The PEP and the School Closing Process is Illegitimate
And with that realization, why participate? Quick answer – the walk out was a great response. But that needs some discussion.
On Thursday I was there. (Not Tuesday. I’ve been not well, and even Thursday took effort. But I did not want to miss it)
When we talk at these meetings, we are speaking to each other, and for the record. The meetings are uncomfortable for some of the panelists, especially Black. The discussion among panel members is for the record, and not to affect policy. Eight of thirteen vote yes.
So why do we go? In theory, the votes could go differently. But we know that if one of the eight broke ranks, Bloomberg would replace them, and a revote would restore his direct decision-making authority. It is vaguely empowering to make the record. We demonstrate to each other and the media that we really did oppose this, and that we were willing to come far and stay late to do so.
We are there because we are demonstrating where we stand on the issues that are about to be rubber-stamped.
Between last year and this year our union realized that the war we are in will not end. We cannot relax tensions without surrender. We cannot reach a compromise (which I don’t even advocate) because they will not compromise with us.
And so instead of making three hundred speeches and denunciations of two-minutes each, we demonstrated large that we know that the PEP is a farce and a rubber stamp.
In doing so we empowered and emboldened, ever so briefly, a thousand plus union members, parents, and students. We made a point by assembling. We made another point by walking out.
This was the best use of the resolve and energy that we brought that night. No one would have felt better sitting, listening, booing, or growing tired at 10 PM than they did chanting, whistling, drumming, and dancing in the aisles at 7:30.
The walk out was a great call; it was as powerful an action as we could mustered that night.
Today we are stuck for a plan to go forward. The City has been attacking, and the union response has been late, has not been “mobilizing.” We face a problem. But Thursday night our leaders, given where we were and how we got there, our leaders came up with the best possible plan for the moment.
Was it bad that people stayed? No. People had rational reasons for staying and making their points. Or watching the proceedings. Though I don’t understand why Gotham Schools did not even step outside to see what 80% of the crowd was doing (impromptu demonstrations, chants, and a march, all of which took some time to dissipate). Other closure opponents wanted to raise particular issues. Even some of the UFTers wanted to continue to press on a particular issue or two. But it was good that over one thousand made our point, loud and spirited.
What next? Wow. That’s the big question. Had we stayed and yelled, or walked out and danced, this was the question for the next morning. We do not have a response for this year, and we do not have one for next year. And with frustation I know that it is hard to get Jim too excited about Joe’s school closing.
Could we have shut the meeting completely? It is a fair question. I think the answer is yes. But I think it would have been the wrong thing to do. In the actual event, 1000 – 1500 people walked out. There were a fair number for which this was the boldest thing they have done (at least in a long time). Superactivists among us? For us, nice move, but not such a big deal. For UFT staffers, for active chapter leaders, we would just do it. But there were additional teachers and parents who supported us, who felt great standing and turning our backs to Black and chanting and swaying and marching out. They participated and were empowered, but may have felt uneasy, or may have become spectators had we tried to end the meeting. The media neutrality would have turned to hostility. And the accomplishment (walk out vs shutting the meeting) would not have changed the outcome (they would have moved the meeting to another time.
Future PEPs? I mean, we could disrupt them all. Right now the UFT does not have an easy time bringing out members, but we could do it strategically and disrupt another. People felt powerful Thursday, which is important as we mobilize more teachers. I am convinced, though, that this sense came from the particular context Thursday, and that routinely disrupting PEPs would not benefit us. Further, I think we looked good in the media (despite the Bloomberg nasty comments). I do not believe that would be the case if we routinely repeated this.
Kudos to our leadership for making a great call for Thursday. But we need an approach that actually stops Bloomberg’s predations, stops Moskowitz and her money backers, stops the closing and disruption of urban schools, and stops forcing teacher transfers, and threatening experienced teachers with landing on the ATR list.