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.

  • 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.

  • Building Power, For Teachers And Educational Justice

    For nine years, I have served as the Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute. Over this period of time, the Institute has done much work in our mission themes of public education, trade unionism and democracy advocacy. It has built a record and a reputation which makes all of us who work here—and everyone in the American Federation of Teachers, with which we are affiliated—quite proud.

    One of the important responsibilities of leadership is to know when the time has come to turn over the stewardship of the work you have achieved and the organization you have nurtured to a younger and fresher generation. Social justice work is a relay race, and as much as we do our individual best on our own leg, it is the race that is important, not our personal performance. When the time comes to pass the baton to the next runner, fresh and ready, we should not hesitate. That is why, earlier this year, I told my long-time and dear friend Randi Weingarten that the time for a new Executive Director of the Shanker Institute had come. At the last meeting of the AFT’s Executive Council, I tendered my resignation, and the Council elected Mary Cathryn Ricker as the Institute’s new leader. As of July 1, I have moved to the AFT proper, where I will be an assistant to the president.

    At these junctures in our lives, we are often moved to reflect on what has been accomplished, and what is being passed on to those who follow us.

  • Applying Pressure Politics When It Counts The Most

    Our guest authors today are Norman Hill and Velma Murphy Hill. Norman is a co-founder of the A. Philip Randolph Institute in Washington, D.C., of which he is president emeritus. Velma, like her husband Norman, was a leader in the Congress of Racial Equality in the 1960s, then held major positions in the United Federation of Teachers where she helped unionize 10,000 teacher’s assistants in the New York City public school system. Their memoir, Climbing the Rough Side of the Mountain: A Movement Marriage Through Six Decades of Love and Activism, is scheduled for publication next year.

    One of the greatest advantages of not being recent arrivals to history is that context and perspective are often great ladders to clarity. Yet, in the curious case of Donald J. Trump—and his even more curious ascent to the White House four years ago—even with our 120 years of combined experience working in the American civil rights and labor movements, we were still surprised and our ability to achieve perspective was severely tested. However, explaining Trump’s rather Humpy Dumpty crash from a wall of his own making is a simple matter. 

    With last month’s election of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. to the U.S presidency, along with his history-making vice-president-elect, Kamala Harris, the existential threat to our democracy and long cherished national values has been averted. At least, for now.

  • Putin Won. Will He Again?

    Our guest author today is Eric Chenoweth, director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe.

    Over the past four years, an authoritarian-minded president has posed a continuous challenge to American democracy.1 With electoral victory in doubt in the 2020 presidential election, he now even refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and openly states that he is stacking the Supreme Court in order to determine a contested outcome in his favor. 

    But an equally serious constitutional challenge has been obscured in the tumult of the 2020 presidential campaign. The republic’s democratic institutions have failed to respond to a hostile foreign power’s ongoing intervention in American politics and the outcome of its presidential elections. Despite all the attention given Russia’s efforts in 2016, no significant bipartisan action was ever taken sufficient to deter Russia from its ongoing active measures operations. 

    The reasons for this failure are as alarming as when the American public was first presented information of Russia’s interference.

  • Can It Happen Here? Donald Trump And The Fracturing Of America's Constitutional Order

    Our guest author today is Eric Chenoweth, co-director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe and principal author of the Albert Shanker Institute’s Democracy Web, an extra-curricular resource for teachers. 

    “The main thing is, they’re talking about us.”
    Joseph Goebbels, The Goebbels Diaries, 1932-34

    Comparing Trump’s presidency with past fascist regimes, and particularly that of Hitler’s Germany, is generally seen as partisan hyperbole. Past warnings of a Nazi-like leader taking hold in America — like Sinclair Lewis’s ironically titled It Can’t Happen Here — were belied by history. America’s constitutional system can withstand even Trump. Can’t it?

    The Trump presidency is certainly not the emergent Third Reich. Adolf Hitler, once handed power, acted swiftly to supplant the existing constitution by emergency decree, directed widespread repression against political opponents, purged Jews from state institutions, and held elections and referenda under conditions of mass intimidation to cement Nazi rule. By contrast, America saw three years of generally unhindered political opposition, media criticism, and free (if flawed) elections in which an opposition party made serious gains. 

    Yet events keep giving resonance to the warnings about Donald Trump’s rise to power. In response to national protests and unrest over brutal police violence against African Americans, Trump had peaceful demonstrators in front of the White House attacked and ordered the military to “expand the battlespace” to U.S. soil. What is happening here?

  • A Champion Of Democracy: Clifford B. Janey (1946–2020)

    Our guest author today is Rick Kahlenberg, Director of K-12 Equity and Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation and member of the Shanker Institute Board of Directors. This piece originally appeared on TCF's website, and has been reprinted with the author's permission.

    More than any other school superintendent I have ever met, Clifford B. Janey believed in democracy. While it might be easier to run a school system in a top-down, autocratic fashion, he knew that doing so would send a terrible message to the students who were closely watching how the adults around them behaved. Dr. Janey, who died earlier this month, was the superintendent of schools in Rochester, New York (1995–2002), Washington, D.C. (2004–2007), and Newark, New Jersey (2008–2011); and everywhere he went, he made sure that democracy was at the center of the education that children experienced. 

    Embodying Inclusivity and Equity 

    I came to know Cliff when we served together on the board of the Albert Shanker Institute, a progressive think tank associated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Like Al Shanker, the president of the AFT from 1974 to 1997, Cliff could hardly have a conversation about education without talking about democratic values. In that sense, he was the mirror opposite of his successor in Washington, D.C., Michelle Rhee, who was often autocratic, and who and famously invited a camera crew to film her firing a school official.

  • Can Bias Prevent Women Running For Office From Having A Fair Shot?

    Our guest authors today are Anthony Carnevale and Nicole Smith. Dr. Carnevale is Director and Research Professor and Nicole Smith is Chief Economist and Research Professor at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. This piece was originally published here on CEW's Medium page.

    When the presidential candidates introduced themselves on the Democratic primary debate stage in 2019, they weren’t the usual crowd of contenders. Among more than 20 candidates, six women representing a range of geographic areas and policy positions took the podium. One hailed from California, and another from Minnesota. Some voiced support for Medicare for All, while others opposed it.

    Women have made significant advances in their representation in US politics within the past 50 years. Though Hillary Clinton lost her bid for the presidency in 2016, she won the popular vote and made history as the first woman to be nominated for the presidency by a major party. In 2018, a record number of women ran for Congress — and many won their elections. Although the field of women running for the Democratic presidential nomination has narrowed from six to four, Senator Elizabeth Warren remains a frontrunner in several polls.

    Despite this progress, bias still remains against women in politics. According to our analysis of recent data from the General Social Survey, while this number has fallen over the past 50 years, 13 percent of Americans still believed in 2018 that most women are not as emotionally suited for politics as men. This bias may have the potential to decrease women’s chances of being elected to political office.