by: Mike Schirtzer
Teacher/UFT Delegate (Leon M. Goldstein H.S.)
2013 MORE/UFT Vice Presidential Candidate
“The ones I pity are the ones who never stick out their neck for something they believe, never know the taste of moral struggle, and never have the thrill of victory.” -Jonathan Kozol
This quote by the great writer and public education advocate Mr. Kozol leads one to infer that without a struggle there cannot be victory. One may also assert that there is victory in the struggle itself. The question of how an opposition caucus within a union can gain power and victory is one that must be answered in order for that caucus to progress.
Without power, there can never be victory. Power in any group is obtained when the individuals that make up the group feel empowered. Empowerment comes when each member is able to stand up and fight back against the corporate and political forces that seek to destroy public education and bust our unions. We empower our members by assuring them that their voices count, and by asking them for their input on all major decisions. An organization that allows for true democracy is one that empowers its members. We also empower our members by having a space where dissent and debate are welcomed, not suppressed. Empowerment comes when we stand together at delegate assemblies , rallies and school closing hearings, when we cheer each other on, and offer words of encouragement. Empowerment is when new activists who join our caucus realize their ideas are as valuable as those of our founding members. Our caucus has power when each and every member feels as though they can stand up and speak even when they are the minority in the room, because they are empowered by the vocal and moral support of their brothers and sisters. Our members become empowered because each one is given a responsibility and they know the only way our caucus can be a success is by them fulfilling those responsibilities.
The caucus empowers our members by asking them to appear on panels, facilitate meetings, or join expert forums. We realize that the true experts are not paid off politicians, billionaire reformers, nor professors who have never stepped foot in a public education classroom. The real experts are the educators and parents whose lives are devoted to public education.
Power leads to victory when each of our members walks through the doors of their school, community center, union hall, or legislative building feeling as they have as much power as anyone in that place. Then we know we can achieve victory.
Victory is achieved when new members walk through our doors and say “thank God you exist,” having heard those very words out in the open that they hear in their head each day. They are feeling the very spirit that they wished they felt from their union and government leaders. But the real victory is when the members of the caucus turn to that new member and say, “No, thank God you’re here, because we need you.” That is real empowerment. That is victory!
Victory is achieved when our members take what they learn at our caucus meetings and bring it back to their school, share it with their colleagues, and speak at Parent Association meetings. This is victory because the message is not being delivered by an out of touch media or an elitist politician, but it’s being delivered by someone who has a stake in the public education system.
We know we have won something when our members go back to their schools and organize a fund to help undocumented students attend the college of their choice, or when a member organizes a club for African-Americans and other students of color at their school where students teach their peers to respect one another and even organize multicultural fairs. When our parents opt their children out of the tests, we have won. They have done this because they realize social justice is more than just a slogan.
When our union brothers and sisters are offered a choice in a union election, an alternative to the current leadership, this is a victory for democracy. MORE’s very existence offers a beacon of hope to those who feel as though they are disenfranchised. Every time we stand up and voice our discontent that union leaders sell out public education for a seat at the table, we ensure that democracy thrives.
Victory is when the bonds of the members of our caucus become so strong that when one of us feels hurt we all feel that pain. We win every time we’re able to look past our political differences to advocate for public education, because we realize that what brings us together is stronger than what separates us.
We have won when we are able to look to each other for the moral and vocal support that is supposed to come from our union leadership, yet only comes from those in our caucus.
Victory is being the largest and loudest contingent at the rare march or rally called by our union leadership, leading the chants as we march across the Brooklyn Bridge. We win when the leadership has no clue how to organize an action and all union members look to us for what to say or do.
We have achieved victory when the media and the general public know that when they want to hear the voice of rank and file educators, they call you, read your blogs, look for your press statements. We win when our social media has as many readers, if not more, than the corporate reformers who pretend to be interested in our children, but only care about profits.
MORE has yet to achieve victory. When our entire union is organized and mobilized to lead the fight for a fair education for all, we will declare victory. When our leadership is responsive, transparent, and truly democratic, we will declare victory. When educators, parents, and students are treated with the dignity they deserve, we will declare victory. When every child is offered equal opportunity and equality of conditions in their education, we will declare victory. When the “new Jim Crow” policies of privatization and closing schools ends and proper funding for public education is restored, we will know we have won.
Until then, we continue our struggles together. We will succeed because when we stand united, we can never be defeated!