Friday, April 15, 2016

Mike Schirtzer - To Fellow Union Organizers and Activists

Mike Schirtzer does an excellent job of finding resources distinguishing between activism and organizing and activists and organizers, for they are often 2 separate things and some people can do one or the other well but not both. It can be easy to be an activist. Go to rallies and events. And go home feeling good. The hard work is getting names and emails and doing followup and building an organization capable of reaching a size where it can be influential enough to make a difference.

He begins with a quote from Teachers Unite handbook.
"Organizing means people are building organizational power to fight powerful institutions that directly impact them. Organizing is long-term relationship building, wherein a group of people see themselves as an interconnected collective – a family of sorts. Organizers do this by connecting events and people who share the same values and language. In addition, organizing is based on structures and systems that include roles for different people. These structures, systems, and roles work together to ensure that we are fighting institutions. Organizers think about the long term and the root causes of an issue"..... From Teachers Unite Handbook
MORE is running in the UFT election as part of a long term strategy.

The goals have been clear from the start

a. Win high school executive board seats in order to give voice to rank and file educators and expose the failed leadership within the UFT

b. Increase the voter turnout in our own chapters and beyond

c. Build MORE by organizing members in our chapters and a stronger caucus after the election

d. Develop a larger, better distribution network so we can oppose unity's propaganda and share the voice of rank and file members in many chapters throughout the boroughs

e. Strengthen and transform our union- More votes, more organizers, more engaged members, more active-organized schools, even without holding leadership, wecan change our union. Make no mistake- the work we have done over the last few years has forced Unity leadership to take positions they would have not otherwise taken. The UFT/NYSUT/AFT apparatus still holds sway in politics and beyond. The financial means and political influence. When we organize and mobilize the grassroots we force their hands. They have moved on common core, testing, charters, fighting incompetent administrators because of us.

We can't forget the important role we have in helping to build the statewide movement with ST caucus, national movement with UCORE, and solidarity with our friends in Puerto Rico.

This work began a month after the last election, when me, Peter Lamphere, Kit Wainer, Norm Scott, Harry Lirtzman, Julie Cavanagh, Gloria Brandam and Megan Behrent sat at a table offering analysis the 2013 campaign and developing a strategy to do MORE in the 2016 election. It has taken countless meetings, debates, growing pains, and strategy sessions to be where we are at. This is not by accident, rather by design. We wanted a democratic organization and that is messy. But this has been the nitty gritty of organizing.

It is far different than activism or a one-shot protest. We need to develop strategies that are collective, built on long term organizing and making allies.

The success of the Opt-out has had is the direct result of long time organizing. GEM morphed into MORE and Change the Stakes. Jia and Lauren who have proudly spoken for all of us,have come out of those groups. It has been a series of educational organizing: going to city and community meetings on educational policies, speaking with parents and teachers,PA meetings, SLTs, media, and social media strategies, reaching out to people one to one, as well as forming alliances. This has been hard work that did not achieve instant results, but it has stopped common core, test based teacher evals, and lowered stakes on testing. It has been collective. It has been organizing, not just activism.

As Matthew Smucker, from Occupy Wall Street, argues in a forthcoming book:
"Activism risk emphasizing the self over the collective. By contrast, organizing is cooperative by definition: it aims to bring others into the fold, to build and exercise shared power.

Today, anyone can be an activist, even someone who operates alone, accountable to no one—for example, relentlessly trying to raise awareness about an important issue.

Raising awareness—one of contemporary activism’s preferred aims—can be extremely valuable , but it is not organizing.

Organizing is long-term and often tedious work that entails creating infrastructure and institutions, finding points of vulnerability and leverage in the situation you want to transform, and convincing atomized individuals to recognize that they are on the same team (and to behave like it).

Successful organizers are difficult to shrug off, because they have built a base that acts strategically. The goal of any would-be world-changer should be to be part of something so organized, so formidable, and so shrewd that the powerful don’t scoff: they quake.

Thousands of people are flocking to auditoriums across America to hear Bernie Sanders condemn the “billionaire class.” With polls showing that a growing number of young people and the majority of Democratic primary voters have a positive view of socialism, we need good, smart organizing to back up this astonishing uptick in leftist sentiment and to productively channel people’s enthusiasm and energy beyond the limited frame of the presidential race and electoral politics. "
This is the written goal MORE set out for in summer 2015: 
"...to have a mobilized, active union that can effectively fight for our rights by giving all members a voice in the UFT... challenging the UFT leadership and transforming the union into one that can lead the fight in advocating for a fair and equitable education for all our children while ending the profit-driven testing policies that harms teachers, students, and schools. Public schools are under attack, that is why we need a new union leadership that will lead the fight back. 

Each educator experiences the attacks on our profession differently: for some, the testing frenzy has dramatically changed their work lives for the worse. For others, the new evaluation process and life under a weak contract are the main concerns. Many of our members work under horrific and abusive administrators and that reality overshadows everything else. A strong, member-driven union that stands together with our communities is the only way to have the public schools we all deserve."

This goal is what we need to stick to and if we change directions we should do so collectively while developing a corresponding strategy. Our organization is small and the challenges posed by a complicit union leadership is extremely difficult. We are also tasked with taking on multi-million dollar groups that seek to bust unions and privatize education. Organizing to have a strong, engaged, rank and file led union continues to be why we campaign for UFT elections.
 Smucker talks about thousands of people flocking to Bernie rallies. That is activism while the people organizing the rallies and working in the Bernie campaign are doing organizing. People like MORE's Mindy Rosier who has been putting a great deal of time into both activism and organizing. MORE is proud to have given Mindy one of her first tastes of both and she has branched out while still trying to find time to work within MORE. The people at the UFT in Unity have noticed Mindy's effectiveness and I wouldn't be shocked to see them doing a full court press to get her to shift loyalties to them as they have managed to do with others. I don't expect that to happen as long as MORE is a viable organization.

And it will remain so as long as there are enough people do to the hard work of organizing.

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