the end it all worked out, but I have to admit I didn't relax until the winning checkmark appeared next to both Wirch and Holperin.

Now that the "Summer of Recalls" (definitely not the "Summer of Love") is in the books where does Wisconsin stand?  To be honest I wrote last week's reflection on the results with the assumption that the two remaining recalls would go in favor of the Democrats.  The comment posted about that edition was very accurate in saying that real analysis needed to wait until this weeks results.  However, with the last two results in, my overall analysis hasn't changed too much. 

A recap of last weeks reflections (Issue #18):
*No one won- Not true, see below.
*Everyone won- Not true, see below.
*Everyone lost- Depends on what happens next.
*It's difficult to defeat any incumbent- Still true!
*That's a lot of money- Still true!

A little more analysis:
*The Democrats came out ahead- I know that both sides will be busy spinning the results to show that they won.  It is also true that the Republicans still control the Wisconsin Senate (although by a narrow one vote margin).  Still, it can't be denied that the Democrats gained two seats and won five of the nine races.  All three Democrats defended their seats, winning by sizeable margins.  The results serve notice to Republican leaders that they should begin to think about ways to work with Democrats and not just over and around them. 

*This is a long term struggle- Part of last week's feelings of  letdown was the fact that many Democrat supporters were counting on regaining control of one house of the legislature.  Many people that I've talked to were viewing these recalls as the culmination of the efforts to fight off the attack on labor rights in Wisconsin.  Many of us involved in the re-energized and revitalized labor movement need the reminder that this is a long term struggle.  It wasn't going to be won by recalling state senators and it won't be won if Gov. Walker is recalled.  This is a battle that has been waged throughout history and we need to adjust our expectations to recognize this fact.   

*It is extremely difficult to recall anyone- That still holds true.  It is what makes the two recall victories so monumental.  I did a quick look at the history of recalls in the United States and the small number that have been successful speaks to this fact.  A significant number of recalled politicians had committed a crime of some type or were involved scandals.  Several resigned prior to being ousted from office because of their guilt.

Why did we recall these Republicans?  Contrary to what conservatives will tell you, it wasn't simply because they didn't vote the way we (union thugs instructed by union bosses) wanted them to.  The reasons are more complicated than that.  They center around the ideas that these senators violated their obligation to represent all the citizen in their district, they consistently violated established rules and procedures, and they destroyed the bipartisan nature of our government rendering the political process meaningless.

It is much easier to campaign to recall someone who has committed a felony for example, than it is to recall someone for these more abstract ideological reasons.  That makes for a tougher sell and makes the success of the recall movement even more impressive.     

*Huge turnout, but…- Many websites and news agencies will talk about the huge number of voters that turned out.  I say, "HOGWASH!"  Yes, we did have more people vote than is typical in a local election.  Yes, it was a significant number of people voting in a special election held in the summer.  Still, with all the efforts on both sides to get people out to vote we still couldn't get a significant majority of eligible voters out to the polls.    

The simple reality is that too many of us are not engaged in the political process.  There are many reasons for this, but until people see the value in expressing their opinion in a meaningful way democracy will suffer.  People need to recognize the need to be informed and exercise their rights as citizens before they are negatively affected by political actions.    

*How can we heal?- One of the more unique aspects to these recall elections was the passionate feelings that were aroused.  The issues debated in the races truly became divisive in communities, friendships and families.  I invite you to read the comments after any on-line article about the recalls and see what is being said.  One important question that comes out of this summer is, how can we return to being a civil society?  Both sides need to abandon the hateful rhetoric and really look at the issues involved. 

*Analysis needs to wait for history- We really won't know the full effects of this summer's events for a while.  That's the difficulty of being a part of history instead of studying it.  Time will tell the full impact of our actions.  Hindsight is truly better than foresight.  It's always easier to judge our actions when their full impact is known.  However, that shouldn't stop us from acting in the present based on what we know at this moment.   

*Politics, economics, etc. are more about perception, opinion and confidence than any reality- This is true in all the social sciences (political science, economics, sociology, psychology, etc.).  What is "true" or a "fact" can be different for different people in different situations.  Just compare how different people react to the same event and you will see this "flexible truth" in practice.  How many times have you heard someone say, "I just don't understand how they could think that was a good idea!"?  Our ideas of what makes a society "good" and how to get there are based on widely different foundations.  Our challenge as a state/nation is to find a way to unify those different bases into a working collective whole. 

In my mind this is why any ideology that can't accept compromise is so dangerous.  It is why we are do divided here in Wisconsin and why our national government is struggling to be effective.  If we can't find ways to work together to achieve a common good then our chances to be a successful democracy fade.  Another reason the recall process was so important.  It should force Republican leadership to realize that they need to listen or they will not retain power.

What's Next
Now that the Senate recalls are completed the question becomes, what happens now?  Will there be a "return to normalcy"?  For the immediate future the Republican response to this summer will be telling.  Will there be true efforts at bi-partisanship?  The labor movement can't simply sit back and wait to see what will happen.  I see four main areas that need to be addressed as the summer ends: 

Define Movement- What are we fighting for?  The current anti-Walker movement is made up of a broad coalition of labor, political and social groups.  The interests of these groups overlap in their opposition to the Walker Agenda, but diverge in many areas as well.  Historically this has been a weakness of coalitions like ours.  Given enough time or pressure these differences have weakened the strength of the movement. 

Different groups need to play to their strengths and be willing to work with others who may have different focal points for their agendas.  These groups, and the individuals who are their backbone, need to carefully analyze their goals and objectives.  Once these are clearly defined compromise becomes possible between groups and the coalition can maintain its strength.

Different strategies- Social movements have many ways to achieve their goals. Some of these are:
            Political Action- Recalls, elections
            Mass Protests- February in Madison
            Legal Action- Lawsuits
            Social Activism- Networking and communication
            Media/Education- Get the story out      
 None of these will work alone, but a combination of them can be extremely effective. 

Strengthen Base- There is already a large base of energized citizens who are ready to work to reclaim our state.  However, there are still a significant number of people who are not engaged in the process.  As time goes by an effort needs to be made to reach out to these people and get them involved.  They need to be shown reasons why they should support our movement and convinced that they can have an impact on what happens here. 

The same needs hold true for our existing supporters.  As time goes by it is a natural tendency for people to accept the status quo.  Loss of rights, loss of money and lack of opportunity become "normal".  If this happens the movement to resist weakens and it becomes difficult to regain the momentum.  The middle class worker who formed the core of the initial protests is not easy to keep mobilized.  Jobs, families, etc. take focus away from political and social struggles.  The sudden loss of income for many of us will put additional pressures on our time and energy (just as the Republican strategy intended).       

Maintain and expand organization- The activism and the organization behind it has been incredible during these past months.  From essentially nothing a powerful organization has been built.  This organization is key to our success.  Without it we are widely dispersed and isolated individuals.  We need to carefully assess our progress in organizing our base and work to make our efforts even more effective and efficient. 

A brief, but heartfelt, THANK YOU!! to all the staff members of the different organizations who made our volunteer efforts into a force for change.  Your support, guidance and instruction were instrumental in the efforts to recall the Republican senators.

Also thanks to all the people who I met over the course of the protests, canvassing, phoning, social networking, etc.  You've all given me hope for the future of Wisconsin.

The Struggle Continues…