Monday, May 26, 2014

"Vote Yes! (Act III; 'Growing Pains')

Act I; 'Rage'
Act II; 'Mulgrew's Minions'
Act III; Growing Pains

In my last post, I spoke about the poor organization of the "Vote Yes" campaign thrown together by union leadership a full two weeks after the contract announcement. In this one, I'd like to focus on the extent to which the 'Vote Yes!' folks are willing to go to get this thing passed and how that has affected all members of the UFT. 

I left off discussing the Twitter newbies -Twitter users who had suddenly created, or renewed a Twitter account, had earned less than 10 followers and were tweeting to anyone and everyone they could to urge them to vote yes. These accounts, and the talking points they do in fact have (I mistakenly asserted they had none) have been effective to the extent of upsetting one of the most, if not the most, highly regarded teachers/writers in the city,  NYCEduator. In a coment on my last post he shared:

"...Twitter newbies and blog visitors [those who leave comments]. [']Everyone should just read the MOA['], they'd say, though neither the Contract Committee nor the Exec. Board did, and it's unlikely most teachers would bother...."

A closer look at these Twitter newbies reveals that many began tweeting away with conviction around the same time: May 15. One of the accounts was created on exactly May 15. The person sent his first tweet on the same day (at around 7 that night).  Another had sent just six tweets since January before tweeting an average 15 times a day since that same date: May 15.  The UFT Rep from District 31 is another. He began urging his followers to vote yes on, you guessed it, May 15! Another (one who at least attempts to engage people in reasonable discourse), began tweeting in favor of the proposal just two days later. (I guess some folks don't get the memo at the same time).

In addition, the folks I examined all seemed to come from the same South Brooklyn/Staten Island area. At least two of these new tweeps come from the same district and others come from nearby south Brooklyn. At this point, I would venture to say that someone within UFT leadership held a meeting, or perhaps blasted out an email, suggesting that 'friends of the contract' get out into social media and start tweeting away. I have no indictment to make toward that end save this: These tweeps and blog visitors are part of a larger 'Vote Yes' campaign that is being planned and enacted. (I'd also like to note that many of the people who are in social media opposed to the contract are doing so as out of anger. Those who tweeting in favor of it are doing so as out of tactic -tactic sent from the top down.)

If these folks knew that most people aren't listening (mainly because they have too few followers to hear them), they probably wouldn't be upset. The point of their tweets (and blog comments) are simply to push back against a 'vote no' sentiment to get folks not to vote no. Providing just enough smoke and mirrors in the Blogosphere and Twitterverse may well be what the doctor ordered to secure their win.

There are other awkward examples of a leadership desperate to push back against an anti-contract, thus anti leadership sentiment.  That Op-Ed Mulgrew wrote for Schoolbook talking up the contract is one of them. He had never written anything for Schoolbook before. I'd venture to say he probably never will again. But his decision to write it came just a day after Julie Cavanaugh published an op Op-Ed on the very same site. Her piece, which asserted the contract's shortcomings, made a lot of good, valid points about why the contract wasn't the best deal we could have gotten. Mulgrew's instinct, to be published on the same site reveals a concern that wasn't evident before: He is playing defense. He doesn't want the MORE caucus to make any more inroads into the union than it already has. Given that priority, checking Cavanaugh on Schoolbook was an absolute must.

'Town Hall' Meeting by Mulgrew
Then there was the 'Town Hall Meeting' hosted by president Mulgrew and livestreamed over the internet. Mulgrew appeared in a video studio (I had no idea my union dues paid for video broadcast video studio) and answered pre-selected questions from pre-selected members. The bizarre backdrop, which made him appear as if he were Obama answering questions from 'concerned citizens', was made almost complete in its awkwardness by the display of a stool and an untouched bottle of water in the background.  Why do a town hall? Because he knew the UFT would need it's biggest salesman -him- to sell the points of the contract.

And man, that contract needed to be sold!! If you ask yourself why the union would need its best salesman to sell something, the only answer you may come up with is that it isn't selling itself, You also might come to see that the others below him weren't getting the job done.

The following that each of these instances had must also be mentioned. Although the new Twitter accounts had less than 10 followers, it didn't stop the popular UFT Twitter account from Re-tweeting them, thus giving them to facade of legitimacy.  Mulgrew's post on Schoolbook at first showed very few instances of sharing across social media (Julie's had many more after the same amount of time). 

Then, after it became evident that Julie's piece was actually more popular, the Mulgrew piece seemed to take off. Three days after it appeared, Mulgrew's piece showed it had been 'liked' just 600 times on Facebook. Yet Four days after it was published, just one day later, it had been like "2.3k" times. It has stayed there ever since, not rising more than 2,300 'likes' on Facebook (it hasn't been 'liked' once since then). A piece like his typically has a shelf life of about 2 days before it loses hit counts. That it had 600 'likes' on the first three days combined, then miraculously garnered 1,700 more 'likes' on the fourth alone (and has garnered none since), tells me someone worked overtime to make sure the Mulgrew piece didn't wind up embarrassing our union president. Emails must have been sent. Tweets sent, texts and phone calls made. That's part of the social media game and I know it all too well. But that it had to played around that piece in order to avoid egg-on-the-face-itus really is saying something. 
The 3,279 views this video had
is a far sight better than the 300 it had
before the UFT's Twitter page started promoting it!

So too is his broadcast a bit circumspect. Youtube recorded his Town Hall Meeting has having all of 300 hits by Tuesday evening (I think I get more than that from a single Tweet). This was the same result on Wednesday morning when I was on my way into work. Yet on Wednesday afternoon, at 2:34 when I was on my way home, that number had miraculously risen to 1,200. It has since risen to 3,279 views (just 25 likes). You can draw two conclusions from that: that thousands of teachers watched him speak while they were at work on Wednesday. or 2) someone was supporting that URL. That someone, as it turns out, is the UFT Twitter page. It has 'pinned' Mulgrew's video-a-thon to its Twitter page so that every person who visits it sees the video first (side note to the media team over there at 52B-way: Nice touch! I'm so going to make sure MORE uses that trick moving forward!!)

It's not that leadership seems to have actively supported it's social media pieces in favor of the contract that is worth mentioning.  Sure, this is one caucus of the union using the power of the entire union to push out it's own message. Yes, it does border on a black hat trick (if Obama had used the White House phones to make calls for campaign pledges, it'd be illegal).  What's worth mentioning is that these (almost) black hat methods seem to be consistent with an entire organization that has made it it's mission to push back against a vote no sentiment of an unpopular contract.

Not all leadership actions that reflect concern about convincing people to vote yes are bad. I have recently been added to UFT VP Janella Hinds' email list. Ms. Hinds is the VP for high schools and, although I have been signed up for UFT updates since before Ms. Hids was the VP, I had never received her updates before. She has suddenly (and without any warning) decided that I (and several dozen of my friends) are now worthy to receive her email newsletter "Team High School".   That's right, as leadership has become embroiled with convincing people to vote for the contract, the UFT VP of high schools seems to have (finally?) updated her email list to include such people as me. 

I could come away from an experience like that with a feeling of resentment (in fact, I was upset at first). But the truth of the matter is that if a crappy contract proposal, and concern over it getting voted down, is what it takes to get a VP of my union to get in touch with me (and those like me) then that's a victory all by itself. That act alone -updating an email list so that more members are in touch with their union- represents a wild victory for the movement of rank and file educators -and I'm not talking about the union caucus; the Movement of Rank and File Educators. I'm talking about regular teachers who need to be in greater touch with their union. A union's strength comes from its numbers. Whoever updated Ms. Hinds' (and I presume other VPs in charge of primary schools, middle schools and the like) email list may have done so with a zeal to get the contract passed, but that person wound up strengthening our union.  

These observations and experiences seem to all add up. While many feel the contract will ultimately be ratified, the leadership of the union has gone through all types of contortions over the past few weeks -contortions that, frankly, I've never seen them go through before. Sure, they have exposed their weaknesses to their adversaries,  and they have stooped to some lows. But they have also reached for heights that they haven't reached for in a long time. MORE has made incredible inroads throughout this period. They've increased their outreach to members during May and they have increased their public profile as well. But in a larger sense, and perhaps most importantly, they seem to have pushed the leadership into a moment of clarity where it has come to realize the importance of connecting with actual union members over a given topic. Given the great strides made by MORE and the obvious growing pains of Unity, I have little doubt that this episode will result in a stronger union. That's right,just as the two minority caucus' have come out stronger, so too has my own leadership, (who, mind you doesn't even want me to be part of their union) has been made stronger by their need to connect with their members over this contract. And isn't that something.

Fellow blogger AccountableTalk writes that he expects this vote to be a landslide in favor of the contract (here). A/T is usually spot on with his predictions, so I'll prepare for a landslide. But if it happens, it won't be because this membership liked it or its union leader. It'll be because of the mammoth, pull-out-all-the-stops (and yet inchoate) 'Vote Yes' campaign put on by leadership. 

The only question left unanswered is where does it go from here? What does leadership do with its newfound abilities in social media and its new and improved email lists? Will I receive more emails from Janella Hinds about PD opportunities or union related business? Or will I never hear from her again? Will I be able to engage these tweeps in an academic discussion about pedagogy or about unionism? Or will they zombify (the term we use to describe a social media account that is no longer being used)? Does this union -finally- turn into the organization of professionals that it claims to be? Or must it continue to be forced into that position from the outside? Only time will tell.

Ed (who is so totally, unbelievably, unabashedly against this mistake of a contract he actually feels sorry for anyone with self esteem low enough to who vote for it!!!! (Sorry. Just had to say it once)).

Check out Act I ('Rage') and Act II ('Mulgrew's Minions')

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