Dear (new) member of MORE who called my cell today,
First, let me say that I was surprised to get a call today, but I'm really glad I picked up. I don't usually answer numbers I don't recognize, but it's a good thing I did. I had a guilty feeling in my stomach from missing this afternoon's MORE meeting. Sure, I had a First Holy Communion to attend out here in the suburbs, and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to make it into the city, but that doesn't mean I liked not being there. Having someone from the caucus get in touch with me made me feel a bit better about the whole thing.
Also, and just to preface, it's always nice to hear from a young teacher who believes in changing the world. You may not realize it, but it's the idealism from young people like you that keeps old-timers like me thinking about the big-picture items that effect us all. It also reminds us of how important it is to keep trying to make the world a better place. The positive outlook you have is absolutely infectious and, whether you know it or not, has an enormous effect on people like me.
I probably should have shared that with you during our brief conversation. But, to be honest, I was a bit taken aback with what you shared. You see, when you said that I would "probably know a lot more about MORE" than you would, I just didn't know what to say. My first reaction to hearing it was 'well, I probably shouldn't have told him that I've been a member for about a year now'. I'm sort of an oddball in that I don't like to make people feel like they're out of their depth when they speak with me. Given that that's exactly what you shared with me in your very next sentence -that you felt like you were a bit out of your depth talking to an "experienced" MORE person, or even working a MORE phone bank after a meeting- I'm sort of left to conclude that sharing my membership with you wasn't very helpful. When you confided that it was only your second meeting, I should have had the presence of mind to say something more supportive. I hope these words find you because I'd like to try again.
I knew exactly what you were talking about when you said that you felt a bit out of place. I know what it's like to feel uncomfortable in front of a bunch of MOREistas. The caucus lends itself to a great many things, but comfortability around people during one of their meetings is not exactly one of them. You should know that that's not MORE's fault. It is the general nature of unionism to not feel completely comfortable around the people you're around. You see, what brings us together isn't the personal, but ideal. There is an enormous difference between those two concepts. Because everyone is there there for the idea of strengthening our schools, our students and our profession, the opportunity of a MORE meeting doesn't always lend itself getting friendly with people. So if you feel like someone's talking through you or cutting you a bit short or not interested in a point you're trying to make, just remember, it's nothing personal. It's a union caucus and it has some items it needs to get through during its meetings.
Also, hearing from so many people who are so much more well versed about the ideas that brought you that meeting can be very intimidating. The people who lead MORE are absolutely brilliant. And although they try not to make a big deal about that, it does show and it can still be a bit of a jolt when you see someone whom you've seen on TV standing next to you or hear someone introduce themselves with a name that you've seen quoted in the newspapers. I know from my own experiences that that stuff can mess with your head. But don't sweat it. Don't sweat it one bit. Sure, they probably sounded a lot more confident with the calls they made during the phone bank time on Saturday (and I'm sure some of them actually looked like they enjoyed it), but that's just because they're a little more experienced in their roles as union people than you are. You'll grow into being comfortable with calling complete strangers and trying to convince them to come out for a Save Our Schools March (on May 17). Trust me, if you came to yesterday's meeting based on the idea -the idea- that there is something very wrong with how we do education and unionism in New York City, then you're every bit as brilliant as they are.
So now that I've tried to convince you that you're not out of your depth after all, let me just try to convince you that you're probably exactly where you need to be. As I tried to explain to you on the phone, you're now part of a larger push to try to stop a few things. Corporate education reform and improving teaching conditions are only a small part of what the people from MORE are about.
I didn't have a chance to explain to you that they're also about giving real opportunities to that young, disaffected student in the back of your classroom. They're about making sure he has a safe environment in which he can learn. They want him to have eyeglasses, healthcare, a hot meal and they want him to feel safe enough on the streets of his city -from even the officials- to grow into a healthy, confident and educated adult with real opportunities and a real shot at a successful future. You're probably sophisticated enough to realize that charter schools in this city say they're all for equity and you've probably observed them use all of the language of the Civil Rights Movement with the hope of appealing to that kid. But your instincts are correct; that's all part of a grand claim that they are the ones who are trying to level the playing field for him. When you get a full sense of that 'Big Lie", and realize that those charter networks are supported by the very entities in our society who are working hard to make the playing field decidedly uneven for your student (see this brilliant piece of writing if you're ready to start unpacking that lie), you'll have an easier time convincing people that MORE's path is the correct one.
I think you know that the only true path to equity for that student is through a full commitment to Social Justice. I know you sense that we don't need catchy slogans and school network leaders who make $600,000 a year in order to get there. Once you know that we need safe neighborhoods, a strong and protected workforce with a liveable wages for all, a fair tax structure, an end to the school-to-prison-pipeline, and that all of us need to grapple with effects of racism in our city (both how we can help stop it and how we all contribute to it in our own way), then you'll look back and realize that you were exactly where you needed to be yesterday.
MORE doesn't pretend to offer some easy solution to these problems. It doesn't have some slick, handsome dude like Dr. Steve Perry or Geoff Canada doing radio ads or starring in movies to lead the charge. All it has on a Saturday afternoon is some tired looking 20 and 30 somethings, often wearing the wrinkled red t-shirts, looking like they spent a little too much time at the bar the night before. But those people at those meetings are armed with something more powerful than anything that anyone else like the charter guys have. They're armed with brilliant ideas, with boundless energy and, most importantly, they're armed with you.
That's why this caucus will change this city, if even in its own small way. And it's why you, and even I, will be a part of that, if even in our own small way. No we'll never be superstars. We won't be on TV defending the basic principle of public education and social justice. We won't be writing articles for the newspapers. But we'll be on the right team. We'll be there at the right time. We'll be fighting the right battles. And, at the end of the day, we'll be winning. That's why I'm glad you called. Your call help me keep my head thinking about what I have to do on May 17 and where I have to be (wearing my own wrinkled red t-shirt). And if I should see you, I'll make sure to come over and say hello because I really am glad you called.