November 2012
October 24, 2012

Iannuzzi: Exercise your voice

Author: by Richard C. Iannuzzi
Source: NYSUT United
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President Dick Iannuzzi

I took my seat at Hofstra University to witness what instinct told me would be a historic event — the second presidential debate. I knew it would be a critical moment, given the less-than-stellar performance by President Obama in the first debate. Gov. Romney was gaining momentum, and his strategists undoubtedly viewed this as an opportunity to solidify that surge. The format was decidedly different: two men perched on stools facing a semi-circle of undecided voters who formulated their own questions, and a moderator who was to serve as a facilitator. All this surrounded by 800 invited guests like me peering down from above.

The moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley, seemed more like a referee. Both candidates came on aggressively in defense of their positions and attacked those of their opponents. There is a lot at stake in this election. There couldn't be two more divergent visions of America than those held by Romney and Obama.

The voice of the undecided voters made that clear. They asked about jobs, energy and foreign policy. They asked about taxes, the middle class and how each candidate saw his own strengths and weaknesses. While they sought answers, they were really trying to be heard — to have their voices recognized as Americans with a stake in the outcome.

A few days earlier, I sat in the auditorium of a different Long Island college, SUNY College at Old Westbury. This time, I sat in a folding chair at a table facing a U-shaped dais of commissioners. These were the members of the governor's commission on education reform. Vice President Maria Neira and I were delivering NYSUT's formal testimony (see related article. You can find the full testimony at http://www.nysut.org.) This was our formal opportunity to have our voices heard on your behalf.

While I delivered a message outlining the devastating impact of budget cuts, a state budget cap and a draconian property tax cap, I also offered NYSUT's solutions that could cut costs and create savings in educationally sound ways, and emphasized the need to invest in sound programs that, in the long run, will be economically beneficial to all New Yorkers.

I outlined what we are calling Empire State Partnership Schools. This is not a new concept. These are schools that embrace the need to view the schoolhouse as more than an academic setting. There are many examples that work: Say Yes in Syracuse, the Harlem Children's Zone, Community Learning Centers in Cincinnati and the amazing work AFT is doing in McDowell County, West Virginia, one of the poorest counties in America.

Partnering with other governmental, not-for-profit and private agencies, these schools and districts bring additional social, medical, nutritional and economic services into the school. They function from a fundamental belief that, in low-wealth communities, poverty impacts students in ways that inhibit achievement and that these conditions must be addressed in schools if we are to provide an equal educational opportunity for every child.

I also had the opportunity to attend the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy luncheon in New York City where NYSUT's own Maria Neira was honored along with Cecile Richards, national president of Planned Parenthood, and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Maria received the Frances Perkins Leadership Award named after Franklin D. Roosevelt's labor secretary and the first woman Cabinet member in the history of the United States.

Maria spoke eloquently about the need for women to recognize their responsibility to take their place in leadership and to fight against forces trying to hold women back. She stressed the need for women to speak out, echoing Perkins' quote: "In America, public opinion is the leader."

Now, on http://www.nysut.org, you have a link to "Tell it like it is." This is your vehicle to tell SED Commissioner John King and the Board of Regents how the obsession with testing and lack of resources is impacting your students' ability to succeed. It's also your opportunity to offer solutions from the vantage point of someone on the front lines. Say what you want (almost anything) and hit send!

Of course, the most significant opportunity we have to make our voices heard is to exercise our right to vote on Nov. 6.

As I wrote at the outset, few elections draw as clear a distinction between candidates. NYSUT's Board of Directors has made endorsements on the federal and state levels; our national affiliates have proudly endorsed the president for re-election. These can all be found in NYSUT's Election Guide that was mailed to your homes and posted online at http://www.nysut.org.

Maya Angelou tells us, "It takes the human voice to infuse (words) with deeper meaning."