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By Anthony Cody.

The 2016 presidential election has generated equal portions of hope and frustration. The Democrats are likely to offer us Clinton, and with Trump as the chief rival, some feel we have little choice but to support her, even though she does not offer much evidence that she will take on the issues we care about most. But that choice is such a narrow question, and leaves out where we are in this moment in history. There are many choices far more important than this that are available to us, and I hope we can engage in the vital discussion of how to make real change beyond the framework of this year’s election.

Both teacher unions have endorsed Clinton. But many activists supported Sanders, and are looking for ways to keep the energy of his political revolution alive. So I went to some of my friends on Facebook to see what their thoughts are. I think this is an important discussion to have, and I hope readers will join in the comments. You can read Part Two of this series here.

Here are the three questions I posed:

What should we do as activists beyond the vote?

What should we do about the Democratic party?

Who will get your vote in November?

Here is what some of my friends told me:

KippKipp Dawson, teacher, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

An appeal to the wonderful supporters of, and fighters for, our children, our world, our planet:

Hillary Clinton is not, and will not be, our champion, or even our supporter, on education — or on any other major issue facing the people of the USA or the world.

No surprise.

Right now, in November, and after both November and January we need, and history calls on us to continue to build, the movements for justice, for our children, for our planet, which hold true promise for a world all people deserve. We need to keep the focus and the activity where it would be if there were no presidential election. We have an opportunity, an obligation, a crying need to build coalitions around the issues and events we have identified separate from the elections, and welcome the participation of all allies regardless of how they plan to vote. DON’T LET OURSELVES GET DERAILED. This is history’s big lesson,

Use the Democratic party, and don’t get used by it. Local elections for school board, city council, state representatives, can be important so long as we never let ourselves become debased into becoming the liars politicians become. Stay independent and open and honest and focused, and let the Democratic Party implode or, in rare, local cases, become decent enough to support. This party should NOT be our focus or base.

Let us not give in to, or be derailed by, fights around the elections that could divide our people against one another.

People who vote for Clinton because they oppose Trump’s crude and open racism, xenophobia, etc., etc. are not an enemy of social justice. People who refuse to vote for Clinton because they just can’t stomach voting for more of the same problems we, and the victims of U.S. policies around the world, struggle with — these people also are not enemies of social justice.

Our real work continues.

Karran Harper Royal, education advocate, New Orleans:Karran

Activists have to get more involved in politics and hold elected officials accountable, or vote them out, run for office, support others who share our values.

We have to prove that we have the power and ability to put people in office and take them out of office. Once we put them in, we have to hold them accountable as well. We have to be ready on multiple levels to get the right people elected.

Do you have thoughts about how to deal with the Democratic party?

You know, until February of this year, I’d always been an independent because I had no love for the Dems. I am not a Democrat but for the first time in my life I became one so that I could cast a vote this past March for Bernie. I think we will have to challenge those Democrats who are carrying the water for corporate conservatives. They have sold us out, and the only way to challenge them is to show that we have the power to vote them in and take them out of office. When they are in office, we have to watch their voting record and be in touch with them when they vote the way we want and certainly when they don’t. When they introduce legislation that is harmful, we need to be ready with strong actions to let them know they messed up. I’m not saying I know how to do that, I don’t really see myself as a strong organizer or one is is particularly good t launching actions, but we all have to get better at this. Just as those who are strong at organizing and direct action need to get better at tying those actions to political agendas and holding those in office accountable for the votes they take. When my elected officials do things I don’t like, I email or text them about it. More people need to do that.

susanSusan DuFresne, teacher, Renton, Washington.

  1. Build a coalition to support a labor party and or the Green Party with other rank & file union members unwilling to elect anymore neoliberal candidates
  1. Continue to find, endorse, and financially support educators and union members willing to run for office under this party independent of the Democratic Party
  1. Organize and determine a significant date and on that date, massively change voter registration to Independent, dropping registration as members of the Democratic Party holding protests on that day, sending a strong message via social media
  1. End all financial support via PAC funds through our unions on the same date as above- take photos, send through social media
  1. Vote our conscience in this upcoming election- send notice via social media
  1. Attend the DNC, joining in protest of Hillary & the weak Dem platform
  1. Letter campaign after DNC outlining our plan to #DumpDems

I’m hoping Bernie joins Jill, if not, I will vote for Jill

HannahHannah Nguyen, USC student.

I think voting is a critical part of being politically engaged, but it really is only a first step. As activists, I believe that if we want to see real policy changes, we need to continue organizing our communities in a mindful and inclusive manner. We need to keep raising awareness about issues that are important to us and make our voices heard to policy decision-makers. Electing the right people is only the first step; once they’re elected we as their constituents need to ensure that they are held accountable and are attentive to what our communities need.

Any thoughts about how we break through the current pattern of elected folks NOT being accountable?

Patterns are unfortunately not broken at each election cycle but I think they can be broken with continued resistance and organizing against political corruption. We can also encourage more of our community members who we know and trust to run for office, since having someone from a community lead said community is better than having a stranger who has no ties to the community.

TinaTina Andres, Teacher, California, member of the Board of Directors of the BATs. 

We have two options, join another party or run for office in the Democratic party. The party is so lost to causes that are important to us that anyone choosing to stay better choose to fight for a leadership role. Personally, I left the party a year ago and returned to vote for Bernie. I will wait until after the convention to determine my vote. Should the Democrats return to anything that resembles a progressive platform, I will consider returning to the party.

Amanda Koonlaba, Mississippi teacher.amanda

Beyond the vote, we have to stop getting into bed with the enemies. Educators are so desperate to be heard that we are forming partnerships with groups that we should be avoiding and denouncing because of their pointed attacks on public education and democracy. Also, we have to do whatever it takes to educate people on these attacks.

I don’t know what to do about the Democratic Party. I mean is it even salvageable at this point? Can that party ever be something I will be able to identify with? A lot of people my age feel like we don’t fit with any party. We’re lost.

I just think a lot of people feel that way because that’s what my friends and I talk about.

Did Sanders make you feel differently about the Democrats?

Yes. He made me see how closely aligned the actual party is with corporate interests as compared to whether the actual party has my interests at heart. And I have small children… My eyes have been opened that we might not have a democracy in their future. Honestly, when it comes to the parties and protecting corporations above the people, I don’t see many differences.

There is this desperation I feel about all of this that I cannot describe. Like the game is over and there’s nothing we can do.

It’s like getting on a train expecting to move forward into a safe place and you are really tired and so ready to get there, but instead the damn thing starts going backwards and you can’t do anything because you are already on the train. That’s what it is like to be thirty something and living in this country right now.

You just start trying to figure out how you can get all of the passengers to work together to figure out how to set it back to moving forward.

Scary!

Any thoughts about what we should do to get the train on track?

We have to keep expanding our personal networks and talking. Putting messages out on a large scale is good, but we have to pull people in one at a time or one small group at a time. That’s gonna take a lot of us…and might not be what you wanted to hear…but I’ve noticed that when people don’t have a frame of reference or any background knowledge on an issue, they dismiss it or don’t listen when the message is coming across mass media. Hey say “oh that’s conspiracy theory” or “that can never happen here.” However, when I talk to them one at a time, I can help build that background knowledge or help them personally connect. Then, they understand and begin to pay attention.

My vote will be for whatever will keep Trump out of office. My husband is an immigrant, and I do not trust that man not to harm my family with his policy. So, if I have to vote for Hillary for that reason, I will. The fear that I keep hearing teachers say their immigrant students (and students who have parents/grandparents who are recent immigrants) feel is very, very real.

Marla Kilfoyle, New York teacher, Executive Director, BadAss Teachers Association.Marla

As activists, beyond the vote, we need to meet with politicians face to face; hold them accountable face to face; back up what we say with research; follow up with phone calls and more face to face. They must see us and hear our voices and stories; they must know that “reform” is “deform” and it is hurting our children and destroying communities (that is question 1)

We need to get the current democrats out of office. We need to replace them with people who are true progressive democrats and win back the party. This will be a marathon, not a sprint but we do it one race at a time; start at the local level, state level, and then federal level. We will not change anything until we get true progressives to run for office and WE get out and vote for them; people will always win over money and they know that.

Here is my true feeling; the common folks don’t elect the president (this is the history teacher in me) – the electoral college does. I am going to focus on continuing to push all of these sell-out democrats to move away from money and return the party back to the people

I am working hard here at the state level to get out republicans and democrats who are destroying public education in New York state.

fredFred Klonsky, retired public school teacher, former NEA local president, former NEA Retired chapter president. A long-time political activist, he writes and draws daily on his popular blog, FredKlonsky.com.

The 2016 Presidential election has been much better than I ever expected.

It has been far worse for the entrenched powers in both parties. This process has been full of surprises. Those in power hate surprises.

A year ago who predicted Bernie and Trump? As a retired public school teacher and Chicago-based social and political activist I looked forward to 2016 with a kind of dread.

Chicago is a city which has confronted the assault on public education and police brutality by regularly filling the streets with protest.  It would not be the first time that streets were emptied and sucked into a black hole of narrowly defined electoral politics.

As I said, there were plenty of surprises.

Chicago was among the first to surround the arena where Donald Trump had planned to speak. We sent him packing. Trump cancelled his appearance blaming safety concerns.

Chicago was where Bernie Sanders was wise enough to ally his campaign with those who have battled school closings, privatization and brutal police conduct. He openly criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Even Hillary has been forced to keep her distance from the Mayor.

That never would have happened without action in the streets of Chicago.

Eight years of an Obama Department of Education have demonstrated that the leadership of the Democratic Party is not the ally of those who support public education.

The current administration has been our target, from Arne Duncan to John King. From NCLB to ESSA.

Nothing in Hillary Clinton’s history suggests she will change course without a continued fight-back by education activists. That is why I and others opposed the early no-strings endorsement of Hillary Clinton by our union leadership.

After all, there were and remain many Sanders supporters in the NEA and AFT.  It seemed that they had no voice in the Clinton choice.

But now with Trump the presumptive Republican nominee, it does not surprise me that the current National Education Association Representative Assembly greeted and endorsed Hillary Clinton this week with 84% of the delegate vote.

There should be no blaming of union delegates on either side of the endorsement process given an openly anti-immigrant, racist, anti-semite as the Republican candidate.

Some even see the Trump candidacy as an opportunity to beat Republicans and elect genuine progressives down ticket. Not just beat Trump, but beat him badly.

I will vote to help give the forces rejecting the overt racism of Donald Trump the largest vote total possible.

But with no illusions about what faces us after November.

George Sheridan,  teacher in the Black Oak Mine Unified School District, California, active in CTA and NEA.george

I’m voting for Hillary. I went door to door for her on the coldest days of winter in Iowa. I heard her in Harlem when she announced a plan to end the school-to-prison pipeline. She is campaigning to continue many of President Obama’s policies, but not in education.

Between now and the election, I believe we should help flesh out proposals for ending the school-to-prison pipeline. To put Restorative Justice, trauma-informed practices, and culturally responsive instruction in place, educators need resources and professional development and training. We will need to hire more counselors, nurses, school social workers. In addition to drafting federal legislation, we need to be active every day between now and the election engaging our students and their families in developing local plans to address institutional racism.

We need to recruit and retain more educators of color. This is a long-term project, and federal legislation can help. We should have a bill ready for her to introduce the day after Inauguration Day. We can also begin to implement proven practices which do not require major investments.

I personally am very concerned about the recent change to a “top two” primary in California. In strong Democratic districts, this means a “pro-business” Democrat advances to the general election to oppose the pro-labor, pro-civil rights Democrat. We have already had Silicon Valley billionaires backing charter school proponents against some of our best progressive Democrats.

Cynthia Liu, Founder, K-12 News Network:cynthia

Beyond the vote: I believe we have a lot of untapped power we should be flexing at the state and local levels. This is especially important for pro-public education activists since state legislatures fund the bulk of K-16 public education. Our campaign donation dollars, volunteer hours spent phonebanking, and shoe leather canvasses among the neighborhoods and people we know locally are going to have a cumulative and more immediate influence than the high dollar ante required to get in at the top of the ticket. We need to continue watchdogging and running for school board elections. And we need to encourage civic engagement of the kind that pulls together the best legislation from around the country to strengthen and protect public education and bring it to our lawmakers for them to pass. The elite donor class in the Democratic Party has not proven to be a friend to public education. But that doesn’t mean local party clubs, committees, or state parties will be as unresponsive. Civil disobedience along the lines of protesting mass incarceration and the school-to-prison-pipeline, student data strikes, “wikileaks” and public record requests exposing charter self-dealing or other kinds of corruption will also be necessary.

What to do about the Democratic Party: great, tough question. I don’t see an easy solution given that money = speech and there is little effort by the donor class to change that equation since they benefit from it. The rotten fruit of Citizens United is only becoming more entrenched. I see two main lines of thought: one that proposes a takeover of the Democratic Party by the New Deal 2.0 wing that pushes out Third Way/DLC Dems. That’d be hard. Another is to leave and build up another existing party that’s more amenable to investing in the commons — especially public education — (Greens) or build a new one. Also hard. We have first-past-the-post voting which favors a two party system. In the end the same people may choose as many overlapping tactics as they have the appetite for. As much as I despise Nixon for the damage he did, I try to recall that he signed the EPA into law so the lesson there seems to be that even conservative presidents have to yield to the greater pressure of their times and the (progressive) Congress they have and not the Congress they wish they had. Which is to say we always have to invest in our grassroots movements and change the prevailing winds to our favor. I had planned to vote for whoever the Democratic Party nominated. I’m still agonizing over that since I’ve been vocal about my issues where I part company with Clinton. At the same time we just came off a very good week recently with SCOTUS decisions that protected abortion rights and reproductive justice. That underscores how important those SCOTUS appointments are, and I’m not a single issue voter. Clinton is testing out new campaign speeches where she embraces some of what Sanders stood for. At this very moment there’s an effort to get the Democratic Party platform to reject the TPP before the Orlando platform committee meeting. So I think once the DNC takes place we’ll see how well the party has absorbed any lessons it’s learned from this long bruising primary.

RousemaryRousemary Vega, Chicago parent

We are realizing that our fight is way way more than just the polls. What we should do as activists is keep building our fight, our organizing, our solidarity. It needs to be centered on our needs and our struggles, and not the politicians. The politician gives a face to represent us, but we are the solution.

Our choice right now is between Hitler and the devil. One with criminal activities against our people, the other with racism and hatred. Just because Hillary is a woman like me doesn’t mean she understands me or is for me. It is our job as citizens to vote, but it is not our job to vote for the lesser of two evils. As citizens we must be heard, so I may vote for the Green Party. Hillary is not the only woman out there. Jill Stein is for change. This is what happens when our party suffocates the people. When you do not address the needs of the people they will stray from you.

As activists, we have to decide if we are for real change. If we are in it for change, we should not block out the Green Party. If we do not drink from new waters, we will not know. We cannot keep drinking the tainted water from the Democrats. People say they want change, but they are afraid of change. One woman is being praised who stands on the side of money, while we ignore another who is for real change.

Yevonne Brannon, chairperson, North Carolina activist for k-12 public education.yevonne

 

What should we do as activists beyond the vote?

A critical part of advocacy work is educating and informing the public about the issues that frame and impact public education. This is a “forever job” as the parade of interested or invested persons keep moving forward – in and out of our schools over time. Students and their parents, teachers and politicians come and go.

Yes, it is critical to invest a lot into registering and informing education voters each cycle. Yes, we want to identify and recruit pro-education candidates and get folks to the polls. But, over time, we know we must stay engaged and connected to the voters and the policy makers year round, year after year to make significant change in public education policy. Once folks are in office, we must hold them accountable….every single action they take must be considered and held up to public scrutiny in terms of how it impacts our public schools.

Most of the work needed to influence education policy is rarely limited to a particular campaign cycle or candidate. Our work to educate and inform the public can be enhanced through the use of social media campaigns, but we still need community/civic/faith meetings/seminars/trainings, and other “on the ground” activities. There is a need to constantly stay focused and connected to the legislative process at the state and national levels; we must lobby state and congressional officials, and always speak truth to power anytime we see false narratives about public education. Sharing our views and standing up for the truth includes collecting data, distributing data to the public and publishing not just through state and local media but through professional journals. We have to demand media time by holding a rally or a press conference, creating events to bring attention to our issues with the public and sometimes it includes protests, strikes, or civil disobedience.

Critical is that we as individuals must support/join/donate to national, state and local pro-public education groups who do the hard work of informing, education and engaging our citizens/voters. Like North Carolina’s Public Schools First NC, or national groups like Parents Across America and Network for Public Education. In areas where no group exists, we must create them – to steal a slogan – we are better and stronger together. We must organize ourselves to impact and to sustain the long path to success in changing policies that impact the quality and viability of our public school system.

Key is developing partnerships with those who share your mission. In NC, we have a Public Education Working Group that includes numerous organizations such as NCAE, parents (PTA), child advocacy and social justice groups, faith groups, league of women voters, students, NAACP and so on. We meet regularly to keep informed of each other’s work and to plan activities together to educate, inform and engage our citizens. In addition, we all belong to a much larger coalition that is organized by NAACP that has hundreds of coalition partners to make sure the work is kept as broad and inclusive as possible (see http://www.hkonj.com/coalition_partners).

What should we do about the Democratic party?

We must keep working to strength the Democratic Party’s commitment to public education, to the poor, to those who need training, education and more to get a job or an education, we must be more responsive to average working people who keep this country a float. The work over the past eight years to get folks elected by appealing to the “moderate, centrist, independent” rhetoric has proven to be destructive. There are incredibly horrible public education policies pushed by “centrists” who are beholden to wealthy interests – it is unethical and dangerous for democracy.  I am thankful for the push toward “our true progressive values” by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. At the national, state and local levels, democrats still have time to choose the path of equity and full throated support for world class public schools, but time is running out.  We must hold all elected officials accountable for the policies they initiate and continue. NO more holding our noses and tongues. Speak truth to power. For example, as much as I hold President Obama in high esteem, I will never forgive what he has allowed to happen with charters, school vouchers, merit pay, high-stake testing and the re-segregation of our public schools. I will continue to consider him one of the TOP FIVE Presidents of our country, but I will not make excuses for his failure on public schools.

Who will get your vote in November?

On the local and state level, there are many who deserve our vote and support. They are speaking out against the inadequate funding and destructive policies that harm our teachers and students. I want them to keep fighting and not be lured into centrist whirlpool (sink hole) for the sake of being elected or re-elected. I will not vote for anyone who has voted to destroy our public schools, regardless of party.

At the national level, we are at a critical crossroads. I will vote for Hillary R Clinton and I hope she wins. But I urge all of us to push her to turn away from past mistakes. I do believe there is an opportunity to improve and I believe she is motivated to use her time as President to leave a positive impact on public schools. WE must use this small window of time to advocate loudly our views and to keep “pounding” (stolen from our beloved Panthers football team). We must push for the right person to lead the Department of Education, someone who can forge a path to reconcile our split public schools system. We do need a way to bring the traditional and charter schools back into perspective and under local school boards to operate as they should with oversight by elected officials, accountable, transparency and they must be open to all children. We do need to dismantle high stake testing and vouchers to private schools. We need a way to ensure our teachers have the professional development they need and that they have a career path that pays them appropriately and rewards them fairly. Hillary – we need you to listen to Diane Ravitch and other national scholars who have the research to prove these points and to parents, students and teachers who have the knowledge to verify it on the ground.

What do YOU think?

What should we do as activists beyond the vote? 

What should we do about the Democratic party? 

Who will get your vote in November?

You can read Part Two of this series here.

Author

Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody worked in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, for 24 years, 18 of them as a middle school science teacher. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC in 2011 and he is a founding member of The Network for Public Education. A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Jose State University, he now lives in Mendocino County, California.

Comments

  1. Michael Paul Goldenberg    

    No way will I vote for HRC or DT. I will write in Sanders if his name doesn’t appear on the ballot in Michigan as a third party or independent candidate.

    Book to read and think about in light of what’s currently going on: INSURGENT DEMOCRACY by Michael J Lansing. Maybe we can learn something from American history that will help lead us forward. It’s rarely necessary to completely reinvent the wheel if you have some idea of what’s gone on before.

  2. Bob Valiant, Sr.    

    I am working to build the Green Party, the only one with a platform aligned with my beliefs, by supporting people at the local and state level in this and future elections. I will be voting Green in the presidential elections whether it is Jill Stein or Sanders/Stein. If interested in the Greens, see https://www.facebook.com/groups/greeneducators/

  3. Mary Porter    

    George Sheridan is an Executive Committee member of the National Education Association. and an enabler of place-at-the-table unionism. You should identify him. http://www.nea.org/home/1688.htm

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