Friday, August 21, 2009

Hey CTA, Let's make this the year we fight back!

When it comes to the political fights, CTA has a well-oiled machine for getting a candidate elected or filling the radio with sound bites. But for the purposes of winning a state budget fight, our Union tends to leave its biggest tool in the box. During the last three big state budget battles, CTA hasn’t used its most powerful potential resource, a loud and righteously angry membership base that stretches to every corner of the state.

That's why we're losing. But we don't have to be. It's clear that any effort to shake the state legislature out of its standard operating procedure will require a year-long campaign that builds from the ground up. CTA may be the only organization that's big enough and organized enough to get the job done. We just have to change the way we do business.

Here’s the deal. We know already that the next budget battle could be as ugly as the last three. CTA has stepped aside and allowed devastating cuts to schools and vital services without much of a fight. Without real reform in the state government, further cuts are inevitable. Why can’t we insist that our “friends” in the legislature hold out for a budget with progressive revenues or elimination of the two-thirds mandates? Why can't the majority be as stubborn as the "no-taxes-on-our-rich-friends" crowd that has held the state hostage since the passage of Prop. 13?

Our locals know how to fight their own contract fights, and CTA staff up and down the state know how to guide its members in those local fights. What if we just take that know-how and energy, and apply it to the state budget fight? None of our locals are going to have a lot of success with their own contracts until we win real reform on the state level. So what are we waiting for?

Here’s what it might look like if CTA fought a year-long fight on the budget by organizing its most important tool -- its grassroots base:

September/October/December: Member education and public education, network building and local legislative relationships. Local chapters, with the guidance of CTA organizers, use site meetings to get buy-in from their members for a year-long effort, host house parties and public forums to educate the community on how the cuts have hurt schools in the immediate community. Highlight some progressive tax reforms that could be made in California. Prepare a handy education video. Invite local newspapers, bloggers, radio personalities, legislators and their staff to attend. Make the case to people in the local community. End each of the sessions by plugging community members into the fight. Letter-writing, phone calls, all the fixings. Get commitments from people to join the fight. These steps help locals build a capacity to fight and recruit leaders and allies.

November/December/January: Pressure building. Turn up the volume. Statewide media and targeted local media. Local fights around the state should intensify here. Insist on a sit-down with the local Assemblymember or Senator. Create a presence at town hall meetings hosted by state legislators. Picket at local offices of targeted legislators (any Republican who might budge or Democrat who might cave). Firm up message. Focus on “No more Cuts” and “Real Reform” messages (shorthand for raise taxes on corporations and get rid of two-thirds mandates). Highlight impact of cuts on students and services. Keep up pressure on targeted legislators until they make a public commitment to the campaign. Then trumpet that legislator as a “Friend of the Schools” and move campaign onto the next targeted legislator.

February/March/April/May: Lobby day actions focus on “No More Cuts” and “Real Reform.” Local rallies at legislative offices. Radio and newspaper ads continue in targeted communities, then culminate in regional and statewide actions. The impact of these actions is made more effective by the strength of all of the local actions. Make sure that each local keeps its members engaged even into summer vacation. Encourage legislators who have committed to "No More Cuts" and "Real Reform" message to hold out until something gives.

For the last three major budget fights, CTA’s members have been waiting for a real place to get involved. The people of California are desperately waiting for someone to step up and fight on behalf of the majority – in favor of a government that works. Let’s not miss another opportunity.