Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mike Schirtzer: Why MORE Will Run In The 2016 UFT Elections

Mike Schirtzer responds to ed notes (The Great Scott-Schirtzer Debate: Boycott UFT Elections or Not) and nyceducator (The Great Debate--Just How Rigged is the UFT Election?) blogs on the upcoming 2016 UFT election.

Mike Schirtzer (Left) makes a point in election debate with the elderly guy to his right

by Mike Schirtzer
  • UFT Delegate Leon M. Goldstein HS
  • Vice-Presidential Candidate 2013 UFT Elections- MORE Caucus
  • Vice-Chair NYC Region ST Caucus-NYSU

1. UFT members pay attention
Running in 2016 would give us the chance to build on the lessons learned. One of the important lessons came when we held local election happy hours in Staten Island and Bay Ridge Brooklyn. These are not typical activist areas, but in each case we had over 50 people, most who had no idea there was a such thing as union election or caucuses. It exposed MORE, the UFT elections, and our positive alternative message to people we would never reach other wise. Many of the contacts we are still in touch with today, support us, distributed our literature and joined us again when we hosted contract information sessions.

2.  Fundraiser
People are more likely to give you money and time when they know there is something you are striving for. I would not donate to an "uncaucus" cause, but would donate and volunteer If I believe I can make a difference.

3. Expose the lack of democracy
The only way to understand something is to be in it. Kinesthetic, hands on learning is what works best. If you want someone to understand the UFT leadership structure they actually have to be involved in it. Explaining adcom, executive board, the fact that all VPs are at large, delegates are not proportional, slate voting, the NAC corrupt bargain, and the unmatched, unprecedented power of retirees, can not be understood unless your actually running in the elections. Sitting on the sidelines and asking people to boycott, without an intricate understanding of that what we're supposed to be boycotting is counter-productive. No one will bother to look into the corrupt structure unless they are invested in it.

4. You have to stand for something
But you also have to stand for someone- opt out, contract, social justice  - you have to have a constituency to represent and members to be involved. We can not call ourselves a movement of rank and file educators and only speak for ourselves. The only reason we can claim to speak for thousands of UFT members is by looking at post election results. Why would any media outlet or grassroots organization have anything to do with us if we can't prove we represent anyone? You can represent ideas, but there needs to be a movement behind those ideas or else who will take you seriously? It is very impressive to say over 5,000 active UFT members voted for us. It shows we have a following. We won 40% of the high school vote, yet have no representation in UFT, If we don't run and that lose the right to claim supporters

 5. Goals
We must give the people something to fight for- if you're not running then what are we fighting for?  We are not GEM, I'm glad there is Change The Stakes, NYSAPE, but that's not what we are. There needs to be a group of public school educators that actively advocates for teacher's working conditions which are inherently connected to student's learning conditions. We formed as a union opposition caucus. MORE's formation came out of groups agreeing to come together and challenge Unity/New Action. People want something to strive for. Even if it's something that may seem impossible to reach. There is no reason to keep on going if we don't give people a reason to get involved. Our many campaigns are great, but do not resonate with all UFT members. Defeating Unity and offering a better vision is something that can and will unite us a all, no matter your race, gender, borough, level, title. UFT elections is the the great equalizer.

6. Indicator of our campaigns
We have invested so much into fighting opt out, the terrible contract, test based evaluations, fighting for the schools all our children deserve- let's see how effective we have truly been. We have hosted forums, conferences, meetings, happy hours, petitions. We need to measure how effective they were or see if we need to change things up. MORE, has been a lot more active than our predecessors. This election will be a measuring stick of where we are at.

7. Identity
We have solidified ourselves on social media, NY Times, WNYC, Chalkbeat, NYSUT magazine, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, NY Post, our association with ST Caucus - we are more known than ever before. I feel MORE has become a name that people associate with positively. They know we fight union leadership, but they also know we fight for the rights of teachers, students and parents.

8. Officer slate
We have a few people who have worked tirelessly since the last election. They have not taken anytime off and worked hard to keep the organization going even when some decided to sit it out. We have worked hard to organize and mobilize others and what's wrong with tasting the fruit of our labor? We have dedicated our full lives to the caucus since the last election. We feel we can stand with the likes James Eterno, Kit Wainer, and Julie Cavanagh. We will bring name recognition, respectability, and a real fighting spirit to our candidacies. We are respected teachers, union leaders, and have gained the trust of those in our building and beyond. Many of us have spoken in public and are not afraid of the media. We deserve to have a stage to stand on and a platform to speak truth to the power. We are confident people will rally around us

9. Petitioning/Distributing
This is the chance for our members to go around their chapters and nearby schools to open up conversations around what the rank and file want for their union leadership. As Karen Lewis has said "Social Justice Unionism is member driven, member driven, member driven". This is a key moment for the leading members of opposition to bring literature around, gain contact information, but most importantly listen to our members. This will make us better leaders and ultimately a better caucus.

10. Beacon of hope
Bran Stevenson, the great civil rights attorney, who fights for justice for the wrongly convicted, has said when there is is no hope, times are rough, it is important that someone is there to give hope. Hope is what get people through the day. There are many who have come to us and said I can't be active, but I'm happy you exist. The election gives people the opportunity to have hope. There have been many dark times in our history, what seemed to be insurmountable odds. One only needs to look at Dr. King and the civil rights movement. After the dogs, hoses, bombings, lynch mobs, the terror of the Jim Crow south- the movement continued to fight day after day for equality, voting rights, and justice. There were people that said over and over again- stop, sit this one put, and yet the movement persevered. Even when their allies said it's an impossible fight, the numbers are against you, they kept on and they won. I am not trying to make a false analogy to the civil rights movement, obviously our causes are far different, but I, like many others, look to the movement to draw inspiration and lessons. The lesson has to be, never give up, fight everyday, every minute for what you believe in!

I can not and do not officially speak for our democratic organization, but firmly believe this represents the will of our members. At a meeting in the summer of 2013 it was democratically voted on that MORE will indeed be an electoral caucus in the 2016 UFT elections. 
Mike Schirtzer

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