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East Texas – organizing wrap up

August 21, 2009 pm31 7:23 pm

Today was my last day of organizing work in East Texas. Tomorrow I fly home.

Over the last two weeks four of us have helped the local AFT organizer prepare for, distribute materials at, and help recruit at about 10 events.

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There were NTOs – New Teacher Orientations. And there were Convocations, though they don’t call them that anymore, not officially, since that name comes close on that church/state thing. Opening of School Ceremonies or something like that, that’s what they write down. But people say “Convocation.” And with the prayers at the start of most of them, “Convocation” does a better job at hinting how close they come to that  church/state line.

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Not all Texas teachers belong to unions or “teacher organizations.” Both the AFT and the NEA have members here, and organize, though the NEA seems less of a presence in this part of East Texas. Talks aimed at state-level merger a few years ago were not successful. Another time, maybe. But in the meantime they sure could use a non-compete agreement, so that they didn’t try to sign up members in each other’s districts. Again, in East Texas, not much of a problem.

There are two other organizations that organize teachers, and both make a point of saying they are not unions. The ATPE (Association of Texas Professional Educators) organizes everyone in a school – including administrators. And the TCTA (don’t know what it stands for) also is not a union. The AFT is in active competition with these organizations in some places. I saw ATPE at several of the events I helped out at.

I wonder what the AFT here thinks will happen or should happen long-term to these non-union competitors.

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For those of you map-curious, I stayed in Lufkin, and visited Lufkin, Central, Nacogdoches, Wodin, Huntington, and San Augustine. Others in my group made Kilgore, Longview, Joaquin, Tyler, Hudson, Marshall.

And on a down day in East Texas, half of us went to Humble, north of Houston, and I got sent to Sealey, to the west. My organizer noticed that one of the track records on the wall there was set by E. Dickerson over 30 years ago. So we looked at the photos of their football championship teams, and sure enough, we saw a teenaged Eric Dickerson.

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Some afternoons we prepared materials, organized material, phone-banked… Most of the indoor stuff was staffing tables, talking to interested teachers. One day we visited a bunch of schools, updating bulletin boards and leaving info for teachers.

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Our last day, today, we went to Convocation in Lufkin. We had been to a new teacher event there, along with all the other teacher organizations. Today there was no permission for a table, so we stood outside, saying good morning (“Howyaduin” in east Texan) and handing out fans (certainly they had AC in their Civic Center, but no telling if it will get warm with all those bodies, plus it’s a nice gesture). So it’s nice, easy, no hard sell, teachers are chatting, it’s all friendly. Lufkin is a district where the majority of teachers are AFT. And then an administrator came out and told us we couldn’t be there. Clearly some sort of misunderstanding. It wasn’t our intent to be rabble-rousers. But it sort of felt like a good way to end the stay. No harm done, but I can say I got thrown out of an event (wasn’t actually inside), which makes the informal highlights reel.

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This is two years in a row that I’ve done summer organizing for the AFT’s “Back to School” program. Last year for me was New Orleans. It’s volunteer. You tell them when you are available. They pick up air fare, meals, hotels, and they assign you to work in a place that needs you.  

You learn some things about organizing. You learn about conditions that teachers face in other places. You meet teachers (paras, secretaries, nurses, staffers, etc) both from your host location, and volunteers from across the country. And you provide help, labor, and some good energy and spirit to a place that could use it.

Do you have two weeks next summer that are not committed to vacation? Think it over.

I’ve been in contact with several UFT leaders (5?) while I’ve been here, saying good things about the experience, about the program. I don’t think we’ve been promoting it. But one leader, fairly high-placed, says next year the UFT will get behind AFT Back-to-School. I hope we do.

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