Sunday, March 17, 2013

Issue #105- Legal News, Politics, Organizing and Public Ed.

Great News!!!

We always need to hear good news and this ruling gives us continued hope that we will see some justice done in the battle over Act 10.

Politics- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly…
First, the good…  We are fortunate to have 2 competitive races for school board seats in Madison.  While it would be even better to be able to say we have 3 of them, far too often local races are uncontested or uncompetitive.  Democracy demands a choice and we should make sure that we are informed voters who will make wise decisions at the polls.
The bad… Politics are always partisan in some manner, but recently Wisconsin's political scene has degenerated significantly.  While we should remember that the "Good Old Days" weren't always so terrific, we can hope for a return to a time when politicians were able to discuss ideas and find some compromise in their efforts to create legislation and policy for the people they represent.

The ugly… In another example of the GOP's willingness to ignore the voices of all citizens, the controversial mining bill moved quickly through the legislative process.  The long term consequences of the bill remain to be seen, but I find it difficult to see it having a positive effect on either the employment picture, or on the environment in the areas that are impacted. 

Lies Become Truth…
More examples of ways the public is being mislead and misinformed as the battle for the future of our society continues.  These three examples show the direction that one political ideology wants our nation to move in.  In the conservative future we will need to work longer hours, retire later and will see independent businesses devoured by corporations.

Efforts to privatize Social Security and to eliminate other New Deal programs are in full swing.  Members of the GOP are working to scare the electorate using data that isn't always accurate.  

This piece is a great example of how Fox and other conservative outlets present information to guide viewers to accept a specific world view.  The panel speaks about how Wal-Mart "democratizes" our society and how we shouldn't deny anyone the benefits of having a Wal-Mart close by.  As if buying cheap things somehow makes our lives complete. 

They don't miss a chance to attack unions and talk about how unions were once good (to prevent black lung disease for example), but this is 2013 and people would rather have cheap products than work for wages high enough to afford quality goods produced by well paid and fairly treated workers.

As a society we put our money where our values are.  CEO's, athletes and entertainers make millions or more, while those who care for our sick and elderly barely scrape by.

We have a representative democracy, however, when the representation is based on gerrymandered districts then there are serious problems with the elected officials that result.   

Organize for the Future…
I heard a report on the radio that talked about how an individual's spending habits were heavily influenced by their TV viewing habits.  Watching wealthy people on TV makes many of us spend more.  In effect we are no longer keeping up with our neighbors when it comes to consumerism, but are trying to keep up with media figures.  Something that is impossible for the typical individual, or family to do.  Most of us live in a reality that is very different from what is portrayed in the media, yet we often allow the entertainment and news industry to shape our world views.

Part of what unions, and other organizations, must do is reconnect with people on a level that is different from what political or media figures operate on.  People may identify with what they see on TV or at the movies, but they spend most of their time operating in very different circumstances.  In order to really reach people in meaningful ways we need to get the message out that unions or other organizations can have a positive influence on people's daily lives. 

Politics are important, and they are a very visible arena that unions need to have a presence in.  However, they are not the only venue that unions operate in.  Nor are they the most crucial part of organizing.  In fact, in many ways it is a losing proposition when unions try to compete with the consumer driven message that is so prevalent in our politics and media.  The union message is one of unity, empathy and compassion.  Traits which are in direct contrast to the consumerism that calls for each person to try and get the most for themselves. 

In order to effectively spread our message and our values we must rely on direct, personal contact with people.  As we've institutionalized our collective bargaining rights and other union ideals we have to some extent lost the "spirit" of the union.  Instead of a group of people who know each other and who share common goals, we gradually became a part of a bureaucratic process.  This happens because of many reasons and isn't necessarily the fault of any specific part of the union organization or the members themselves.  In some cases it is even because some unions have done such an excellent job of representing their membership.  However, anyone who values unions and collective bargaining must examine their thoughts and actions carefully and look to be more involved and in touch.  The challenges faced by unions in 2013 allow us the opportunity to reconnect with our "roots" and to rebuild our unions into even stronger and more powerful organizations.      

I can't stress enough that unions and other progressive organizations must continue to be involved in electoral politics.  However, it is my belief that the amount of emphasis that unions have placed on elections has become a drain on the money and energy of the members and the organizations themselves.  In addition, the return on the investment hasn't been all that terrific.  Unions that represent the Postal Workers have donated heavily to Democrats, and that hasn't "paid off".  Educators unions threw their support behind Obama and other Democrats and got a new breed of "reform" as a result.  While the argument can be made that things could be worse if conservatives were elected, the reality is that organized labor is being slowly bled dry under the Democrats, or is being quickly decimated under the Republicans.  Until we reorganize from the base, we face a losing proposition under either party.  
Attacking Public Education…
The battle over education funding, and expanding the voucher programs in Wisconsin are an example of how conservatives are framing the debate and using divisive politics to try and achieve what are political, not educational goals.  The goals that most  "reformers" want to accomplish involve making money off education, re-segregating our schools to protect the elite and eliminating the political power of educators and their unions.  Not everyone involved in the education "reform" movement are participating in order to advance these goals.  There are some thoughtful, well intentioned people who are advocating for changes to be made in our public schools.  However, the underlying motives that drive the big money and powerful interests are more about profit and power, and less about students and education. 

Public schools rely on public money, this allows conservatives an opportunity to debate education policy in ways that don’t promote accurate or rational dialog around educational issues.  It also allows political agendas to influence our schools.  Evidence of this is clear in the debate over the current budget.  

We need to support Tony Evers in his effort to be reelected.  Don Pridemore is a conservative education "reformer" who has little, if any, experience with education.  Instead he is just a mouthpiece for the "reform" movement and as state superintendent, it is likely he would do significant and irreparable harm to our public school system.

The voucher program is an obvious attempt to undermine public education and to move funds to private educational enterprises.  

The efforts of "reform" advocates to divide communities from their public schools is clear.  Whether it is through proposals like vouchers, parent trigger laws or other similar ideas, or through the continued efforts to undermine confidence in public education, "reformers" are trying to drive a wedge between public educators and families.  "Reformers" are especially focusing on groups that are part of the Achievement Gaps.  They offer "opportunities" to escape the public schools, but too often these are not real opportunities. 

Vouchers for special needs students are one case where there are hidden consequences to taking "advantage" of the "opportunity" offered by the program.  A group of concerned parents and citizens is organizing to shed light on these issues. 

By emphasizing the struggles of different groups and the Achievement Gaps that exist in our schools, "reformers" hope to create a movement of students away from public schools and into private schools.  Yet, the success rates of students who leave public schools isn't as great as what is promised.  The results of these efforts have made many large city school systems more segregated now than they were 60 years ago.

The strategies used to attack public education are many.  However, they are all tried and true methods that have been effective in other venues.  Here in Wisconsin we are seeing legislation introduced to require local governments and school districts to pre-fund retirement benefits, much like what has helped bring the U.S. Post Office to such dire financial circumstances.  

The best defense for public education continues to be an active and engaged coalition of educators, families and community members.  I'm excited to be a part of a group, now known as SCAPE (School-Community Alliance for Public Education) that is made up of members from these different "groups".  This is one of many organizations springing up in the aftermath of the assaults on public education and on other public institutions that have provided hope and opportunity for so many in our society.  I hope to be able to share more about this group in the near future as we work to advance progressive values from the grassroots in Wisconsin. 

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