Discussant: Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teacher and the Albert Shanker Institute
Join us for a book discussion and coffee with FIN SHIGANG and LI WEN, labor activists and authors of Striking to Survive: Workers Resistance to Factory Relocation in China.
With the future of Puerto Rico hanging in the balance, this national conference focused on what needs to be done to rebuild the Puerto Rican economy and its educational system in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.
Israeli social justice activist and trade unionist Rami Hod discussed how the citizens of the United States and Israel can work together to help build a broad movement for progressive change.
We are experiencing an organic crisis of democracy, international in scope. This conference will draw together intellectuals and activists from across the globe to examine and explore different dimensions of that crisis.
Today, the U.S. finds itself in a crisis of democracy, in which the future of our liberties and our republican form of government hang in the balance.
Former Shanker Institute Fellow and author of the new book, "Domino Effect: Did the USA Overthrow Communism in Poland?"
The distinguished speakers discuss the current international refugee crisis and draw historical parallels with the anti-refugee sentiments in the World War II era.
Join us at the AFT for a conversation, lunch and book signing with Kent Wong, the director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education
Using the C3 framework developed for teaching social studies and civics with the Common Core, this workshop will investigate the use of inquiry lessons to teach the theme of voting rights.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?