International Democracy

  • More than anything, Albert Shanker was an advocate of democracy. In his estimation, democracy was the political system that offered the best possibility for average working people to achieve both economic development and freedom. He went further: he considered it a moral imperative for citizens of democratic countries both to safeguard their own civic and political institutions and to help those struggling for freedom and against tyranny of any sort, whether from the Left or the Right. Further, he believed that, if governments would not act on this imperative, free trade unions would.

    Through research, publications, conferences and conversations, we endeavor to continue this legacy.

  • Sidney Hillman’s Legacy: Honoring a Free Press, Advancing Workers’ Rights

    Guest author Harold Meyerson, editor at large of The American Prospect, a former op-ed columnist for The Washington Post, a longtime judge of the Hillman Awards and a Shanker Institute Board Member, reminds us on Press Freedom Day that a free press and a powerful workers’ movement are two necessary components of a vibrant democracy.

    This evening in New York, a number of journalists, union activists and kindred progressives will come together for the annual presentation of the Sidney Hillman Prizes, which for the past 72 years have been awarded to journalists who, as the Hillman Foundation puts it, “pursue investigative reporting and deep storytelling in service of the common good.” The Foundation bestows its awards in a number of categories: book, newspaper, magazine, broadcast and web, and this year, received more than 500 entries from which the judges chose the winners.

    Unlike virtually every other journalism award contest, there’s no fee for submitting an entry. There is, in fact, a long tradition of Hillman exceptionalism, beginning with the fact that the awards and the foundation were created by a union. Sidney Hillman was the longtime president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, the co-founder (with John L. Lewis) of the CIO, a lifelong champion of social unionism (to which the union’s construction of housing for New York’s clothing workers attests), and the labor leader who was closest to Franklin Roosevelt. When he died in 1946, the union began considering how best they could honor him. What they came up with was a foundation that would award journalism “in service of the common good,” a foundation that the union and its successors funded well into the current century.

  • Will Inflation Break the News? A Press Freedom Question

    NATIONAL PRESS FREEDOM DAY

    Next Tuesday, May 3, is National Press Freedom Day. I thought of that, and what a free press should mean, when I read Will Inflation Break the News? by David Dayen in the American Prospect. In this piece Mr. Dayen points out that, while inflation is causing people to cancel their subscriptions to streaming services, there is a more disturbing story behind The Great Cancellation, as it has (of course) been called. Over time, as more and more professional news publications find themselves behind a paywall, we’ve made access to our free press more exclusive and more vulnerable to the same economic factors that cause us to rethink paying for Disney+. More paywalls being constructed around professional journalism means more constricted access to that celebrated free press we cherish. At first glance, as Mr. Dayen points out, professional journalists can move to Substack to create their own revenue streams that support them to stay in the profession they love. Like the inflation question, does gigifying a free press save it? Is more high-quality journalism behind a paywall representative of a free press, especially as growing social media sites welcome unregulated and sometimes dangerous ideas?

    As you read David Dayen’s piece below, reposted here with permission of The American Prospect, ask yourself what a free press means to you and should mean to all of us. He offers solutions at the end, ideas to save a truly free press. He tempers it by admitting he may be biased as a career journalist himself. I don’t share his bias. I am a classroom teacher by training. In my teacher leadership career I have felt the sting of feeling mis-quoted, the ire at not being called for a response, and even the embarrassment of not being relevant to a story I felt was central to my work. Notwithstanding my vainest moments with the press, I agree that a thriving free press is vital to a thriving democracy. Both deserve our efforts to save them.

    Mary Cathryn Ricker

  • Putin’s War On Ukraine Is A War On Academic Freedom (And An Occasion For Solidarity In Its Defense)

    In his second post for the Shanker Institute, guest author Jeffrey C. Isaac, the James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Blooomington, explores how the West should respond to Putin's use of higher education to spread his progaganda about the War in Ukraine.

    As I observed in a recent commentary, Russian teachers are at the center of whatever debate is still possible in Russia about Putin’s bloody war on Ukraine. The regime is doing its best to use public schools as vehicles of its propaganda, because it is only through propaganda and disinformation that its war can be sustained in the face of the Russian military’s incompetence and the extraordinary Ukrainian resistance. Many brave Russian teachers are resisting, and thus placing themselves at odds with the authorities.

    A similar dynamic is unfolding within Russian higher education.

    On March 4 the Russian Union of Rectors issued a statement, signed by over 180 university leaders, supporting Putin’s war and declaring that “it is important not to forget our fundamental duty, which is to teach our students to be patriotic, and to help the homeland,” and that “universities are a pillar of the State.”

    The statement, an offense to both human decency and academic freedom, met with much outrage, and raised serious questions about how Western academics should respond to the increasingly grave situation on Russian campuses.

  • Russian Teachers Fight Against Putin's War And For Democracy

    The Albert Shanker Institute is honored to welcome Jeffrey C. Isaac, the James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Blooomington, to the Shanker Blog. Professor Isaac offers needed perspective on what the activism of Russian teacher Ms. Irina Milyutina should mean to American educators.

    I was struck by Ms. Milyutina’s statement, “I’m doing it because my heart tells me to. I stand for justice, for peace and good relations with other countries, for progress…“ “My heart tells me to” represents the universality of educators who have historically chosen to stand up in the center of the struggle. Yes, educators are often backed up intellectually by data, surveys, strike votes, or evidence, and hearts tell educators based on the experiences the heart has recorded in the profoundly privileged space of teaching and learning. The actions that Ms. Milyutina’s heart has produced should challenge all educators to listen to their hearts and match her strength in our own activism for her and Ukraine’s school communities. That is exactly where Professor Isaac’s piece leaves us, to connect the challenge of Ms. Milyutina’s activism with our own and do something. Beyond finding NGOs to donate to, changing social media profiles, and educating ourselves, educators are in a powerful position to educate others. Let’s show Ms Milyutina we hear her heart. This piece was originally published on March 6, 2022 on Democracy in Dark Times. - Mary Cathryn Ricker

    Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife. -John Dewey (1916)

    Education is a dangerous thing for authoritarian leaders and regimes, for it nurtures free-thinking individuals capable of asking questions and seeking their own answers. For this reason, teachers have long been on the front line of the struggle for democracy.

    In the U.S., teachers are facing a well-orchestrated political campaign by the far-right to limit the teaching of certain subjects and perspectives in public schools, all in the name of a “patriotism” that is manifestly hostile to a multi-ethnic and multi-racial democracy and a well-educated citizenry.

    Right now Russian teachers are facing an even more nefarious and powerful campaign by Vladimir Putin to restrict education and attack academic freedom in the name of his brutal war of aggression in Ukraine.

  • We're Not Slowing Down: The Labor Movement Must Keep Up The Fight For Voting Rights

    Our guest author today is Elizabeth "Liz" Shuler, President of the AFL-CIO and a member of the Shanker Institute Board of Directors.

    It was deeply disappointing that just days after our nation paid homage to the great civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday, the same senators who praised his name struck down critical legislation that would have strengthened our election systems and ensured every American has the fundamental right to vote.

    Even though this was not the outcome we wanted, it is imperative that America’s labor movement does not give up this fight. There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote, and we will remember those senators who chose to stand on the wrong side of history.

    On behalf of the AFL-CIO’s 12.5 million union members who fight for the rights of all working people, including the 1.7 million educators, paraprofessionals and school personnel in the American Federation of Teachers, we are going to continue to stand for voting rights and speak out against racial discrimination and voter suppression.

    Because we simply cannot afford to ignore what is unfolding across this country at breakneck speed. On January 6, 2021, empowered by President Trump’s green light to overturn the will of the people, an extremist mob tried and failed to violently overturn a free and fair election. We witnessed one of the greatest assaults on our democracy since the Civil War. And even though the insurrectionists failed in that attempt, extremist efforts to subvert our election process did not end on Jan. 6.

  • Fighting For Disability Rights Is Fighting For Democracy

    Our guest author today is Randi Weingarten, president of the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers.

    We are witnessing the most ominous threats to our democracy in our lifetimes—from the January 6 insurrection and attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election, to the slew of voter suppression laws recently passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures, to the anti-democracy forces working to interfere with vote counting and even manipulate the outcome of elections. Another threat to democracy receives scant attention despite its substantial impact—the disenfranchisement of voters with disabilities. One in four people in America lives with a disability, and many face steep obstacles that make it difficult or impossible to vote.

    Our responsibility as citizens is not just to vote; it is to demand Access and accessibility so that everyone who is eligible can vote and every vote is counted. That means fighting against voter suppression laws that disproportionately target racial minorities, older Americans, veterans, and low-income voters. And it includes demanding that people with disabilities have the unfettered ability to vote. The fight for voting rights is one that should include everyone. When we help each other vote, we are helping our democracy thrive.

  • The Intersection Of Disability Rights And Voting Rights

    Our guest author today is Norman Hill, lifelong activist in the Civil Rights and Labor movements. Mr. Hill served as the president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute from 1980 to 2004, the longest tenure in the organization’s history. He remains its president emeritus.

    The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is among the most consequential legislative achievements in the history of the United States, having codified for the first time the right to vote for Black Americans established in the 15th Amendment of the Constitution. The resulting enforcement of the VRA led to increasing levels of voter participation not just by Black Americans, whose rights had been viciously suppressed in the South, but also nationally for all Americans of color and those who did not read or speak the English language. In the 2008 and 2012 elections, Black Americans surpassed White Americans in voter participation. In 2018 and 2020 elections, there was record participation by Latino, Asian American and Native American voters.

    Little known or mentioned in the law is a provision that also greatly affected the voting rights of another large and previously segregated minority: disabled Americans. In addition to establishing the right of un-coerced assistance for those unable to read or write in English, Section 208 of the VRA established that right for “any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness or disability.”

  • I Voted

    Our guest author today is Rui Rui Bleifuss, a disability activist and senior at Highland Park Senior High School in St. Paul, MInnesota.

    It was November 2, 2021. Slightly annoyed and nervous, I walked into a room to do something I’d never done before.

    I was annoyed because it was the end of the first semester of my senior year in high school, and I was way too busy. It seemed like I was going out of my way to do something important but routine, something that was taking me away from more immediate concerns. I had so much homework, but here I was, on my way to vote for the very first time.

    I was nervous because I didn’t know how I would be treated. Empowered and supported? Discouraged and suppressed? I am an Asian American woman who is physically disabled. I knew about so many people who had experienced voter discrimination, and the many states trying to pass voter suppression laws. I’d never heard of a first time voter being supported, so why would I expect anything like that? 

    I had been so excited in the months leading up to this. But now voting just felt like another thing I needed to check off my to-do list.

  • A Continued Commitment To The Common Good

    I am proud to announce my position as Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute on Labor Day. Labor Day is the federal holiday dedicated to workers, and it signals both a traditional back to school and a traditional start to election season. The Albert Shanker Institute is a think tank dedicated to voices for working people, strong public education, and freedom of association in the public life of democracies. These ideals are interdependent. 

    Strong public schools are the foundation of our democracy. Workers’ voices—in their workplaces, professions, and at the ballot box—contribute to a vibrant democracy. A resilient and sustainable democracy protects and secures the voices of workers, the right to participate in our democracy, and the support of our public schools as a common good. I am honored to be immersing myself in this confluence of ideals at a time when our collective recommitment to the common good would create so much mutual progress in our communities, our country, and our world. ASI has a mission to generate ideas, foster candid exchanges and promote constructive policy proposals related to public education, worker voice, and democracy. Ideas, candid exchanges, and constructive policy proposals are all necessary avenues to our cooperative commitment to progress to the common good. My lived experience and my study of history convinces me that the triad of strong public education, healthy worker voice, and a vibrant democracy can make progress for all unstoppable. I relish the opportunity to convene great and divergent thinkers and successful activists to make meaning, shape plans, and accomplish policy to improve people’s lives across our country.