The last year has revealed some serious challenges we face as a country. Although the year ahead may present glimmers of both fear and hope, depending on your beliefs, we must take very seriously a number of threats on the political horizon that will directly impact us as public educators and union members. It’s critical that every member read this closely, think about these threats, and commit to doing whatever you can (whether that’s a lot or a little) to helping us protect you and your families moving forward.
For anyone who doesn’t know it, I am fiercely loyal to my beliefs and values - moral, political, economic, professional. Although I disagree with a lot of what I’ve seen and heard in the last year from both sides, I always try to see the best in people. I assume most people want something they truly believe is good, but we don’t always agree on what that means. Personally, while doing the often political work this job requires, I try to speak from a place of values that are bound to unionism and education. I work hard to defend and advance the causes those two institutions embody while avoiding the alienation of my friends, colleagues and members who don’t necessarily share my values.
I truly hope that the next four years bring increased security and prosperity to Americans in all walks of life, even if that means having to throw out some of the core beliefs I’ve held for years. In a non-partisan, non-speculative way, however, I can comfortably say that a lot of what we will see in the near future will threaten or diminish the security and prosperity of people who do what we do.
In the near future, opponents will resume and aggressively expand their attacks in areas that should matter to everyone reading this letter: tenure, privatizing public education, collective bargaining, and retirement security. This is not so much a personal theory as it is based on direct statements made by leaders within those movements, and holding seats of power that will render them able to keep true to their promises.
Workers in the Midwest took action this November because their livelihoods were threatened. When the time comes, will you? Elections are only one opportunity people have to let their government know that they agree or disagree with what’s happening. As a union, we’ve spent the last several years expanding our ability to reach, inform and mobilize members- to get you out to fight against ideas that threaten what you do and your quality of life. We’ve had great successes in reaching members, but there’s still a tremendous gap between where we are and where we will need to be when the threats escalate. You need to fill that gap. When the time comes to fight to protect tenure, you can’t be too busy to attend a building meeting. When we have to defend our pensions, you can’t be too busy to send a fax.
Workers defied the polls, and the odds, this election because many of them had hit rock bottom. We can’t wait for that moment. Maybe losing tenure will inspire us to fight as these workers did, but we shouldn’t wait for that moment to recognize our livelihoods are threatened. We can’t wait to lose collective bargaining or unions to realize that salaries and working conditions will quickly deteriorate to mirror what they are in many schools throughout the rest of the country. We can’t wait until our retirements have been slashed to realize we can no longer retire with dignity or support our children through college.
The election is merely the end of the beginning. This is not about the President-elect. Any other candidate in any party whose agenda looks the same should still cause great alarm. Democratic leaders like President Obama and Governor Cuomo have already demonstrated that ideas like charter schools are not a partisan issue. This is about how the future looks for things that matter to us and whether or not we are ready, willing and able to defend them.
Personally, I fail to see how privatizing public education, dismantling unions and collective bargaining, eradicating tenure and undermining my retirement security will improve quality of life for my family. But these are the arrows corporate interests and many of our elected leaders will sling at us in the coming months. As always, I intend stand in fierce opposition to these attacks at every opportunity. With 1,141 active members in our union, I pray that EVERY ONE OF YOU, regardless of how you traditionally vote, will be at my side when I do.