Saturday, October 24, 2015

Think Different - UFT Elections and Today's MORE conference

Paraphrasing the so-called Einstein definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different outcomes.

Today's MORE conference, in part a kickoff of the 2016 UFT Election campaign (MORE may announce a presidential candidate), is part of the process of not doing the same thing over and over. MORE may still get the same results, but at least it is trying to do things different - like sending a mailing to every chapter leader in the city announcing the conference. Even if people don't come, it is an announcement to every chapter leader that a group like MORE exists and is actively working for change.
  • PS 58 The Carroll School 

  • 330 Smith St, Brooklyn – F/G to Carroll St. – Everyone Welcome – Suggested Donation $10

Kudos to the MORE conference committee - I don't know all the names but do know that Peter Lamphere and Megan Moskop took the lead on this Always reliable, now-retired, Gloria Brandman has also been deeply involved.

I'm doing some afternoon shifts at the registration desk - so if you come on down look for me.

If you look at the program published on the MORE blog (This Saturday- State of Our Union, State of Our Schools Conference!) you see a nice mix of what has been termed "teacher-centric" and social justice issues, with many fuzzy lines between them. I know some people still bristle when they see SJ issues - my problems with MORE were not over SJ but over balance - and my sense of this conference is one of the kind of balance MORE needs.

I find too many conflicts for workshops I'd like to attend. Naturally I'm attending the morning workshop on UFT democracy I am doing with Fiorillo and Arthur Goldstein - and have to miss the Patrick Walsh/Mike Schitzer workshop - boy, what a duo they are. I can't miss Leonie's class size workshop in early afternoon and then may be on duty so might have to miss the late afternoon workshop - I am taping the opening and closing sessions.

I don't expect an enormous turnout but do expect many people associated with the old and new opposition to be there - the long day can reinforce and forge important personal and political bonds between people. Old pals from ICE and new pals from MORE will be there and with this event going from 10AM to 7PM it is a long day but should be fun - unless my jetlag-catches up to me and I fall asleep somewhere.

Trying to avoid the same-old same-old
We have been through so many UFT election cycles where the opposition fell into the Einsteinian rabbit hole, often with the same outcomes in terms of votes and organizing capacity. I seen very little variation in terms of campaigns and election organizing - even pretty much the same timetable as dictated by the Unity Caucus.

I don't absolve myself from responsibility. Since the 2004 election I have always gotten sucked into the morass. That was one of the reasons I advocated for something different - don't run - leave Unity standing pretty much alone out there and use the election to organize.

It was clear after my debate with Mike Schirtzer at an ICE meeting in May 2015 (The Great Scott-Schirtzer Debate: Boycott UFT Elections...) that people in ICE and MORE wanted to run in the elections: Mike Schirtzer: Why MORE Will Run In The 2016 UFT ...

So off to Plan B - what can MORE do to change the same old election dynamic, given its still limited resources - not just money, but personnel? Let's not underestimate the importance of live working bodies (as opposed to groups like ICE which were top-heavy with retirees or near retirees) in the schools who are committed to building an opposition caucus. The numbers of hard-core people are how I measure the prospects of any opposition. They are not easy to find - people who will devote evenings and weekends to doing the work of a group like MORE.

A couple of things have happened over the past 3-5 years that offer some glimmer of hope.

GEM - Grassroots Education Movement - founded in January 2009 as a committee of ICE - focused not on being a caucus but on fighting for publice education and for the first time since my experiences in the early 70s as a fairly new teacher, began to attract a similar group of younger people in the early stages of their careers. As GEM morphed into Change the Stakes and MORE starting around 2011-12, both wings began to attact more people - parents of young children and teachers (and parents of young children) with logn careers. Not enough, mind you - but really quality, hard-working people - and great teachers. Let me not underestimate this factor -- many of them are considered top of the line in their schools and that gives them some cover from abuse. Teachers under abusive principals and young enough not to have their salaries be a factor, have often managed to transfer to safer institutions - but of  course that can change on the whim of the DOE - so they better beware, especially as they reach higher salaries.

And I believe that this influx of 30-something teachers had an impact on the New Action decision to leave the Unity fold and work with MORE - they too see the future of an opposition depends on them. 

MORE is also trying out different methods of organizing an election campaign, including adopting some ideas I have pushed for. But that will take dozens of active people, not a few at the top running a campaign. MORE about some of these ideas and how Ed Notes readers can plug in - including running with MORE for AFT/NYSUT delegate, in upcoming posts.

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