(I’m biased. What’s your take? – promoted by Jay Lassiter)
In his critical post on the NJEA below, Jay Lassiter wrote one of Blue Jersey’s more provocative diaries, to be sure. Yes, it was burning hot, but that’s our Jay. We love him for being bold and blunt when we agree with him, don’t we? Thus I can’t see the consistency in being offended by his same style when we disagree with him. As a wise public servant once told me, the difference between being inflammatory and courageous isn’t really style at all. It’s whether you agree with the speaker.
And it just so happens, I agree with Jay.
Follow me below the fold to find out why.
You have no idea how distressed I am about having less than affirming feelings toward any union. I passionately believe in the labor movement. I passionately believe in New Jersey’s unions. I think the world of other teachers’ unions, such as the AFT and UFT, and also of the National Educational Association in Washington.
And I am proud that Garden State Equality puts its time and money where our unshakably pro-labor sentiment lay. We consistently do phone banks and
turnout operations for labor rallies in Trenton, for instance. We not only believe in labor’s cause, but we also believe it is vital to give back to those who give to us.
Jay’s diary represented, to me, one of the hallmarks that makes Blue Jersey so compelling. Since its founding by Juan Melli and currently under Rosi Efthim, Blue Jersey has never been a community that knee-jerk rallies around an institution just for the sake of it.
When the Democratic Party is wrong, Blue Jersey says it. When a Democratic politician is intellectually corrupt or truly corrupt, Blue Jersey doesn’t hide behind a party label. And when organizations in the progressive fold make mistakes, Blue Jersey calls them
That mixture of progressivism and iconoclasty, I gather, is why we all love Blue Jersey so very much. Look, I can’t kid myself: Garden State Equality and I have received wonderful ink here over the years, and we are grateful. But when we’ve screwed up, you’ve told us, and you were correct to do so. Of course it hurt – very badly – but so be it. The Blue Jersey community calls it like it sees it, and the NJEA should not be exempt. Those in the public arena, which includes all of us advocates and activists, know that public criticism comes with public action.
Allow me, then, to tell you about the denouement to a previous post of mine about the NJEA. You may remember my post of last year in which I took the NJEA to task for not endorsing marriage equality, unlike its sister teachers’ unions in other marriage-equality battleground states. I described my shock when a high-ranking NJEA leader introduced me at a party to her life partner of the same gender, some days after this same NJEA leader told me she didn’t want the organization to touch marriage equality because it was too hot an issue. I cannot begin to tell you how much the juxtaposition of those days hurt so deeply.
I’ll give this NJEA leader credit, though. She told me the truth, unlike the stories of NJEA staff who cited technical internal procedures and asked, oxymoronically, why we didn’t remain grateful that the NJEA had endorsed and worked for domestic partnerships in 2004. A subtext there is tha the NJEA absolutely does get involved in issues outside the scope of traditional teacher issues when it wants to, and it made the decision that essential human equality was not worth it.
If we can be angry at John Girgenti for making that decision, we can be angry at the NJEA, too.
My post on Blue Jersey in which I had told that story had come in a chain I hadn’t even begun, in which a number of us were critical of the NJEA. Now flash forward months later. At a meeting with a senior legislative staffer on the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights last fall, an NJEA representative and myself, the NJEA’s rep pulled out a printout of the Blue Jersey thread that took the NJEA to task. I saw it. Names of critics in the thread were highlighted, as if the NJEA was going to go after each. And go after me the NJEA rep did. At this meeting, the rep said, “If you expect the NJEA to work in coalition with you, you cannot write things like this again.”
The senior legislative staffer – who happens to be a friend of mine – was as stunned as I was.
The NJEA rep then spoke about the organization’s overriding concern: “We want to make sure this bill doesn’t bully teachers.” That was the sound bite over and over again.
We all understand the NJEA’s purpose: It is an advocacy organization for teachers. And how terrific it is an advocacy organization for teachers, whom we love. But in private conversations, unlike the public testimony, rarely did I hear anything about students.
To be sure, the NJEA publicly supported the bill and testified on its behalf; apparently it believed its image could not withstand opposing the bill in light of the Tyler Clementi tragedy. But behind the scenes, the NJEA was a de facto opponent, circulating proposals to gut the bill significantly. The proposals went way beyond tweaks here or there that organizations could credibly suggest and still calls themselves supporters.
Among the NJEA’s bill-gutting proposals: Instead of requiring a school staff member to report an incident of bullying within a day – which how the bill was proposed and enacted, thank God – the suggestion was that a teacher or other school staffer should have three days to report a bullying incident after learning of it.
Three days to report an incident of bullying? That’s worse than what most schools have done for years. That’s going backwards. Such a policy could have proven deeply dangerous to bullied students. Similarly, the NJEA wanted to gut the provision that grades schools on how well they’re countering bullying of students. Frankly, the NJEA’s ire seemed aroused by anything that would increase accountability.
I fully expect to be called on the carpet again by the NJEA, which clearly monitors Blue Jersey and is not beyond making threats to posts it doesn’t like. But last I saw, the rest of us won our battle to enact an Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights free of the NJEA’s bill-weakening proposals. And you don’t have to spend much time in Trenton to see that many legislators of both parties no longer jump the second the NJEA yells jump.
Five years ago, that wasn’t the case. It’s a new day.