By Dave Reber March 18, 2011 10:05 am
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (@GovWalker) recently tweeted a video advertisement produced by Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (here’s background on the front group from SourceWatch). This ad featured very selective edits of a speech by retired NEA general counsel Bob Chanin.
“It’s not because we care about children… it’s because we have power,” Chanin said. “We have power because there are 3.2 million people who are willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in dues.” Chanin was discussing the reasons why the right-wing typically despises NEA.
Taken out of context, these quotes give the false impression that NEA exists not for strengthening public education but rather for its own power-grabbing and profit. I heard this speech live in person; and I know first-hand how inaccurately the commercial portrays Chanin’s message. The casual viewer may not be so privileged.
The ad concludes with a call to action: “Tell Obama you’ve had enough. Call on him to support government union reform.” Herein lies the rest of this deceitful message: that NEA is a “government” union. The ad implies NEA is funded by the government and thus consumes hundreds of millions taxpayer’s dollars.
But NEA is not a “government” union, funded by tax dollars. NEA is a teacher’s union, funded by teacher’s dollars. This ad is typical of the kind of dishonesty being leveled against teachers and other public-sector workers across the nation.
The ad promotes a fallacy that money earned by public-sector employees REMAINS public money after the employees are paid. If one believes this, it follows that the public should control how public-sector employees spend their money.
But this is a lie.
I work in the public sector as a public school teacher. I enter a contract with my employer in which I agree to give my time and talents in exchange for salary. I earn my salary – it’s MY money. The only taxpayer it belongs to is ME. (Yes, public employees pay taxes too). How I spend MY money is nobody else’s business.
If I want to pay NEA dues or donate to my union PAC, that is my choice. But right-wing politicians and pundits are spending millions of dollars to convince the public that MY money isn’t really mine, and that I shouldn’t have such choices. This fraudulent public-relations campaign is orchestrated to justify what right-wing lawmakers are really doing.
In Kansas, pending legislation would prohibit me from donating to my union PAC through payroll deduction; under the guise of “paycheck protection.” This bill would also prohibit public-sector unions from endorsing political candidates; under the guise of keeping “public” money out of political campaigns.
But it’s not public money. It’s MY money.
Right-wing legislators pretend they are protecting worker’s rights. This is another lie. As Bob Chanin so eloquently stated, and Crossroads so conspicuously ignored, “supporters of paycheck protection don’t give a rat’s ass about the rights of Association members.”
“The objective,” Chanin says, “is to limit the effectiveness of NEA and its affiliates by restricting our ability to participate in the political process, cutting off our sources of revenue, and diverting our energies from advancing our affirmative agenda to defending ourselves.”
Kansas’ right-wing legislators want to restrict certain groups from equal participation in the political process. I teach about science, not civics; but I know the United States Constitution has a word or two about this.
The freedoms protected under the First Amendment – of speech, the press, to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances – do not come with a footnote disqualifying public-sector employees. The Fourteenth Amendment, likewise, does not exclude public-sector workers from equal protection of the laws. In fact, it expressly forbids states from passing laws which abridge the rights of any U.S. citizens.
Whether ignorant or indifferent, the majority currently elected to the Kansas Legislature won’t allow pesky constitutional laws to impede their agenda. These legislative attacks, not at all unique to Kansas, are such blatant violations of constitutional rights that a multi-million dollar misinformation campaign must coincide with the legislators’ scheme.
These people strive to create an “of the people, for the people” illusion to obscure what they’re really doing. The organizational name “Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies” is part of that illusion. With “Grassroots” in the name, it has to be about ordinary folks, right? Wrong.
Crossroads is a creation of Republican political operatives Karl Rove and Edward Gillespie. Crossroads uses millions of dollars in corporate donations to influence elections and promote anti-union, anti-middle class legislation. Their ad attacking NEA is but one example.
By design, Crossroads ads avoid endorsing specific candidates, thereby avoiding accountability to the Federal Elections Commission. By extension, they avoid accountability to the public. In short, they can pretend to be a grassroots organization of working-class taxpayers; and have no obligation to reveal their true identity or agenda.
What can we do?
We can speak the only language our attackers seem to understand: money. It is OUR money, after all, and we can use it as we please. A small group of firefighters in Wisconsin recently demonstrated this power by withdrawing their money from a bank that financed Scott Walker’s campaign. Cleaned out, the bank closed for the day.
Like these firefighters, I will use MY money as I see fit. If politicians try to silence my political voice, I will speak that much louder to guarantee their efforts backfire. If Kansas law won’t let me contribute to my union PAC via payroll deduction; fine. Electronic funds transfer works just as well.
And because of these attacks, I’ve decided to double my annual donation to my union PAC. And for each Kansas legislator’s “yes” vote on “muzzle the unions” legislation I will add another dollar.
The right-wing billionaires club despises NEA and other unions because we impede their ability to funnel wealth upwards at the expense of 99% of the nation’s citizens. Acting on behalf of wealthiest 1%, they must lie to the remaining 99% and silence our dissent through statute. And they must seed infighting by convincing private-sector workers that public-sector workers are the ones taking their money.
We cannot allow them to succeed – there is too much at stake. As Bob Chanin so eloquently stated, and Crossroads so conspicuously ignored, these people despise NEA because “we continue to be effective advocates for public education, education employees, and human and civil rights.”
We advocate for public education, education employees, and human and civil rights because it’s the right thing to do. It’s MY money, and I can’t think of a better way to spend it.