Monday, February 1, 2010

Historical Perspective of ICE and GEM: Getting the Message Out

I don't write enough about how proud I am of the role the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) has played over the years in the resistance movement.

With our large-scale petition signing event going on this afternoon and the time I have spent in helping to organize it, time I often resent because I am just not super interested in dealing with UFT elections and view it as worse than a trip to the dentist, I thought it useful to share a few thoughts.

ICE has all too often been viewed only as a UFT caucus battling over internal UFT politics, something we have not always been too effective at doing.

But ICE was founded more as a group to analyze the state of public education and has done a great job at bringing the issues to attention. It was only the sell-out and collaborative policies of the UFT that forced us to get into the pit with Unity Caucus and its sell-out partner, New Action.

Since this the attack on public education began in NYC 7-8 years ago we have seen a big jump in getting our word out. Note how many speakers - even the UFT - are using our analysis.

ICE began in Nov. 2003 (and Ed Notes years before that in 1996) motivated by getting the word out even to our colleagues in the opposition, people who told us mayoral control and testing were not their issues. When ICE people attended all the UFT mayoral control meetings over the last few years and put out a minority position, even someone as astute as Angel Gonzalez said he was beginning to understand the big picture. Michael Fiorillo has been sharing the "big picture" with us for years. Now Leo Casey is giving Michael's speech about privatization at PEP meetings. But over the years, the UFT leadership has consistently coopted positions we took. Some think that is a good thing - look, you all had some influence. But they only took those positions on paper for PR purposes and to undercut the influence ICE might have.

Recently, though we are a tiny voice, our positions on testing (ED Notes as raising resos at the UFT DA as far back as the late 90's), mayoral control, charter schools, merit pay, etc, have been reaching a crescendo.

ICE has attracted deep thinkers about education, some of the highest quality people I have met. What we were missing were people who were activists with experience in organizing. When Angel Gonzalez joined us over a year ago (his retirement in July 2008 made him available) he brought that edge to ICE. Angel suggested ICE form a committee to address the ATR issue. The always amazing John Lawhead added the element that ATRs came from closing schools and closing schools came from the high stakes testing regimen.

A year ago a few of us from ICE held the first committee meeting in a diner. There were 4 of us. At that point I was attending meetings of Justice, Not Just Tests, a NYCORE group focusing on fighting high stakes tests. We invited Sam Coleman to attend our meetings. Others joined in and the concept of GEM was born. Following on the work CORE in Chicago was doing, we held a conference in March, reaching out to some of the Harlem schools under attack by Eva Moskowitz and a march and demo at Tweed in May. Somewhere in this time we picked up the GEM name.

In late June/early July when PS 123 came under attack by Moskowitz, GEM came out in force and started making contacts all over the city.

GEM has been a totally different experience from the more cerebral ICE. Most of the ICE core has jumped in. That has left ICE with less time and resources to devote to the UFT election, which we committed ourselves to a year ago. But I view it all as one movement over the long run. GEM is involved with ICE, NYCORE, TJC, ISO, Teachers Unite, CAPE and goodness knows how many other organizations involved. GEM is not a UFT caucus and is working with student and parent groups.

That TJC and ICE chose James Eterno as our presidential candidate last May has turned out to be a good thing. While James cannot campaign (Mulgrew naturally can visit numerous schools every week) due to the closing of Jamaica HS where he is chapter leader, he has risen to new heights as a fighter for his school. Despite his candidacy, he has worked closely with the UFT leadership and has in no way tried to make hay of his situation vis a vis the campaign.

The election has spurred interest by a batch of younger teachers through the work of Teachers Unite's Sally Lee (just returning to action after giving birth in September) and some members of NYCORE. Some have signed on to run with us and this is a major change from past years. Are there enough to make a big difference in terms of the vote? Hard to say. But in terms of organizing a core of committed activists, we are very early in the game. If the people who are praising Mulgrew as being very different from Randi are correct we will see a turn of the UFT and that would establish a different relationship between ICE, GEM and the UFT/Unity caucus.

But I believe in the long run people will see the differences are due to Mulgew's style and over time he will "evolve" into the traditional UFT leader. In the meantime, he seems to be getting a bit of a honeymoon with even severe critics of Unity in the blogging world seemingly impressed. (Actually, there is no one, including me and even her most adamant supporters in the past, who do not feel Mulgrew is an improvement in style over Weingarten, who has just about wore everyone out.) With people like Leo Casey getting up at public meetings and making speeches that channel ICE's Michael Fiorillo, one would think the UFT has changed. But they have always adopted and adapted ICE and now GEM positions for rhetorical purposes.

Mulgrew has made the union even less democratic than Randi did with new restrictions on the delegate assembly. Until there is a move to democratize the UFT and add diversity to the Exec Bd (Mulgrew would have to end the phony alliance with New Action that allows them to get 8 Ex Bd seats and ICE/TJC none despite their out polling New Action) nothing will change.

Ed Note: I know that new readers, and even some old ones, may have trouble following the acronyms of all the groups. I may have to put up a guide on the sidebar if there are requests.

But here is a guide:
ICE- Independent Community of Educators
GEM- Grassroots Education Movement
NYCORE- NY Collection of Radical Educators
TJC- Teachers for a Just Contract.
CAPE - Concerned Educators for Public Education
CPE - Coalition for Public Education

There are many other groups active currently that we are dealing with and if you were left out email me.


Martin H said...

Norm and friends,

What a breath of fresh air any involvement with ICE/GEM/TJC is! Please make sure to get your piece that you co-authord with Rose Pavone is about the true legacy of Shankerism out to all teachers! That is a story littletold and importantto know, so we can see how we got here from there.

Anonymous said...

Not only did Mulgrew put new restrictions on the delegate assembly, but he also placed restrictions on the 10 minute open mic period at the executive board meetings making the union less democratic. UFT members can only speak once a semester now.