-Jonathan Halabi is a New York City teacher, union activist and blogger at JD2718. I have been reposting his daily reports from the American Federation of Teachers convention in Minneapolis which wrapped up yesterday.
AFT Convention 2016 wrapped up in Minneapolis yesterday. Here’s a little about the last day and a half.
A pattern began to develop. Each resolution was followed by a little positive discussion, perhaps an attempt at an amendment, and the question was quickly called. This was both good, ok, and not so good.
It was good because these were, on the whole, solid resolutions. Attack Economic Inequality. Oppose TPP. Crackdown on Offshore Tax Havens. Against out of control Prescription Drug Prices. Rein in abusive medical billing and crippling debt. Fight back against consolidation in health care. ¡Si Se Puede! Remove the Block on Funding for Gun Violence Research. Overturn Citizens United. The Fight Against Student Loan Debt. Legislative Initiative to Rectify Unfair and Detrimental Employment Practices in Higher Education. End the Garnishment of Social Security to pay Student Loan Debt (this really happens? outrageous!) Defeating the Global Movement to Privatize Education and Public Services. Immigration and Islamaphobia. Hand in Hand (about an integrated Israeli school).
This was also good because much compromise was reached in advance, in committee. But there’s an aspect to this that’s just ok – those compromises did not get reported out, and it meant that delegates got a slightly incomplete picture.
Calling the question fast was not so good. While it was a forgone conclusion that each resolution would pass, it was important for delegates to hear WHY the resolutions mattered – and delegates often rose to passionately explain exactly that. Cutting off discussion early stopped people from sharing what mattered to them. Also, there were amendments, and while some were off-base, several were not, and calling the question early not only prevented them being discussed, it also prevented some of them from being heard. On several occasions Randi Weingarten intervened to rescue a discussion that was being cut short, but she was left in the awkward position of violating the rules of order to do so. Finally, there was one AFT VP who consistently called the question early, and while much of the audience consistently cheered him, the whole act, both calling and cheering, seemed more like a joke and less like what we expect from thoughtful representatives.
There were special orders of business. A Special Order of Business to support Mexican Teachers’ Rights passed, but with passionate opposition from a delegate who objected to calling on the SNTE and CNTE to collaborate. SNTE, she alleged, collaborated with the government against the CNTE, the dissident union which is being repressed. And EON/BAMN tried to introduce several Special orders of business, none added to the agenda, as their speakers began to frustrate many of the delegates with their tactics.
And then there was the “Fighting for Safe Communities and Racial Justice for our Citizens and our First Responders” special order. LeRoy Barr gave the best speech of the entire convention. First, the issue, at least in my mind, overrode much of the others that were being discussed, maybe all of the others. This country has “made much progress” but still fails miserably here. Further, LeRoy spoke powerfully, and you felt the room move. His timing kept the delegates attention riveted. His volume, loud here, quiet as he read names, and names, and names, added to the effect. We will remember that speech for a long, long time. (I’m inquiring to see if there is video)
Beatrice Lumpkin, a veteran of … I missed it … 60 years? More? About 90 years old? Gave a talk that started me thinking “that’s sweet” and then wowed me with her radical unionism and commitment to justice. I liked her talking about Hunter College and CIO organizing, but I liked it even more when she talked about Black Lives Matter.
Michael Mulgrew got called up to speak about organizing – although I’m not sure he addressed that topic. He did ask delegates to tweet out the hashtag #ApologizetoMyLittlePony for Trump accusing Michelle Obama of plagiarizing (I did tweet it), and then led the delegates in singing happy birthday to Karen Lewis, President of Chicago Teachers Union, AFT Local 1 (but she was not there to hear it.)
Day 3 ended with AFT elections – the room was cleared, and only delegates could return. Arthur Goldstein and I wandered upstairs and found a nice vacant glass-domed vestibule that gave a view into downtown.
Day 4 was rapid-fire. Election results (Randi Weingarten reelected with 98%) A few speakers, including Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers. Six committees. Eighteen resolutions. And then Solidarity Forever, and we were done.
I tweeted a bunch. You can find them here.
Many of the resolutions were published. You can find them here.
And I will do a wrap-up in a day or so. And maybe a travelogue. Maybe not, since I didn’t do much.