By Julie Cavanagh
Wow. While having breakfast with my husband and almost nine month old son (who is finally on the mend after more than a week of a fever ranging 102-104 every day, during the same time my best friend’s 18 month old daughter was in the hospital, who by the way, is also a teacher and a single mother of two young children), I picked up my phone to see a mention on Twitter from Arthur Goldstein (teacher and chapter leader in Queens). I frankly couldn’t believe what I was reading. Usually a mention from Arthur has me in stitches. Not this time.
Now instead of relaxing while my baby takes a nap, I am writing this in response to comments on the ICE and MORE blogs attacking my commitment as a unionist and chapter leader and questioning my worthiness as a candidate for UFT President. All of this because I, and the caucus I represent, had the nerve to insist that Michael Mulgrew engage in a forum or debate with me so that our members can be fully informed and engaged when it comes to their voting choices in the upcoming election.
First let me say that I do not feel I need to defend my role as a chapter leader. Nearly every UFT member in our school, signed my petition for UFT President, and many of my colleagues are actually running in this election with MORE.
Second, I certainly do not need to defend my attendance at Delegate Assemblies. While I do attend, often, DAs are not a democratic forum. As I am sure the commenters on the ICE and MORE blogs know, and as all Unity folks know, the room is not even large enough for all of the CLs and delegates to be seated and when you do go and sit, you listen to Mulgrew practice his stand up routine for an hour or so, after which you *might* have the chance to ask a question or bring a resolution to the floor if Mulgrew recognizes you. Regardless, it is an effort in futility because it really doesn’t matter what you say, ask or bring to the floor; the ruling Unity caucus will disagree with it or vote it down, since they control the DA. If the UFT leadership actually held Delegate Assemblies each month that were informative and provided fair and ample time for discourse and discussion, I would be there in a New York Minute. As this is not the case, I attend as many Delegate Assemblies as I can, but sometimes other events such as a childcare issue, my son being ill or an important meeting in my community to bring a new partner into Red Hook to service children and families with disabilities will take precedence. I do not need to go to the delegate assembly to prove who I am or that I am committed to my union; I act every day in a way that highlights why I should be president of the UFT.
I am a mother and a teacher. I have been a teacher for thirteen years, and have been working with children with special needs and their families for even longer. I have stayed in the same community and school since moving to NYC in 2001, because I am committed to the process of leading school change and improvement from the school level. I became chapter leader at the request of my colleagues a few years ago and have worked hard with them, our parents, and our principal to make sure our children and our teachers have the best learning and working conditions possible. I fought for my school during the dictatorship that my union handed to the mayor, during a co-location of a charter school in my building that my union didn’t adequately help fight (which is difficult since the UFT leadership chose to co-locate its own charter), while our class sizes rise steadily and our budgets are slashed, while teacher’s choice was eliminated and insultingly reinstated to cover no more than a few boxes of pencils, while ATR’s rotate in and out of my building- some of whom have approached me on the brink of tears desperate for someone to listen to their struggle, during a time of a tidal wave of assaults on our children, our schools, and our profession.
Throughout this time, I not only worked in my own school community, I worked with parents and union members across the city and the country to fight back. You can find links to some of my work here, but I will list a few highlights: I co-wrote/edited/produced/and narrated a film that stood up to corporate education reform, a film that has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people in every state and on every continent (except Antarctica); I have appeared on several TV and radio programs and written several articles where I have spoken out forcefully against corporate education reform and for the schools our children deserve — and I was invited or asked in every single case to participate, so while those in Unity caucus pretend to not know who I am or what I have done (but yet “know”, falsely, that I am not at DAs) apparently the national media does; I have also worked with other union members in the city and nationally — I helped organize a conference, and attended and facilitated, in Chicago in the summer of 2011 with other teacher union members; I helped lead the solidarity efforts with Verizon workers at the end of that same summer. I have sued, with a parent and a student, Mayor Bloomberg for the right to protest school closings and co-locations on his block and successfully organized and co-led that protest. I was the only teacher petitioner in the effort to stop and overturn the appointment of Cathy Black and also recently the only teacher on record to join with parents in sounding the alarm of student and teacher data privacy issues regarding SLC/inBloom data systems (Randi Weingarten, by the way, sits on inBloom’s advisory board). I say all of this not because I think anything that I am or that I do is so special, I share this information to highlight the outlandishness of the attacks from people whose usual line is there should be no attacks on union folks because we are under attack from outside forces and therefore need ‘unity’. I also share this because these are the things the president of a union should do.
Beyond of all of this, if Unity caucus can attack me for the number of times I went to the DA (this year I believe I have been to four DAs), the number of grievances I have filed (none), the number of UFT trainings or committees I have attended (none), then I wonder why they nominated Randi Weingarten as their presidential candidate, since she never attended a DA as a chapter leader, was never a chapter leader, and therefore never filed a grievance, attended the trainings, etc.
I personally do not think any of those things are what makes someone qualified to run our union. What matters is leadership. What matters is vision. What matters is the philosophy by which one will govern and represent the membership. I believe in a union that is member led and member driven. When I, or a candidate from MORE caucus, become president of the union, you will not have to attend a DA and sit idly and listen. The DA will be yours. When we take over leadership of our union, we will organize, support and build fighting chapters at the school level with elected district representatives who are trained organizers. When we run the union, leadership and staffers will make salaries equivalent to the teachers we represent — there will be no extra perks, no double pensions. When we lead our union, you will not go more than three years without a contract, at least not without organized job actions and a fight.
When Unity’s stranglehold of the leadership of our union ends, the members will have representation that believes in solidarity with other unions and in the power of our collective action. You will have a union that educates, mobilizes, and organizes our members and the public and who organically partners with parents and young people. You will have a leadership that truly understands that our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions, that a harm to one is a harm to us all, and that we must stand side by side with deep roots in the communities we serve to fight for social, racial and economic justice in our schools, in our city and across the country.
I am more than ready to share who I am with the members of the UFT and I am happy to answer their questions. In fact, that is precisely the reason I sent the email below to Michael Mulgrew. I believe a union membership with a less than 30% voter turnout needs to be engaged and exposed to open discourse and conversation between the two people who seek to represent them.
Mr. Mulgrew, I am still waiting for a response.
Sent: Mar 14, 2013 8:01 PM
I hope this email finds you well.
While we have differences and disagreements concerning education policy and union democracy, we both are committed to our union and the children we serve. In that spirit, we should be able to engage in an open conversation during election season so we can ensure our fellow members are informed and engaged.
To this point you have ignored outreach regarding your participation in a debate or question and answer town hall with me. I would like to directly and formally ask you to participate in such an event.
I believe that our members deserve the opportunity to ask questions of their presidential candidates and I strongly believe this kind of open and honest discourse strengthens our union: an educated and engaged membership that is listened to and participates makes us stronger.
There is precedent for an event such as this between presidential candidates during election season. As you know, Randi has participated in presidential debates in the past: one in 1999 and again in 2001.
I am open to a debate format with a third party moderator or a town hall question and answer event with the membership. My only specific asks are that the event be filmed and/or livestreamed so that we can maximize member participation, that the date, which I am open to any, be agreed to a few days in advance, so that I can secure child care and that the date be as close to April 3rd as possible, so that we provide a fair amount of time for members during the election timeframe.
I look forward to your response.