As students and educators marched back to school in September, supporters of public education were already marching to press for fair funding for schools and colleges; for fair teacher evaluation; for accountability in charter schools; and changes to the receivership provisions for struggling schools.
"Our political activism has been running on high and has a jumpstart on the 2016 legislative session and elections," said Andy Pallotta, NYSUT executive vice president. "Throughout the summer and into the fall, the activism we saw from our membership has been phenomenal. We've only just begun!"
Nearly 200 supporters of public education picketed the entrance to the posh Sagamore Resort in midSeptember to make sure guests arriving at the Business Council of New York State's annual meeting got an earful about the keynote speaker — the talking puppet for billionaires, Campbell Brown. The woods rang with chanting: "When education's under attack, what do we do? Stand up; Fight back!" "Education is a right! Fight, fight, fight, fight!" and "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Campbell Brown has got to go!"
The parents, students, educators and activists were buoyed by a small, but mighty, armada of boats rigged with signs. Overhead, a plane pulled a banner with the hash tag #BAD4SCHOOLS.
"We've got to stand up, we've got to protect, we've got to defend," said Kerry Morris, a sixth-grade teacher and member of the Saratoga Springs Teachers Association. "We're here to have a voice. … Public education is a right! We can't be selling it off!"
A former cable news host, Brown is now a mere puppet for the right-wing, wealthy elite who are trying to demonize teachers and undermine public education under the guise of "reform." Her first foray was to use the New York state courts to try and eliminate teachers' due process rights. Brown is not an educator, has never attended public school, nor is a parent of a public school student.
"It's important that Ms. Brown and the business leaders of New York hear from educators, parents and other advocates for public education," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "Our schools are not for sale, and we will not tolerate the wealthy elite trying to buy influence over our students' futures."
A few weeks earlier, on the opening day of the State Fair in Syracuse — traditionally "governor's day" — Gov. Cuomo chose to send his Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in his place. Why would he do that?
Could be he knew that nearly 1,000 educators, union members and supporters were coming to the fair to demand Cuomo be "fair" to public education. Wearing T-shirts that said "Call Out Cuomo!" they told TV and radio reporters how inappropriate testing is driving students to despair and sucking the life out of creative teaching. They spoke about relentless state budget cuts that destroy education programs and about the layoffs that cause overcrowded classrooms. They talked about the ill-advised receivership model for struggling schools, which eliminates local democratic control of public districts.
"We teach our kids not to be bullies, to be upstanders instead of bystanders," said Brandie Norton, a fourth-grade ELA teacher from Sandy Creek Teachers Association. "We can't just sit by and continue to let a bully be a bully. ... We need equitable funding."
Earlier this summer in Buffalo, NYSUT members spent weeks engaging residents in face-to-face conversations as part of an intensive citywide door-knocking campaign to both measure and enhance support for Buffalo's public schools. (See related story.) Based on conversations with residents, results showed 73 percent of voters said they were strong supporters of Buffalo's public schools.
At the other end of the state, NYSUT members rode buses with coalition partners to a wealthy Long Island summer playground to protest a $5,000-a-plate fundraiser for Gov. Cuomo at the luxurious beachfront East Hampton home of billionaire hedge fund manager Dan Loeb. About 250 protesters passionately yet peacefully greeted guests with chants of "Cuomo, Cuomo, you can't hide! We can see your greedy side!" They sported T-shirts and carried signs that read, "HEDGE FUNDS = INEQUALITY."
Though summer is over, the union is still picking up steam. "We continue to march into the school year with a rash of opportunities for NYSUT members, activists, parents and supporters to get active," Pallotta said. "We can't let up. Not ever."
How you can get involved
This fall, NYSUT locals will host regional screenings of "Education, Inc.," a documentary film about the forces behind the effort to privatize public schools. (See related story for schedule.) The film exposes the many ways the wealthy 1 percent are spending millions to influence public education and education policy. A panel discussion will follow each screening.
- Get your best dance moves on. NYSUT will blanket social media, once again, to ask community members to tell their public education success story, and then challenge others to do the same. The #IAmPublicEd campaign and the Public Education "NaeNae" Challenge is similar to the ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge. If you don’t know what the NaeNae is, or how to do it, check out the NYSUT Action Center on Facebook.
- Watch the NYSUT Action Center on Facebook and the Member Action Center on the NYSUT website, www.nysut.org, for more opportunities to get involved and make a difference.