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RTC Chapter Leader Column

Doing the good nearest to us

New York Teacher

Since many of us still live in an academic-year mindset, I thought this column should round out the semester.

There is a current superhero craze in movies, on TV, in comics and funny pages as we mark the 80th anniversary of “Superman.” It’s a genre that offers a theatrical “deus ex machina” rescue of those in trouble. But absent a superhero, we still can have a positive view of our day-to-day lives.

It’s easy to allow all the bad news of our national nightmare to get us down. We need healthful options as personal tonics. For example, since the November 2016 onset of our national nightmare, I no longer subject myself to hourly political blather, believing good or bad news will find its way to me when it’s time to take positive action.

The question is: How do we achieve social good when the national odds seem so stacked against us?

One answer is local grassroots activism — individuals joining together in day-to-day efforts to do good. It’s the old New England Transcendentalist notion to do the good nearest to us.

Walking to UFT headquarters from the Staten Island Ferry along lower Broadway, my eyes fall on the tributes embedded in the sidewalk memorializing those who had a ticker-tape parade honoring their achievements. Luminaries like Amelia Earhart, Dwight Eisenhower and Winston Churchill, as well as explorers and international dignitaries, were hailed as heroic figures. And then, when I preside over the monthly retiree membership meetings at union headquarters, right next to those sidewalk tributes, I am in the company of 300 to 400 retirees who spent their careers in the New York City public school system and the city’s health care system, all participating in union democracy. 

These are the unsung heroes who did the good nearest to them on a daily basis. They also collectively built a union that forged their individual good works into a powerhouse force for the betterment of themselves and others, enhancing the social contract.

And there’s good news happening on local and state levels, too. Teacher activists are on the march. West Virginia teachers standing up for themselves and their students have set a benchmark victory that has inspired those in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and the graduate student employees at Georgetown University.

After decades of New Jersey governors shortchanging pensions for teachers and public employees, Gov. Phil Murphy, elected with UFT/AFT support, is charting a course to incrementally fund their pension system. In New York State, Democratic and Republican legislators joined with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a local bipartisan way to pass legislation to protect union members from a potentially crippling Janus Court decision.

The union itself is conducting a door-knocking campaign and has set up chapter engagement committees to alert our rank-and-file members to the inherent value of the union through one-on-one discussions that are up close and personal. Doing the good nearest to them.

The RTC Florida office has been making member engagement calls to retirees who recently relocated there to see what’s on their minds and to ask how the UFT can better serve them in their new lives.

Some religious folks used to refer to phony, holier-than-thou pedestal types as Barclay Street Saints (the place where they used to cast the plaster statues). But we have the real thing. We individually and collectively do things to make our surrounding society a better place. Fifty years ago, Robert Kennedy compared individual worthy actions to a pebble dropped in a pond with ripple effects that make the whole world a little better.

So, as our academic calendar year closes, don’t be too dispirited about our national nightmare. Be of good cheer. Let’s keep doing the good nearest to us.