Good morning to the school board, administration and other members of the Unit 5 community.
And good morning to the more than 900 members of the Unit Five Education Association.
It is a privilege to speak to you today and it continues to be my pleasure to serve, alongside so many others, as your president, your representative and your advocate. I am happy to see all of you and encouraged to see so many of you answered the call this morning and arrived wearing black.
We need to be clear about something. We live in dark times.
It’s a dark time in national politics. It’s a dark time in the State of Illinois. And, unfortunately, it’s a dark time here in Unit 5 as well.
Dark times make it easy to be discouraged. And it is tempting to want to distance ourselves from politics completely.
Many of us say we don’t want to be involved in politics, or we associate politics with dirty tricks and empty promises. We want political work to be someone else’s job, someone else’s problem. We don’t really want to get “political”.
But I want to challenge you today – to think differently and to engage politically.
I recently heard Jonathan Lange, a union organizer with decades of experience, speak. He encouraged union members to get over our rejection of politics. He reminded us, “There are two ways to solve problems, violence or politics.”
I choose politics.
Perhaps, like me, you have been following the US presidential election closely.
I’ve been following closely for more than a year — and I was unfortunate enough to travel to the Trump rally in Springfield last year.
I was there when he said that he was going to build a wall, when he called Japan weak and foolish, when he maligned our neighbors to the south, when he called Muslims terrorists, and when he implied that Europe was crazy because they are welcoming refugees fleeing from violence and death in Syria.
I attended because I was curious about his campaign and wanted to know more about his message — a message so disconnected and farfetched. A message so filled with hateful words and false rhetoric. I assumed his message was heavily edited by the press, to skew the Republican primary towards Cruz or Rubio.
I was wrong, about the skewing. I was wrong about the editing. The message of the Trump campaign is one of violence and hate. It’s dark and discouraging.
I witnessed this message in action first hand, when I protested at the Trump rally here in town. People I’d never met held up one finger toward me – and they weren’t saying “we’re number one!”. Strangers screamed the F word at me. Trump supporters told my friend, Alberto Delgado, a math professor at ISU, to “go home”, simply because he happens to be of Hispanic decent.
Make no mistake. This is not about “making America great again”. The aim of the Trump campaign is to tap into the fear and anger of so many citizens and the effect has been to make America HATE again. America is great and it will continue to be great because we reject HATE and VIOLENCE. And, as Hillary reminded us when she received the Democratic nomination, “America is great because America is good.”
As a people, we look to politics as a means for us to resolve conflict, to balance power, to compromise and to negotiate. We look to politics and negotiation to arrive at the best possible outcome. Peaceful. Political. Negotiated. Compromise.
But our national politics have become so polarized, so full of anger and fear. And one of our candidates finds his success by being a bully and by peddling that anger and fear.
These are dark times indeed.
Some of you hoped for a different outcome in the GOP primary.
Some of you, like me, felt or still feel the Bern.
And while some of us – perhaps many of us – didn’t get the outcome we preferred, all is not lost. There is another candidate – a candidate we can get behind.
Hillary Clinton addressed the NEA-RA this summer and received the recommendation of the National Education Association.
We elected six UFEA members to attend on our behalf and they were among the 7000 delegates she addressed for 40 minutes.
She spoke about the importance of our profession and the influence that we have on the future through our work with children.
She called for an end to the false rhetoric that blames teachers first and that assumes through continuous assessment students will learn more and that educators will be more successful.
She outlined that her national education platform will include the importance of career-long professional development, higher salaries for teachers and education support professionals, and relief for crippling student debt.
She also told us that she has this crazy idea that EDUCATORS should be at the table when decisions are made that will affect public schools and our students.
Those of us in public education have lived through dark times. We’ve endured the 15 years of dark days under No Child Left Untested. We’ve experienced the discouraging policies of Arne Duncan and his push for governmental micromanaging of instruction and over-assessment. And we are living though the looming possibility of a Trump White House. But in all that darkness, we have a Spark in the Dark.
When it comes to national politics, that Spark in the Dark is our collective voice.
This November, we must light that spark and use our collective voice as we vote to ensure that violence and hateful rhetoric are trumped by peaceful politics and to make certain we elect individuals and advocate for policies that value the work we do Every. Damn. Day.
But dark days aren’t just happening in our national politics. Welcome to Illinois, the Land of Lincoln. The State where a billionaire oligarch holds the budget hostage and refuses to compromise with the legislature and thus the citizens of Illinois, unless his “Agenda” of so-called reforms is passed.
For the last two years, we have been in the midst of a struggle between an executive office held by Bruce Rauner and a legislative branch lead by Mike Madigan.
Let’s be clear about something else. The choice between violence and politics is clear.
Violence doesn’t always take the form of anger and hate. Sometimes violence is destruction and starvation. Those reforms, The Rauner Turnaround Agenda, outline a plan to silence our collective voice and dismantle labor rights.
His refusal to act by using his line item veto power to balance the budgets that have been passed and presented to him has lead to financial starvation of state services.
The most vulnerable currently suffer. Funding has dried up for social services like child care for low income families, health care for the elderly, mental health services for the underprivileged, and shelters for the homeless.
Beyond those most in need, public universities like Eastern, Western and Chicago State, have been forced to release employees. They have had to cut programs and classes, all because the State is unable to pay its bills because of a lack of revenue and a lack of leadership.
This summer even the Illinois Department of Transportation was planning to shut down road construction because of the lack of a budget.
But don’t worry, a “budget” passed ensuring that schools will open and some programs will continue to function until JUST after the November elections.
Make no mistake. The stopgap budget is not our Spark in the Dark.
In Illinois, our Spark in the Dark is our Union.
It’s the Illinois Education Association and other affiliated labor and advocacy organizations.
Despite the dark days, we are working together, raising our collective voice, to fight back against attacks on public institutions, public employees and public education. We are defending ourselves against attacks on our rights as workers to organize and bargain.
And we need your help. Illinois can’t afford the Turnaround Agenda. And we can’t afford more of Bruce Rauner or those like him.
We need elected officials who want to do the right thing and recognize what’s truly valuable and important.
We need a budget that funds pension promises, provides for public employees, provides for public education and provides for the common good.
We need sustainable, adequate revenue and a tax system that is fair — asking for more from those who can afford it.
We need a school funding formula that provides access to a high quality public education for every single child regardless of their zip code.
These are certainly dark days in our Nation and in our State.
But among the discouragement, there is hope – promises of brighter things ahead. There are sparks in the dark — our collective voice and our Union. You. Me. Each of us and All of us!
Sparks of hope. Sparks of organization. Sparks of unity and solidarity.
I wish the story stopped there, but as Tip O’Neil reminded us “all politics is local”. So let me make another thing explicitly clear, dark days are here at home as well.
Our District continues to lack financial resources, in large part because of issues with the State budget, insufficient and unsustainable State funding and stagnant local revenue. Yet, as a District, we continue to try to offer all of the same services and programs our students deserve, and that parents and community have come to expect. It’s stretching us all thin.
And while we deal with budget and revenue issues, we sometimes have different priorities than the School Board and Administration.
Those deficits and differences have become clear during bargaining. And those of you who have been able to follow our progress this Spring and Summer know bargaining has been difficult. It’s discouraging. Times could certainly be described as dark.
It’s why you’re wearing black – a visual reminder of the times we are in.
But as you look around this morning, you may notice a few members aren’t wearing black.
I’m not wearing black.
Sitting among you are a few of our own Sparks in the Dark.
They are your elected UFEA building representatives, executive committee members, bargaining committee members.
They help guide us as we navigate the dark days and tough times. Like canaries in coal mines, they help warn us of potential dangers ahead. They help us stay together – United in solidarity. Their voices help amplify all of our voices as we stand up and speak out about what’s important.
But these aren’t the only sparks we have.
Each and every one of us can be a Spark in the Dark – for our students, for our community, for our District and for our Union – for each other.
Every damn day we go to work in classrooms more and more crowded with children.
Every damn day we see all of the children on our burgeoning caseloads.
Every damn day we analyze test scores.
Every damn day we differentiate our lessons.
Every damn day we group our students.
Every damn day we sit through endless committee meetings, data days, and give of our time to serve the students and the community.
Every damn day we come in early and we leave late, often taking work home — even on days we don’t have to be here and aren’t paid to be here.
Every damn day we teach and reteach our students all so that we ensure that we are educating each child to achieve their own level of personal excellence.
We do all this to be Sparks for our students in a world troubled by violence and darkness. We are a light in their world – sometimes one of the few lights they see.
It’s important work. It’s valuable work. It’s our work!
And as we do that work, we also need to encourage and guide each other. When we are discouraged and times are dark, we need to stick together.
Because a lot of little sparks can create an enormous light.
As we head into this year, we have an opportunity, starting today, to be Sparks in the Dark. We have the chance to be light and bring hope.
We have the opportunity to show that the work we do is valuable and its work we love – and deserve to be recognized for.
We have the opportunity to show we are a Union — that we believe in the truth that an injury to one is an injury to all.
We’ve lived through dark days before. And we will again. We won’t get through those dark days divided or alone. We must get through these dark days together.
Each of the members wearing yellow has stickers. Stickers that say Spark in the Dark.
Before you leave this auditorium, please go see them.
Get a sticker, and put it on your shirt.
Take this opportunity to show that WE are all Sparks in the Dark.
I was hopeful that I could stand before you today and say that after six months of negotiations we had reached a tentative agreement with the District.
I wanted to tell you that we have a ratification meeting scheduled.
Well, we haven’t and we don’t.
I hope you have watched the bargaining updates, but if you haven’t you can access them on the UFEA website and find them easily on our Facebook page.
But, I’ll also give you the quick and dirty here today.
We do not have agreement around the school day, specifically your preparation time.
We don’t have agreement around the over-testing of our students.
We don’t have agreement around the increasing class sizes and caseloads.
We don’t have agreement around the most effective use of PLC time.
We don’t have agreement around our insurance compensation nor our salaries.
The bargaining team’s goal has and continues to be to negotiate a contract that considers the challenges the District faces while recognizing the excellent work each of us do every day. Our mission has been and continues to be to bring back a ratifiable contract that addresses our concerns, attempts to solve problems, and is reflective of our collective voice as expressed through the responses that we received from the compensation survey and bargaining survey.
There are seven of us, but we stand strong because we know that we are not alone in the dark. We are not the only sparks.
Standing with us are the 15 members of the executive committee.
Standing with US are the 60 members of the representative council.
STANDING WITH US are the 900 members of the Unit Five Education Association who give their best to this important, hard, valuable work every damn day.
Separately we are all individual Sparks in the Dark, but together we are a controlled burn and a guiding light, united collectively for the benefit of our Union and the betterment of the students we educate.
Welcome back to 2016. A year of politics. A year of hope. A year of Sparks in the Dark.
Let’s go be light in the darkness. Together.