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.

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