Don’t mourn, organize!

Tales from the Front Lines - By Paul Gamboa

I will never forget the first time my school was attacked by a well-organized sleeper cell of grizzly bears. For months, the local park rangers warned us that there was chatter through multiple sites on the dark web and through social media. There was no doubt that action was imminent.

They pleaded with us to take measures to stop it. They even offered to provide the assault rifles and armor piercing bullets.

Tragically, we didn’t. We’re still picking up the pieces from this catastrophic inaction. The vicious attacks continue to this day on an almost daily basis. As a local leader, there’s little more frustrating than realizing we are helpless to stop it.

The sun is about to rise though.

We have the extraordinary opportunity of living in a world where we have elected someone who  is willing to appoint a Secretary of Education who is willing to address the issues that impact us the most.

Under Betsy DeVos’ visionary thinking, within the next four years, kids throughout my district, Illinois, and our nation will be able attend schools and not have their pic-a-nic baskets stolen, or be bullied into handing over their honey.

It’s about time someone stood up to these creatures.

While this was the dominating headline from the confirmation hearing of long time anti-public education proponent Betsy DeVos, it is far from the most disturbing thing she said. In fact, a part of me is disturbed that the focus of the sham of a hearing that took place is on the need to fend off apex predators in Wyoming.

I don’t know if it’s even possible to rank the insanity and incompetency of what was said in this hearing. There’s truly too much there.

I strongly recommend you read the facts about what the likely Secretary of Education said in this hearing, if you aren’t aware. It’s horrifying.

IDEA? That only applies to public schools. Oh wait…’s a federal law? Who cares.

There’s a difference between growth and proficiency?  Oh well, that doesn’t matter.

Should private schools be held to the same accountability standards as public schools?  No reason to answer that one.

I could fill a novel with the issues I have with DeVos and the people who Trump is appointing to his cabinet, but my opinions don’t matter. None of our opinions do. We elected a psychopath and gave him a just slightly less ideologically psychotic majority in the House and the Senate.

The biggest gut punch was that the Betsy DeVos hearing was chaired by a man who received the 2016 NEA Friend of Education award, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

He is such a friend of teachers and public schools that he didn’t allow follow up questions and pretty much completely removed any opportunity to expose DeVos’ staggering ignorance about even the most simple education issues.

That’s where we are right now. I hope that people understand how serious this is.

When I was first approached about writing for the IEA website, we wanted to talk about things that are facing teachers in the classroom. We wanted to find the things that matter to teachers and write about them.

I became worried that my ideas were becoming more and more political. However, I can’t worry about this anymore. Almost every one of us has felt the impact of elections recently.  Whether it’s the budget, the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, school funding or myriad other issues, we all are at the whim of the federal and state legislatures.

We’re about to get a stark lesson in how deeply true this is.

In the single biggest understatement of my life, the last few weeks have been a challenge for me. I’ve written a lot that I’ve had to scrap as I watch people try to retroactively mobilize to fight what is too late to fight.

I even deleted one three-page post from my computer and Time Machine backup so that I didn’t ask it to be published by accident. Putting the last two months into words has been a challenge I’ve never experienced.

That emotion is what we need to remember.

I wrote in a previous blog that someone once described my personality as an “apocaloptomist”.  This is someone who feels that everything is falling apart, but things will work out in the end.

As we face the inauguration and a new reality, this outlook seems to be more relevant than ever.

It’s easy to point fingers right now. It’s easy to blame others for the fight we are about to face. However, that’s a lazy narrative.

Getting all worked up right now and building the energy to mobilize isn’t going to be a problem in the immediate future. There’s no shortage of emotion in our country at this point. But it’s time for us to prioritize what truly matters to us.

There are rallies happening around the country during inauguration weekend. I have no doubt that it will be a feel-good opportunity and a time to feel like we are making a difference.

There will be pictures shared, stories told, and emotions expressed. I’m sure my Facebook page is going to have pictures of rallies in Chicago, Washington, D.C., St Louis and Springfield. That’s a great thing. It doesn’t mean it’s where our sole focus needs to be right now, though.

The world isn’t going to end on Jan. 21. We know it won’t because Trump is taking the weekend off. However, on Monday things could get dicey.

What we need to understand is that this isn’t the time when action is needed. The time for action is when people forget what it feels like right now.

We can’t let that happen.

We are entering a two-year period where the single biggest threat to our profession, our core beliefs, and our profession will be challenged like we have never experienced. We can’t control that. What’s done is done.

What we can control is mobilizing and using our voice to combat our foes and vote to support the issues that impact us the most.

Take a look at what bills our schools are facing right now. This is where our focus needs to be right now.

The next several months and years will be the time for actions. We need to insist that we start finding candidates who care about public education. We need to get our members mobilized and get boots on the ground, getting out the vote to find local school board candidates who believe in public education.

Phone banking, education tools, emails, letters, phone calls — this all matters. We better realize it, or our profession as we know it is done.

Our time during the next 18 months will need to be spent passionately supporting a gubernatorial candidate who can lead. Our time and energy will need to be spent in finding people in the House and Senate who believe in democracy, and the promise and vital importance of public education.

We need to take what is happening now and turn it into an opportunity to engage and energize our members. If we don’t, our enemies win.

Let’s not fool ourselves. They’re coming for us and we need to be ready to stand up for our students.

We can’t forget what is happening right now. We can’t be distracted by the disgusting and embarrassing behavior our president shows no signs of ceasing. We can’t be put off by the woefully unqualified people who are being appointed to cabinet positions.

We need to fight it. IEA has 133,000 members. NEA has more than 3 million members. We can change things.

This isn’t the time to forget what resources we have.

Our time for mobilizing and showing what we stand for isn’t at its peak. It’s just starting to grow.

In a few weeks, people are going to settle back into their lives, dealing with our families and our classrooms. It’s when this happens, that we must remember what we feel right now.

Musician and political activist Frank Turner sang in the song Once We Were Anarchists, “I’m young enough to be all pissed off, but I’m old enough to be jaded. I’m of the age where I want things to change, but with age my hopes have faded.”

Immediately following the election, I went into a malaise where this song summed up my feelings on the impending political landscape.

That’s changed.

I won’t forget what this feels like. I’m looking forward to taking an active part in the fight for public education and for our students. None of us can forget this.

It’s contingent on all of us not to forget what we’re feeling right now and be ready to act on it.

Gear up. We’re just getting started.

Please feel free to tell me what you think in the comments below. You can also follow me on Twitter: @paulgamboa. Thanks for reading!