The Nov. 9 Delegate Assembly, coming on the day after Election Day, was suffering from a collective election-results hangover of, well, Trumpian proportions.
“I don’t think we have enough guidance counselors to deal with this,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said of the disappointment following Hillary Clinton’s defeat to Donald Trump in the presidential election.
But, as one retired guidance counselor, Iris Nelson-Schwartz, said, “I feel like we are having a giant shiva. But after a shiva, we have to move on with life.”
That’s what Mulgrew was hoping to accomplish when he suggested the meeting be dedicated to allowing members of the body to reflect on the election, discuss their experiences at school that day and begin to plot the steps they and the union could take in response to the result.
What followed over the next two hours was cathartic for the delegates. Their comments were civil and intelligent, passionate and reasoned.
“Thank you for doing this because I feel the power in numbers,” Cristina Abellas, who teaches English at Banana Kelly HS in the Bronx, told Mulgrew.
Several teachers shared their interactions with students that day.
Thomas Hasler of International HS at Union Square in Manhattan and Ariela Rothstein of East Brooklyn Community HS both said their undocumented students feared a Trump presidency meant they could face deportation.
An undocumented student in Hasler’s class told him “that her dream of going to college died yesterday and that her parents were talking about moving back to their home country because they were scared that once his policies were set into action, they will be put into a deportation center and moved out of the country. That our students feel those things is heartbreaking.”
Ellen Gentilviso of PS 110 in Manhattan’s Chinatown said her students asked if World War III was coming.
Matt Foglino of Wings Academy in the Bronx said his students were confused about how Hillary Clinton could win the popular vote, but lose the election. After a civics lesson on how the electoral college works, he gave a lesson on activism. “I had my kids making labor posters and shouting labor chants,” he said. “I left school feeling empowered and my students felt empowered.”
Other delegates reflected on what went wrong and how to set it right.
Troy Sill of Passages Academy in the Bronx noted he is a native of Flint, Michigan, “a proud union town. These are good people and they didn’t vote with us. We have to figure out how we’ve lost so many of our brothers and sisters.”
Kristin Lawlor of ELLIS Prep Academy in the Bronx said she, along with many other volunteers, had spent the previous Saturday knocking on doors for the Hillary campaign in a poor neighborhood of Philadelphia. “I spoke to one gentleman who said ‘I have had 21 people knock on my door this week, but I didn’t have anyone knock on my door in the previous four years,’” she said.
Lawlor said that remark reaffirmed for her the importance of continual organizing, not just at election time. “We have this incredible exposure to parents and families we’re not using,” she said. “What if we started getting really creative? Every time you have a parent-teacher conference, you could ask the parent, ‘Are you registered to vote?’”
Retiree Peter Goodman recommended that everyone get more involved in the political discussion on social media. “That’s where the voters are,” he said. “That’s where the millennials are.”
Whatever the union chooses to do, Tina Silverman of PS 154 in the Bronx said, she’s ready to take action. “During the Bloomberg administration, I was a warrior,” she said. “Every time there was a rally, I was there.” She had become “withdrawn,” she said, during the past year with a friendlier administration.
“But I was devastated this morning. It took a massive amount of super-human strength to get out of bed, let alone go to work,” she said. “Now, I’m ready for a fight.”
Melody Anastasiou of PS 68 on Staten Island agreed that it was time for collective action.
“We will have to dig down deep, and be our children’s advocates and our own advocates,” she said.