Friday, April 7, 2017

My Union-based Activism

By Sarah Posegate

As a teacher, I have been a dues paying member of my union for over 15 years, but I have only recently gotten actively involved. Two years ago I was asked to serve on the Trumansburg Teachers’ Association Nominating Committee. As part of this committee, I tried to increase interest in union participation and I felt I had to lead by example. So I ran (unopposed) to serve as Alternate Delegate. Now that I was an elected member of our executive board, I was more faithful about attending meetings but didn’t have a significant role. After the inauguration of 45, I dove headfirst into activism. When my union President asked if anyone would like to represent us in Albany for the Committee of 100- a two-day conference where teachers meet with NYS House and Senate members to lobby for education, I raised my hand and said “Yes, please!” The opportunity of face time with our state elected officials was so exciting, even if I ended up saying very little.

This group of teachers, retired teachers, and union staff was nothing less than inspiring. They work tirelessly for equality and opportunity for all students and respectable pay and benefits for teachers. I sat in on meetings with Chris Friends, Barbara Lifton, Tom O’Mara, and others. One teacher spoke passionately about how state tests are especially demoralizing to her special education students. Another spoke to the negative impact of the 2% tax cap, which in effect will result in her district having to cut staff because 2% of her tiny district is so little money. A colleague from Horseheads spoke on behalf of his student teachers and how edTPA is crippling their student teaching experience. And many of us raised our voices in support of the extension and expansion of the “Millionaire’s Tax” and the closing of the “carried interest” loophole that could raise over three billion dollars in state revenue. The state can afford to support education and other programs...they just have to choose to do so!

I’m not the only one getting more involved. In the last few years my husband, Russell, an adjunct professor, was asked to join a newly formed contingent faculty union. They were organizing for more job security, fair pay, and other pretty basic workers benefits. Recently they won a major victory and avoided their scheduled strike. Union activity in the U.S. lately by fast food workers, nurses, and graduate students gives me hope. Indeed, unions can serve as leaders of the resistance paving the way to better conditions for all by advocating for themselves. Unions often endorse and support political candidates who support their cause and therefore can have critical political power. (Guess who doesn’t get NYSUT’s endorsement: Mr. Tom Reed)

It turns out that unions played a very large role in creating more progressive societies in countries I greatly admire like Norway and Sweden. “Although Norwegians may not tell you about this the first time you meet them, the fact remains that their society’s high level of freedom and broadly-shared prosperity began when workers and farmers, along with middle class allies, waged a nonviolent struggle that empowered the people to govern for the common good," says this article from WagingNonviolence.org.

If you have the option to join or support a union, do it! If you are part of one, but just pay dues and don't do much else (like I did for years!), get involved! Attend meetings, offer to help. Give to your union beyond just dues. NYSUT has a political action fund called VOTE-COPE that is separate from dues. VOTE-COPE funds support their political action and, in turn, pro-union candidates. If you don’t have the option yet, consider starting your own union and advocate for the things we want for our society by demanding them for yourself. Sound crazy? That’s exactly what adjunct professors around the country, including my husband, have done. With positive results!

I recently learned that unions have played an important role in societal change throughout our history. I listened to “The Young People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn and adapted by Rebecca Steffof. It both terrified and reassured me at the same time. Terrifying in that like now, our government and nation has always been for and by the elite and has often been full of corruption and injustice. Reassuring in that despite this the people have been able to rise and achieve change through (mostly) non-violent resistance and our Democracy has survived for over 200 years. In both our own past and the past of Norway and Sweden, unions have played a part in the multi-faceted path to change and they are playing a part in this latest dynamic chapter of our history.

You can subscribe to a weekly newsletter from wagingnonviolence.org.

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~ Sarah Posegate lives in Ithaca, NY with her husband, Russell, and three children. She enjoys a well placed expletive, satirical news shows, and knitting.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

This Week in the House - April 3

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Every Saturday, the Majority Leader of the House, Kevin McCarthy, whose slogan is "A new day for American Conservatism," posts the schedule of Bills and Resolutions that the House will consider in the following week.

Monday April 3:
1) H.R. 479 – North Korea State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act of 2017, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe / Foreign Affairs Committee)

2) H.Res. 92 – Condemning North Korea’s development of multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles, and for other purposes, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Joe Wilson / Foreign Affairs Committee)

3) H.Res. 54 – Reaffirming the United States-Argentina partnership and recognizing Argentina’s economic reforms, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Albio Sires / Foreign Affairs Committee)

Tuesday, April 4:
1) Concurring in the Senate Amendment to H.R. 353 – Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 (Sponsored by Rep. Frank Lucas / Science, Space, and Technology Committee)

H.R. 1343 – Encouraging Employee Ownership Act of 2017, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Randy Hultgren / Financial Services Committee)

Wednesday, April 5:
1) H.R. 1667 – Financial Institution Bankruptcy Act of 2017, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Tom Marino / Judiciary Committee)

2) S. 544 – To amend the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to modify the termination date for the Veterans Choice Program, and for other purposes. (Sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester / Veterans Affairs Committee)

H.R. 1304 – Self-Insurance Protection Act (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe / Energy and Commerce Committee)

Thursday, April 6:
H.R. 1219 – Supporting America’s Innovators Act of 2017, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Patrick McHenry / Financial Services Committee)

Friday, April 7:
No votes expected.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Attack on Planned Parenthood: Don’t Get Too Relaxed…

By Louise A. Blum

Planned ParenthoodFor the moment, thanks to the welcome infighting among Republicans, it would seem that the failure of Trump’s proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act has given Planned Parenthood a reprieve. Like all reprieves, however, this one is certain to be temporary. When asked about Planned Parenthood at a particularly unharmonious Town Hall meeting in North Harmony last month, Reed was quoted as saying: “I do not support taxpayer-funded paying of abortion.” 

Like so many of the things that Congressman Reed and his congressional cohorts say, this comment is intentionally inflammatory, deliberately misleading, and entirely beside the point. In the weeks leading up to the vote, the Right spoke passionately about the need to “defund Planned Parenthood,” a term that, like “taxpayer-funded abortion,” is designed to fuel emotion and obscure the facts. Federal dollars cannot be used to pay for an abortion. We have the infamous Hyde Amendment to thank for that, an amendment described by Thurgood Marshall in his dissenting opinion as “designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion.”

So what was all the fuss about? Not “taxpayer-funded abortion,” that’s for sure. As the ACLU explains, the proposal on the floor this time around involved “legislation that would block patients who qualify for Medicaid from going to Planned Parenthood health centers.” Over half of PP’s health centers are located in rural and/or medically underserved areas. According to the organization, 60 percent of its patients use Medicaid. The real impact of the proposed bill, therefore, would have been this: 2.5 million people would lose access to contraception, cancer screenings, STD tests, family planning services, and in many cases, a judgement-free zone where there is no stigma for seeking care. 

This is especially applicable to transgendered and other members of the LGBTQ community, who would lose what Planned Parenthood refers to as their “safe space.” Another vulnerable population served by this organization are the victims of sexual assault. Formerly known as the Southern Tier Rape Crisis Center, the Sexual Assault Research Center is a vital service of Planned Parenthood.

Framed as an attack on abortion, the real intent of the replacement health care bill was far worse: eliminating access to health care for marginalized groups of people. Trump and Ryan may have pulled the bill this time, but sooner or later, they will come back with another. It may have a different name, it may use different rhetoric, but its intent will be the same: to disenfranchise the people who have always been seen as extraneous by those with power: poor people, people of color, Latinos, members of the LGBTQ community, and assault victims. The same people who always lose in this country. And who will continue to lose even more under the “leadership” of a man whose actions are only as fair, just, and intelligent as the people in his cabinet.

ReedReed is no stranger to the importance of having control over one’s own body. In an impassioned speech to the House in 2014, he spoke openly about the rape of a family member and made his views on sexual violence very clear: “We are going to come together on a national effort and say, sexual violence is not acceptable. Domestic violence is not acceptable. We are going to discuss it openly … in a way that ultimately will lead to there being no more.”

With that speech, Congressman Reed showed both his peers and his constituents that he is capable of both empathy and moral courage. Now he needs to be able to put aside his personal beliefs and extend that empathy to others. One in five women has been raped in this country, a statistic with which Tom Reed is obviously all too familiar. While eager to protect members of his own family, the Congressman is apparently less eager to assist those who fall below the poverty line. Because of her personal connection to the congressman, one victim’s voice was heard in the House. Who will speak for those without that access?

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Louise A. Blum is a novelist and essayist living in Corning, NY. She is the author of the memoir, You’re Not From Around Here, Are You? A Lesbian in Small-Town America, and Amnesty, a novel. Her essay "Faith on the Front Lines," about her participation in the We Are Seneca Lake blockades, is forthcoming in the Spring 2017 issue of the Utne Reader. She writes about family, sexuality, activism and the environment and is currently working on a novel about the effects of fracking on one small town in rural Pennsylvania.