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March for Justice

December 17, 2006 pm31 10:55 pm

Yesterday I joined a march from Grand Army Plaza (by the Waldorf-Astoria) to Herald Square. The March for Justice was better covered on the news than anything I could put together, so I will just add a few observations and details.

(First, this march was in response to the killing of Sean Bell, an unarmed Black man who was killed 3 weeks ago in a hail of 50 bullets, in Queens)

The organizers advertised a silent march; the marchers didn’t buy this. There was chanting, beginning to end. The most common chant was “One! Two! Three! …. Forty-nine! Fifty!” a reference to the number of shots. People brought themselves out, and chose how to demonstrate.

My union, the United Federation of Teachers, discussed this rally a week and a half ago. Union President Randi Weingarten was involved with the organizers, announced she was attending, and initiated a discussion – but did not attempt to get the union to endorse the action. During the discussion several delegates who seemed to oppose the mission of the march spoke not to their opposition, but to minor complaints (one speaker even mentioned the first day of Hannukah). Far more positive: two of Sean Bell’s teachers were in the room, and spoke to the assembled delegates.

I would have voted to endorse the rally, and bring out more teachers. But in the charged political atmosphere, that would have been a divisive discussion. I accept that the overall positive discussion, plus the notice that Weingarten was marching, that combination was a very good thing. It made it easy for me to plug the march in my chapter leader letter last week.

Finally, I did find UFTers at the march. There must have been a few hundred at the beginning. This is the same union that struck in the late 60’s in what is often characterized as a ‘racist strike.’ (At some point I should learn more about the actual events, which I trust are complicated. I am not agreeing or disagreeing with any criticism at this point).  Anyhow, this is the same union?

At the same time, a disproportionate number who I saw from the UFT were staffers. (clarification: they came on their own. The UFT did not attempt to ‘bring the staff out’) This should not be a huge surprise. While there are many UFT members who would characterize themselves as progressive, that is hardly universal. In fact, we ask every teacher to join the union, no matter what their political outlook. The union is a labor organization, not a progressive organization, and while it is good when the two intersect, that is far from automatic. (clarification: Staffers tend to think of themselves as progressives, and thus it is not very surprising that they would come).

A union member’s activity is focused in his or her school. While this does not rule out activity elsewhere (rallies and such), we need to remember what we are building (or, as may be happening in some schools, what we are not builiding): a union of active chapters made up of active members. There is our potential strength (etc etc.) Marching was great. It always feels good doing the right thing. But it does not diminish our obligation to build, reorganize, strengthen our union, primarily in the schools themselves.

Oh, and the rally exceeded the police predictions. They tried to keep Fifth Avenue open. No dice. The march closed Fifth and 34th Street. People noticed.

And, yeah, they called it Shopping for Justice.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 18, 2006 am31 4:52 am 4:52 am

    Thank you for supporting racial justice and community struggles, in addition to fair treatment and more decision-making power for teachers. Kudos to you and other UFT’ers who are building labor/community alliances for stronger social justice unionism for our future.

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