The following is the statement distributed by the Equal Opportunity Now/BAMN caucus of the National Education Association opposing the union’s early endorsement of President Obama for the 2012 Presidential elections. The proposal was put forward by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel despite the fact that at last year’s convention he said, ““Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced…..This is not the change I hoped for.” The motion for early endorsement passed 72% – 28%.
Those seats are reserved for the “liberal” millionaire and billionaire funders of the Democrats who have predicated their continued financial backing of the Democrats on the implementation of the Administration’s educational policy of significantly driving down the cost of public education through the creation of privately-operated charter schools and the elimination of comprehensive high school education for millions of black, Latina/o and poor and working-class students.
If we sign on to backing the Arne Duncan policies to dismantle public education, we will not only abandon our principles and lose all credibility with our base, but we will also guarantee that our union does not have a voice in determining either educational or labor policies for the foreseeable future.
Declaring your impotence and servility and sowing demoralization and cynicism among your base will not get you a “seat at the table.”
If we choose this course, it will, however, make clear, both to millions of teachers across America, and to the black, Latina/o and poor, working-class and middle-class communities that the NEA has given up defending public education as a universal right, and is prepared to return to being the white populist NEA of the pre-civil rights era, that cynically turns a blind eye to the restoration of institutionalized, permanent, second-class, inferior education for black, Latina/o and other minority students under the false claim of defending “union rights.”
We will only get “a seat at the table,” if we stick to our principles and demand that the Obama administration take some meaningful and tangible action to end the bi-partisan attack on public education.
We just look weak, pathetic, demoralized and frankly, ridiculous, if we cast ourselves in the position of supporting the “liberal” billionaire and millionaire donors of the Democrats, who are pro-charter, support the right of an oligarchy of billionaires to determine the character of American public education, push the anti-union demagoguery of “Waiting for Superman” and advocate for replacing teachers with computers in order to stop the accession of the right-wing Republican billionaire charter school fanatics who argue for the same policies from a less popular and more traditional right-wing standpoint.
As a union, our first task is to assess the balance of power in any bargaining situation and use our collective power to win real gains. The Democrats have far more to gain from our early endorsement than we have to lose by not giving it to them. We are in the stronger position, so let’s act like a union and use our strength to bargain an end to the attack on public education and win back some of the ground we have already ceded.
Over the last two years, the NEA has been an important part of the independent student-led civil rights movement that has won real victories in the struggle to defend public education. This movement has gained support and authority among broader layers of Americans as it has become more evident how sweeping, irrational and ideological the attack on public education is.
If we capitulate now and endorse the Duncan “reforms,” we will not only betray our students and allies such as Diane Ravitch, but we will also strengthen the pro-charter, pro-privatization, free-market neo-liberal elements both within and outside of the Democratic Party. We would place our union on the side of fostering the new Jim Crow policies that are a necessary component of the dismantling of public education. There is no rational argument for doing this.
The LGBT movement that mobilized a great deal of support for President Obama in 2009, refused to succumb to the threats and pressures of either the Republicans or the Democrats, and made clear that it would not be cowed by fearful and wavering Democrats into accepting the continuation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” indefinitely, not only won real victories for LGBT people here and abroad, but also weakened the power of the anti-gay bigots within the Republican Party, while strengthening the power of LGBT activists within the Democratic Party.
Martin Luther King’s old Civil Rights Movement always acted independently of the Democrats, repeatedly defying the pleas of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to stop fighting, and because it did so, the Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic Party was initially weakened, then forced to renounce its own positions, and finally driven out of the party.
The NEA has the power to put America back on the road to progress, but only if we stop pretending that we are powerless and that the most we can aspire to be is the tip of the tail of the Democratic Party donkey.
The character, dedication and value of teachers have been relentlessly attacked during the last three years. We have been forced into making a lot of concessions. We do not have to add our dignity to that list.