Ordinary times, posed as a longed-for ideal, beg the question: When will we ever get back to normal, or at least a new normal?
Extraordinary times can force us to rise, with the excitement of opportunity, out of a familiar comfort zone. Take our careers in public education as participants in the Great School Wars, when our comfortable ways were often turned topsy-turvy. Some change was welcomed, while some was disruptive.
In 1940, Eleanor Roosevelt was asked to speak to a raucous Democratic Party convention, where her husband was being nominated for an unprecedented third term as president, just as war was about to engulf a reluctant United States of America. In a calm, understated speech, she tapped into the democratic faith of the delegates by simply saying, “This is no ordinary time.” Her quiet words transformed their anxiety with a challenge to join together in common purpose at an extraordinary moment in the nation’s history.
We’ve faced our own challenges over the last two years in confronting this seemingly interminable pandemic. We’ve done well. We have adapted how we interact with one another as union members, keeping our strong bonds alive and purposeful.
The creation of New York City Medicare Advantage Plus Plan brought its own set of challenges. Some retirees preferred staying with their current plan, while others opted in and out as events unfolded. Still more were going to try out the new plan after we provided them with extensive information through webinars, virtual meetings, regular mail, a weekly email update and our dedicated health-plan webpage.
Then came another court decision that prompted UFT President Michael Mulgrew to demand that the city pause its implementation of the new plan. His message was clear: everyone should be allowed to stay in their current health plan until the dust settles in the court battle. The city eventually agreed to put the launch of New York City Medicare Advantage Plus on hold.
Mulgrew shared this message with the 4,500 retirees who joined our virtual RTC membership meeting on March 8. The pause means we can exhale for the next few months as we try to edge back to our “normal” lives.
The horrifying invasion of Ukraine by Russia cautions us that although we may hope for calm in our lives, it can be beyond our control.
But we have ways of dealing with fearful world events. Drawing on the AFT’s international union connections, the UFT Disaster Relief Fund has launched a campaign to raise funds to help educators in Ukraine. Donate to our Ukraine fund-raising page. Your donation can help those who need it as well as give us a sense of purpose.
In a passage in John O’Hara’s “From the Terrace,” the lead character remembers the ordinary day-to-day, unexciting times of his life as perhaps his happiest. It’s the placid and sometimes welcome flip side of the coin of challenge and activism.
Over the course of our careers, you and I have favored one over the other at various stages in the push/pull of life. But as union activists, we know there will always be new challenges ahead.
As Eleanor Roosevelt reminds us, “This is no ordinary time.”