Saturday, November 22, 2014

NYSUT Must Run Towards Cuomo—Wherever He Hides

NYSUT has ignored the power of its people

600 members of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) recently gathered at a bowling alley less than two miles from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s house.

No, this was not the staging ground for a rally against the anti-teacher Cuomo, but rather the venue for an event which raised thousands of dollars for the homeless. NYSUT locals from across the Hudson Valley did more to benefit struggling New Yorkers in one night than all of Cuomo’s campaign fundraisers combined.

If only $1,000 per plutocratic plate fed the hungry instead of Cuomo’s political war chest.          

The NYSUT Bowling Extravaganza is yet another example of the Union’s power to organize, something that unfortunately has escaped its newly-elected leadership.  If this many members can peacefully assemble on a Thursday night amid bad pizza and gutter balls, it won’t require much more to rally against a governor who has vowed to “break” public education.

Would it have been too much to ask, for example, for President Karen Magee and the other NYSUT officers at the Mount Kisco event to lead a march past Cuomo’s house after returning their multicolored, sliding-sole shoes?
When will NYSUT President Karen Magee aim for Cuomo?
Cuomo’s words are whispers compared to his actions. His tax cap and GEA continue to syphon more dollars from essential programs, while his teacher evaluation system (APPR) spins its wheels in the muck of Common Core, spraying its sludge on families and educators around the state.

As Cuomo searches for ways to jettison unionized teachers, he’s also counting on a Republican-led legislature (which he helped elect) to dump public schools into private hands. Lifting the cap on charter schools and passing the Education Investment Tax Credit would be long strides in this direction. Look no further than the East Ramapo School District in Rockland County for a taste of what could soon be coming to a district near you.  

With the mood of New York’s teachers torn between indifference and indignation, it is well past time for NYSUT to mobilize its members within shouting distance of Cuomo. Leadership could begin this push by at least publicly pronouncing the Lobbyist for the Student’s name, which they tip-toed towards in a recent statement:
It will take more than fine print at the bottom of a briefing, however, to remove Cuomo’s fangs from public education and chase him back into his cave.  

The good news is that New York’s governor is notoriously thin-skinned, and NYSUT must exploit this. Cuomo rails against the press throughout the pages of his worst-selling memoir and has even placed phone calls to journalists in an effort to downplay and dampen stories that may damage him a lot more than his bombastic book has.   

When confronted in-person by people with placards, Cuomo’s paranoia and resentment deepens. Fracking protesters have crippled him into inaction on the issue, as the governor recently claimed he’s “not a scientist” within weeks of feigning more expertise on Ebola than a doctor who had Ebola. The protesters even scared Cuomo away from his Mount Kisco polling place on primary day:

The small group of protesters Tuesday was apparently undaunted by some last-minute schedule changing by Cuomo's administration. After New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition group, announced Monday they would be outside Cuomo's polling place at 5:45 a.m. Tuesday, Cuomo's office announced later in the day that he'd be voting at 5 p.m.

By Tuesday morning, that was changed to 10 a.m.

"I literally see them everywhere I go," Cuomo said of the hydraulic fracturing opponents. "One of my daughters joked, we were pulling up to an event and she said, 'We must be in the wrong place. There's no fracking protesters.'"

NYSUT must join the anti-frackers and also be everywhere Cuomo goes. After all, a lot more than 600 of its members—600,000 to be exact—would like to talk to a governor who usually doesn’t like talking to anyone north of Wall Street.

Less than two years ago, NYSUT bused 20,00o members to Albany to protest Cuomo’s attacks on public education.  In response to the One Voice rally, Cuomo sent Education Commissioner John King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on their disastrous Common Core goodwill tour around the state. Outrage over education reform spread from town to town as Cuomo, King, and Tisch played defense against concerned citizens.

Later the following year, for some reason, the same union that flexed its solidarity and scope that spring day in the capital decided to overhaul its leadership, replacing those ready to challenge Cuomo with those content to lick crumbs from his chair.             

It's time once again to force Cuomo out of his chair and towards the placards approaching his door.

Teachers in the trenches await President Magee’s call.