Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Unity Caucus Propaganda Machine, PART 2: Oh, Democracy - How MORE Chooses Its Steering Committee

If you opposed the 65 year tenure of the Unity Caucus machine in the UFT, you have to work very hard on democratic procedures to make sure you
don't one day catch the Unity authoritarian virus and become like Unity. Oh, yes, Unity people will tell you how the UFT is a democratic organization - we've had 4 presidents in 50 years.

One of the reasons I'm still involved in MORE is that it is a chance to explore the very difficult idea of bottom-up democracy in new ways. Yes, there have been and will be ups and downs.

In Part 1 The Unity Caucus Propaganda Machine: Are Most NYC Teachers Clueless? How Dim is the Future? Part 1 I explored the Unity Propaganda machine and what it might take to challenge its dominance. In part 3 I'll get into the roots - you can't kill the head without going after the roots at the school and district levels.

Here, in Part 2 I use the current MORE steering committee elections to drill down into some of the good, bad and ugly aspects of trying to be an Un-Unity bottom-up democratic organization.

Nominations for MORE Steering Committee Election

It's that time again for the twice yearly MORE 9 person steering committee elections at a somewhat inconvenient time -- just as the UFT elections will be heating up. This will be the 6th election since MORE's went to this process in 2013. Before that when MORE was smaller, there was an informal voluntary committee - whoever showed up for a planning meeting was able to vote. When that structure became unwieldy due to growth, MORE moved to an elected steering committee and if that current structure stops working if MORE gets bigger, things will evolve into something else.

There was a proposal last summer to not hold this steering election and change MORE leadership at this time due to the UFT elections. It was voted down. I voted NO and was a voice for continuing the 6 month elections which one leader in CORE in Chicago, which holds elections every 2 years for steering, termed "crazy", wondering how an organization can run efficiently if it changes leadership every 6 months.

I don't see things that way. I like a rotating leadership and also opening up steering to new people. I also like the idea that if you somehow end up with a bad egg and a destructive force on Steering - like someone who passes on private information to Unity or makes private discussions public - you only have to live with that person for 6 months.

MORE also has a 2 consecutive term limit rule -- one can only serve for  one year before having to take at least 6 months off steering. This helps lead to some churn on steering - a good thing.

So far in the 5 steering committee elections in MORE's history, I believe over 30 different people have served. Some are serving for the 3rd time so there is some consistency in leadership.

I defended the MORE choice to go through a messy process twice a year for a bunch of reasons. We so much don't want to be top-down Unity-like. If we ever win power in the UFT we don't want to win as a caucus that functions like Unity because any such caucus would bring that same culture to running the UFT and we would be back to "new boss, same as the old boss."

There is a cost in doing things this way.

Decision making is slow and often laborious since Steering meets by phone or in person only every 2 weeks. (People are very busy as every classroom teacher knows, which MORE people are, and if you want a diverse group of people doing this work there has to be some leeway.)

No clear formal leadership emerges as power is defused. A MORE supporter stopped by at a DA to complain to me about this. "There is no sense of leadership," he said. "One day it is Julie Cavanagh and the next it is Jia Lee." I get it.  And I like it that way. I wouldn't want to see one voice become so dominant as to drown out others - that leads to dangerous territory. I view the MORE by-laws as in some ways as being obstructionist to being able to make decisions efficiently but I still opt for that at this time because I've seen too many groups split in pieces when people take rigid positions. Better no decision at this point than a wrong-headed one. At least until MORE matures into a smoothly working organization. OK, I am getting conservative in my dotage.

I think diffusing leadership is a good thing. Three years ago Julie Cavanagh was viewed as the leader of MORE. Now Jia Lee is perceived  as the MORE leader but even that is not true. Jia is a leader among many.

Term limits: I recommend it for the UFT/AFT
Taking time off from managing MORE opens opportunity to engage in broader issues. Jia was not on steering for well over a year and put efforts into building the opt-out movement, which of course has been the single most effective movement that has kept the Cuomo hounds off the backs of teachers - certainly more effective than the UFT.

Mindy Rosier put her amazing energy into MORE for a year and now she has time to put that energy into the Bernie Sanders campaign. She is running as a delegate for Bernie in NY.

Here is the MORE announcement for Steering. One of the great things is that if you are a member for even a short time, you are welcome to run. One day I hope people in New Action will feel comfortable running for a position on MORE steering while keeping their organization alive like ICE has done.

Hello MORE-UFT members:
It is time to elect a new Steering Committee for MORE-UFT!
To nominate yourself or someone else as a candidate to run in the election for the new MORE-UFT Steering Committee, please send an email to steering@morecaucusnyc.org.
The nomination period will runs through Saturday January 30thso we can have elections and put our new Steering Committee in place by February 14thOnly dues paying members can serve on steering or make nominations.
Some of the responsibilities of steering members include: 
  • attending once monthly meetings and participating in a conference call once a month
  • chairing one or two of these meetings and taking notes for one or two (chairs responsible for soliciting and preparing agendas, notetakers responsible for publishing summary).
  • responding to email on a regular basis (the steering listserve averages about 300 messages monthly)
  • attending and helping to plan MORE meetings and other activities
  • Terms are 6 months long. The next Steering committee will serve from March 1 until Sept 1.

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