Dear President Garcia. What happened to my New Business Item calling for the NEA to oppose the Confederate flag?


Dear NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia,

There is this disturbing report about white parents attacking the NAACP in Georgia for suggesting Dixie is not an appropriate fight song for the local high school.

At Tulane and across New Orleans, the issue remains a hot one.

And in Texas.

In Tennessee, a public school has refused a parent’s request to remove the Confederate flag that flies over the building.

Where is the NEA in all this?

At the NEA Representative Assembly we had a two-hour debate over the issue of the public display of the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy.

The debate was in response to my NBI 11.

“The Representative Assembly directs the NEA to support efforts to remove the Confederate flag and all symbols of the Confederacy from public schools and public spaces.”

After an amendment removed references to “symbols of the Confederacy,” the Item calling for removing the Confederate flag passed overwhelmingly.

What happened to it?

Did it fall into the black hole of New Business Items?

Can you share with members how this New Business Item is being implemented?

It appears that there continues to be many opportunities to support efforts to remove the Confederate flag as our NEA delegates requested.


Fred Klonsky. Illinois Retired Delegate. 2015 NEA Representative Assembly.

“I knew people in the church.”


–  By Angie Sullivan. Angie was an NEA RA delegate from Nevada.

I was assigned South Carolina.

In my Nevada delegation to get a seat on the end, you offer to be a state delegate. I had several new business items I wanted to speak to and a couple I wanted to present. So I signed up to get my seat on the end.

At representative assembly one day, a stately tall African American man named Michael approached me and bowed his head and said quietly, “I knew people in the church.”

I wept.

I had just made my own South Carolina pilgrimage a few days before to pay my respects to that place. I was on my annual road trip. I had watched the news reports. I needed to visit the place and show I cared.

So I wept because Michael was from South Carolina.

I wept hard. I grabbed his hand and dragged him to my state president. We needed to make some time on the agenda to hear from South Carolina and this man. He was promised 5 minutes and I made arrangements to go get him the next morning.

I do not think Michael wanted to come. He texted me and said he wanted to quietly mourn and it was in the past. I told him that he did not need to come – but I would really love to hear from him. He was too polite to decline. I was too persistent because I wanted to hear the story.

So early the next day, I picked up the elegant man at his motel and drove him to the Nevada caucus. He was sitting straight and tall on a bench waiting for me. A military man and a prison teacher. He spent his life in the service of country and community. He was a mentor to young men who looked like him in prison. Trying to encourage them.

And he came to the Nevada Caucus.

This is what he said.

He spoke of his aunt who usually attended that church for Bible study. She has a hard time seeing at night so she had not gone that evening when all were killed. He spoke of relationships he had with people who were killed. He had gone to high school with one of the victims. He spoke of the text messages and the shock and the horror of his friends and neighbors on the day it happened.

Then he spoke about the Confederate Flag and the racist symbolism that rules in his town. He spoke of history and things of the past having a place in museums.

He spoke of respect and dignity.

Then he spoke of the KKK and the Panthers and the impending threats from outsiders coming there. The South Carolinians did not want or invite either.

Michael who did not want to come to Nevada told his story. A story of dealing with very difficult issues and people being strong and elegant.

And of course I wept.

When I took Michael back, I told South Carolina that the whole world was watching beautiful people deal with this horrific incident and we admired that community.

And that is why the Confederate Flag is a problem.

All the quiet and strong people who endure under that symbol waving, do not deserve one more day of oppression in that direct or indirect manner. We should take it down because real people died. The hate the flag symbolizes killed them.

And I weep again because Michael who served his country and his South Carolina community, told Nevada quietly but firmly, the flag has to be taken down.

My article for In These Times. Why I introduced a resolution against the Confederate flag at the NEA convention.


– From In These Times.

I was recently in Orlando, Florida, a few weeks after the brutal murder of nine African-American members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, for the annual Representative Assembly of the National Education Association (NEA), the union I am a retiree member of. Just 12 months earlier, the NEA, the nation’s largest labor union, made headlines when it elected three women of color to its executive leadership: President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Vice President Becky Pringle and Treasurer Princess Moss. No other labor union in the United States could make that claim.

This year, a conversation about the issue of race and racism took center stage at our NEA annual meeting, and that seemed to be a big deal to me. I thought it was odd, though, that following this year’s Representative Assembly, which took place from June 26 to July 6, there was barely a word in the national mainstream press or the progressive media about what had happened in Orlando.

I was there as a delegate from Illinois. Before arriving I read that an African-American activist, Bree Newsome, had been arrested for bravely climbing a flag pole and taking down the Confederate flag that still waved in front of the South Carolina capitol. I went on social media and suggested that it might be a good idea for the NEA to take some action in support of removing all Confederate flags, symbols, names and memorials from schools and public spaces.

My friends seemed to think it was a good idea. I was sure that my union, a union that had played a crucial role in its support for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, would also support such a proposal.

The NEA leaders were prepared to present a proposal to the Assembly of 7,000 delegates to approve a quarter million dollar campaign aimed at combatting institutional racism. The proposal, New Business Item B, was vague in detail. Its very vagueness may have helped its adoption by a unanimous voice vote on the first day of the convention.

Yet I could see that while no delegate voted against NBI B, many delegates sat on their hands. They didn’t participate in the voice vote, and while they were unwilling to openly oppose the leadership’s call for an anti-racist focus to our union’s work over the next few years, they were also apparently unconvinced it was something we should be doing.

I decided that, in addition to the campaign to combat institutional racism, I would submit my own new business item. My item, which I made on the convention floor with the full support of the Illinois delegation the next day, consisted of just one sentence: “The Representative Assembly directs the NEA to support efforts to remove the Confederate flag and all symbols of the Confederacy from public schools and public spaces.”

It was at that point that open division among the delegates broke out. We no longer had even the appearance of being unanimous on the issue of race and racism.

The way that debates often get framed in NEA convention parliamentary rules is through the use of questions to the maker of the motion. And I was the maker of the motion. So for nearly two hours, I stood at the microphone answering questions—many of which were actually statements of opposition to the motion posed as questions.

“Would this keep me from putting a Confederate flag on my bulletin board?” one delegate asked. Others: “Wasn’t Robert E. Lee morally opposed to slavery?” “Isn’t this a violation of free speech?” “What about Southern heritage?”

The debate format also had the unfortunate consequence of keeping many delegates from speaking at a microphone. Earlier in the day, before the formal debate, delegate after delegate sought me out to tell me their stories of growing up in the South, of facing the intimidation of Confederate flags waving over schools named for Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. And they told even more horrific tales of facing cross burnings and KKK rallies.

These were teacher stories that never got heard by the delegates. But if the NEA is serious about taking up the cause of institutional racism, we should start with sharing these stories of our own members.

The debate at the Representative Assembly on race and racism reflects a change in the demographics of the teaching profession. While all public school teachers feel on the defensive, for teachers of color there is a larger crisis.

Beyond the issue of how we should teach and interpret the symbols of the Confederacy, our teachers union is being forced to address, too slowly, the impact of racism on our own profession and union. Not only is there a failure to recruit teachers of color to the profession, in districts across the country teachers of color are leaving or are being driven out. When Chicago closed 49 neighborhood public schools in 2013, many of Chicago’s remaining African American teachers lost their jobs.

When I asked Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the NEA, about the decline in the numbers of African American teachers in cities like Chicago, she called it a scandal. But then she went on to talk only in terms of the general decline in new teachers going into the profession and the general drop in enrollment in college and university teacher preparation programs.

She blamed the decline of new teachers on the corporate reformers’ attack on the teaching profession and teacher unions. But Eskelsen Garcia had nothing to say about the crisis inside the crisis: America’s public school students are majority non-white, and there are fewer minority teachers to teach them than at any time in recent memory.

In Chicago, the percentage of African-American teachers has dropped from nearly half 15 years ago to less than 20 percent today, while 40 percent of Chicago public school students are African-American.

Back on the convention floor, an amendment to my NBI to remove mention of symbols and monuments in public spaces was passed by the delegates over my objection—I preferred a statement that encompassed the whole issue of the Confederate heritage mythology and not one just about the flag. Failing that, I was happy to have my new business item to support efforts at removing the Confederate flag pass overwhelmingly.

Never in the history of an NEA Representative Assembly had so many requests for information been made in response to a new business item. On the other hand, never in my 20 years of attending the Representative Assembly of the NEA has there been such an open and passionate debate about race and racism with educators from across the nation. It was a difficult conversation, as the discussion of race and white racism in America always is.

Illinois delegate Gina HarKirat Harris from Oak Park was at the assembly and shared her thoughts on the debate over the issue of racism and our union on my blog:

We have an opportunity to have the very hard conversations. We started to have them at the RA. A conversation with 10,000 people is difficult. A conversation with the person behind you who voted no is a little bit easier. When I heard [another member of the assembly behind me] say “no,” I turned around and said, “It’s a way to declare that we stand for eradicating institutional racism.” She replied, “We haven’t ended racism in all these years, you can’t change people, so doing this is pointless.” To which I said, “There is not an expectation of ending racism. Racism and institutional racism are connected but not the same.

This NBI is about institutional racism, the systems that are in place that continue to create inequalities in education. Racism is a part of it and when institutionalized we end up with systems where a disproportionate amount of students of color, mostly boys are disciplined or placed into special education. And that’s just one example.” “But you can’t make people not be racists,” [she responded.] “But we can have a platform to begin having the conversations that lead to understanding.” She thanked me for explaining what institutional racism is but said she still didn’t think we could do anything about it. She continued to vote no on EVERY other NBI that dealt with race.

The last two decades have seen an increasing assault on public employee unions, with teacher unions taking the brunt of the attack. As has historically been the case, racism and white supremacy have been the soft underbelly of labor solidarity and our ability to fight back. The decline in the number of African-American teachers in urban districts, the too-quiet adoption of the plan to address institutional racism and the contentious debate over the Confederate flag new business item at the NEA national assembly have exposed that soft underbelly once again.

Make no mistake: The debate over race, racism and white supremacy is precisely what the labor movement needs. The Confederate flag debate at the NEA RA was a good thing. But it also may have proven a surprise to the NEA leadership, who saw that in bringing up the issue of institutional racism to its membership, the union could see that our own institution was in desperate need of attention.

After 9,000 blog posts Peter Cunningham finds one of mine he likes.

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I have written over 9,000 posts on my blog over the years.

All of them are cross-posted on Twitter.

One day this month I will reach 3,000,000 site visits.

And finally Peter Cunningham has found one post he thinks is re-tweet worthy.

In case you don’t know, Cunningham is the Executive Director of Education Post, a blog site that promotes a corporate education agenda.

The rest of his resume:

He recently served as Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama Administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter was President of Cunningham Communications, a Chicago-based communications company serving public, private and non-profit sector clients. He also is affiliated with Whiteboard Advisors, a DC-based education policy and research firm. For several years Peter worked with the political consulting firm Axelrod and Associates and also was a speechwriter and senior advisor in the administration of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

His blog is funded by the usual corporate interests.

It’s pretty messed up that he would try and use an important discussion about race and racism to serve his corporate agenda.

But that’s what they do.

A post about my IEA leadership. You might want to sit down before reading this one.


It is no secret that over the many years of teacher union activism I have been a vocal critic of our state IEA leaders.

Some have concluded that I have some personal vendetta.

I don’t.

Some (really just one person) has labeled me anti-union and anti-IEA because I voice criticism of policies I think are wrong.

I am so not anti-union or anti-IEA.

But this must be said.

When I approached President Cinda Klickna about the Illinois delegation supporting my NBI on the Confederate flag, she immediately said she would help.

“Write it up and we will bring it up with the steering committee,” she said without a moment of hesitation.

The Illinois steering committee gave their support and Cinda scheduled it for a discussion and vote by the Illinois Caucus the very next session – early enough so I could get it to the hall and get it filed so it wouldn’t end up as NBI 135.

Cinda’s swift action resulted in it being NBI 11, among the very first to be debated.

It meant that I spoke, not as an individual, but on behalf of the Illinois delegation.

NEA Board of Director from Illinois Jim Grimes functioned as a guide and coach through the complicated RA technicalities and rules.

When I made the motion to support NBI 11 from the floor and debated for nearly two hours, the steering committee essentially said to me that however I wanted to play it, whatever I wanted to accept or reject as friendly amendments, they would support and notify our delegates that I had steering committee support.

NEA Board of Director Rainy Kaplan was unstinting in her support of the NBI and of me.

When amendments came up, I simply had to signal thumbs up or thumbs down to the Illinois steering committee and that was that as far as they were concerned. Even when our state stood nearly alone in opposing removing the term “Confederate symbols” from the language of the NBI.

We will fuss and fight again, I am sure.

But on the day of a long and contentious debate over race and racism, Illinois stood together.

And I wanted to thank them all.

NEA RA: Okay. I’m spent.


Okay. I’m spent.

We went through over 100 New Business Items on this last day of the RA and I am so done.

I didn’t bring out the hard copy of RA Today which has all the Resolutions, Legislative Items, Constitutional Changes and New Business Items back to the hotel with me.

I know that there were a lot of anti-testing NBIs that were passed that came from BATS and other activists. But, frankly, I don’t think there was much new in that area. The NEA leadership and delegates are still not willing to make a break with Democrats on Common Core.

Perhaps they think it will take care of itself if the Congress passes a reauthorized ESEA.

I don’t think anything takes care of itself.

I’ll check what passed the RA online when I get home to Chicago tomorrow.

My sense is that way too many of the New Business Items that focused on minority issues got voted down. But I need to look more closely at the list.

Odd, right? A grand, if vague, plan for fighting institutional racism gets adopted but these specific New Business Items fail to get a majority vote.

My friend Gina came up to me this afternoon with a kind of what the hell is this look on her face.

And there was no question in my mind that the fact that I was white and at the mic permitted a discussion to take place  of race and racism that would not have taken place if a Black delegate was in my spot.

And the reality of the structure of the debate meant that I was keeping others from telling their stories of flags, symbols and racial reality.

I need time to look at the data more and reflect some more. I have also encouraged others to write their impressions and reflections from the viewpoint of delegates who aren’t white  and to post them here as well. Or somewhere.

I hope they do.

I know they will.

Yet I can say that I have been in the NEA for over 30 years and have been coming to Representative Assemblies for over 20 years and I have never experienced conversations about race and racism like I did this week among 10,000 teacher union members from all across the country.

That is so important a story.

NEA RA: It is frequently an out-of-body experience.


Teacher activist Jose Lara and NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.

Sitting in the giant meeting hall that holds the NEA Representative Assembly, it often has an out-of-body experience feel about it.

One day we can pass a major initiative against institutional racism unanimously and with no debate.

The next day we can debate for two hours whether the Confederate flag and statues of Jefferson Davis are symbols of racism that should be removed from the public square.

Although, it should be remembered that my amended NBI calling for taking down the confederate flag was passed overwhelmingly.

Then today the NEA RA awarded my friend Jose Lara for his social justice activism.

NEA awarded the Social Justice Activist Award to Jose Lara, a social studies teacher at Santee Education Complex High School in Los Angeles, for his work in educational justice. The award was presented on Sunday, July 5 at NEA’s Representative Assembly in Orlando.

The award is given to an NEA member who demonstrates the ability to lead, organize and engage educators, parents, and the community to advocate on social justice issues that impact the lives of students, fellow educators, and the communities they serve.

In his remarks to the delegate assembly, Lara said, “Social Justice is a verb. It is a sense of community and responsibility that goes beyond the classroom. It is fighting for the most vulnerable in our society. And today, it is precisely those students, the most vulnerable and historically oppressed, who are left out of our curriculum.”

I’m not sure Jose even remembers this: We first met at the San Diego RA a couple of years back just talking at a table in the convention center lobby. I think we were talking about the still cordial relationship the NEA had with Arne Duncan. I think I defended the relationship and he was critical.

I went up to the stage after Jose’s wonderful speech on social justice and the right of students to know their history. He was surrounded by friends and supporters, but I managed to reach in to shake his hand and congratulate him.

“I’ve been following the flag debate,” he said. “Nice job, my brother.”

Truthfully, I just offered up a New Business Item with no expectation that it would turn out the way it did. And the fact is that the parliamentary maneuver of “requests for information,” while limiting many from telling their stories, meant that I stood at the mic and fielded questions and challenges for most of the two hours. It made me the center of the debate in a way it normally never would.

That was good AND bad.

And then there was the question of the NEA taking money from Gates.

Many remembered that both AFT President Randi Weingarten and our Lily Eskelsen Garcia sat on the stage at the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago telling Diane Ravitch that they would no longer take Gates money.

And then both back tracked on it later.

“It was a technical response,” Lily told the RA.

The NEA never took money from Gates because Gates never gave the NEA money, she said. “Gates doesn’t give money to unions.”

He gave it to the NEA Foundation.

And continues to.

A technical response?

The NEA RA: The vote on institutional racism happened yesterday. The debate happened today.


Yesterday the Representative Assembly voted on a major initiative aimed at confronting institutional racism in America. It passed in a unanimous voice vote with no debate.

Today I took to microphone 10 and moved New Business Item 11 on behalf of the Illinois delegation, which had supported my NBI yesterday in a caucus vote.

My NBI was one sentence long:

The NEA RA directs the NEA to support, in ways it finds appropriate and effective, efforts to remove the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy from public schools and public spaces.

Two hours later it was passed after modification and heated debate.

I don’t have the final draft that passed. I’ll post it tomorrow. I accepted as a friendly amendment some language about teaching the Confederacy in the classroom.

I did not accept as friendly an amendment removing the words “other symbols of the Confederacy,” although it later was approved as an amendment to the NBI.

It was the longest debate on a single New Business Item in most delegates memory.

To me it shows that the unanimous vote yesterday on institutional racism represented a very shallow understanding on the part of some delegates.

I sensed something was up in the morning. The NEA now includes your email address when you submit a New Business Item.

The messages came early.

Many reported to me that there had been rich debate in the state caucuses, which made me happy.

That’s what I wanted.

Rich debate.

Unlike the silence of the day before.

Some were concerned that my New Business Item would keep them from displaying Confederate flags and symbols in their classrooms or libraries. I explained that there was nothing in the language that suggested such a thing, but that if they wanted to submit clarifying language I would accept it as friendly.

Others thought I was being divisive. A flame thrower. Tossing bombs.

“The fight against racism unites people,” I said. “It is racism that divides us.”

It got heated especially after I would not accept as a friendly amendment dropping the language referring to Confederate symbols and leaving only the stars and bars in the NBI.

“Should we blow up Stone Mountain,” I was asked more than once.

“It’s not in my New Business Item, but I’m not personally against it,” I finally told one delegate.

Here was what I said after I moved NBI 11:

We were all shocked and outraged by the racist murders of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The killer of the nine most innocent of people made no secret of his allegiance to race hatred and white supremacy.

Some were shocked, others not surprised, to find that the Confederate flag flew over the very state capitol where the murders took place.

There is no secret about the flag’s meaning. 

It reappeared in the 60s in defiance of the gains of the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King, John Lewis, the members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the ATA and the NEA. 

In Charleston the governor says she will take down the flag.

In New Orleans Mayor Landrieu says he will take down the statue of Robert E. Lee in Lee Circle.

In Birmingham, Alabama the city council says they are considering taking steps to remove the Confederate soldier from its downtown park.

In the NEA’s continuing efforts on behalf of the fight against race hatred and white supremacy and deepening our fight against institutional racism, the delegation from the Land of Lincoln offers this NBI.

Symbols and images are powerful things.

To those who talk of preserving their Southern History and heritage – as if that history and heritage should be from the slaveholders point of view, as if these Confederate symbols are without hateful meaning, that it is anything more than a rewriting of history, I ask: Where are the memorials in our nation’s town squares and in front of state capitols to Frederick Douglass and John Brown?

To Fannie Lou Hamer and Doris Height.

To Bayard Rustin.

To James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Micky Schwerner.

To Medgar Evers and Jimmy Lee Jackson, Viola Liuzzo and James Reeb.

To Hosea Williams, Emmett Tills, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Welsley.

These are the stories, the heritage, the history we must teach and tell.

NBI 11 passed with modification.

I stood at the microphone for two hours.

10,000 NEA members from across America discussed and debated the issue of race in America.

It was a hard, difficult conversation.

It was great.

NEA RA: A commitment to take on institutional racism.


NEA national leaders Pringle, Eskelsen Garcia and Moss.

I have posted the New Business Item (NBI B) that will be presented to the NEA RA delegates tomorrow. It comes from  the NEA Board of Directors.

The NEA leadership is calling for a multi-year, union-wide campaign against institutional racism and is budgeting a quarter of a million dollars for the first year of the campaign.

The details of the campaign appear to be a little vague. “A work in progress,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia was quoted as saying.

However, it is the first such union-wide campaign directed at “patterns and practices” of racism in my memory

The Illinois Caucus, of which I am a retired delegate, voted overwhelmingly to support NBI B this morning and I have no doubt it will pass tomorrow.

The question is what it means in practice. What specific programs will be implemented?

We, the members of the National Education Association, acknowledge the existence in our country of institutional racism—the societal patterns and practices that have the net effect of imposing oppressive conditions and denying rights, opportunity, and equality based upon race.

This inequity manifests itself in our schools and in the conditions our students face in their communities. In order to address institutional racism, the National Education Association shall lead by:

1) spotlighting systemic patterns of inequity—racism and educational injustice—that impact our students; and 2) taking action to enhance access and opportunity for our students. NEA will use our collective voice to bring to light and demand change to policies, programs, and practices that condone or ignore unequal treatment and hinder student success by:

• Providing technical assistance to state, local, and national affiliates to dialogue internally and with the external communities and develop plans of action to address institutional racism.

• Partnering with a broad coalition of national stakeholders on campaigns and actions to eradicate policies that perpetuate institutional racism in education.

• Partnering on campaigns and actions on critical social justice issues impacting students and their communities. • Convening high school students and young people to gather their perspectives to inform our work and the work of others (education stakeholders, policymakers, etc.)

• Expanding the work of the Association on issues of institutional racism, including redirecting existing resources and providing grants to affiliates to lead and partner with us on site based projects, such as:

» programs aimed at improving school climate and culture, particularly ending the school to prison pipeline.

» supporting campaigns to expand the development and implementation of community schools

» expanding local affiliate-school district partnerships that expand educator-led professional development,       particularly in areas of cultural competence, diversity, and social justice in order to address institutional racism

• Researching implications for NEA’s Strategic Plan and Budget for 2016-2018. Rationale/Background Educator’s unique perspective on institutional racism in schools and communities calls on NEA to look internally and externally to address the momentous issues that shape the lives of the students and communities we serve.

Submitted By: NEA Board of Directors

Contact: Joyce Powell, NJ

Relevant Strategic Goal ( G) o r C o re Function ( CF) CF-3 Advocacy and Outreach Cost Implications

This NBI can be accomplished at an additional cost of $276,831.