In 1938, the great blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Huddie Ledbetter wrote about his experiences in Washington, D.C..
I tell all the colored folks to listen to me.
Don’t try to find you no home in Washington, DC
‘Cause it’s a bourgeois town.
Uhm, the bourgeois town.
I got the bourgeois blues,
Gonna spread the news all around.
Washington is historically a Southern city. It was also the first city in the United States with an African-American majority population.
Until this year. Like other big cities, gentrification is changing all that.
More than ever, it’s a bourgeois town.
I’m heading there on Saturday for the Representative Assembly of the National Education Association. As an elected delegate from my home district, this will be my last RA as an active teacher.
My first RA was a dozen years ago in New Orleans. The big debate at that RA was over the merger of the AFT and the NEA. That idea didn’t fly. I was the only Illinois delegate who voted for it.
I’m not sure what to expect at this one. As usual, the leadership will allow some floor debates. They will cause some minor heat and then we will move on. Although most rank-and-file teachers are disappointed with the Obama administrations’ education policies, 70% of the delegates at the last year’s RA voted an early endorsement. The nomination of Mitt Romney by the Republicans will do nothing more than reinforce Obama’s support from both the leadership and the delegates.
Don’t get mad at me. That’s just the way it is.
With 9,000 delegates at a five-day business meeting in a big hall, it is a big democratic mess. By that I mean that things are so unwieldy, and the national association is so state affiliate based that not much really gets done at these yearly meetings.
Although the Chicago Teachers Union is an AFT local, I have already received inquiries from around the country about what is happening in Chicago.
So I will be spending most of my time networking and telling what I know about the Chicago story.
I’ll be talking about the possible.
That’s the Chicago message.
And I will try to counter the Springfield message. That message is that it is better to surrender than to lose a fight.
That is what happened with Senate Bill 7, which took away tenure, seniority and raised the bar on the number of union members required to authorize a strike in Chicago. Just Chicago.
At first the IEA leadership tried to spin Senate Bill 7 as a win. But nobody bought that story.
Both the IEA leadership and the NEA leadership called it a national model.
Recent developments in Massachusetts, where Stand for Children cloned their Illinois victory, shows that in some ways it is. And that’s not good.
That’s why I want to go and talk about the two midwest models.
There is the Wisconsin model of Republican Scott Walker – a head to head battle over collective bargaining rights.
Then there is the Illinois model of Democrats like Mike Madigan, Pat Quinn and Rahm Emanuel. It is different, but no less dangerous. It is a model of chipping away, piece by piece, those same collective bargaining rights. And it has been made easier because of the compliance of the state union leadership.
It is also dangerous because some people, even teacher union activists, fail to see the differences between these two models. Each requires resistance and smart situational tactics.
The Chicago union story shows that surrender is not the only option.
That’s the story I’ll be taking to DC.
And I’ll be blogging from the floor.