Teacher Leadership Subscribe to RSS

Why I Protest

| Eric Brunsell

(DISCLOSURE: As a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, I am a non-unionized state employee. The increased benefit contributions will cost me nearly $500 per paycheck.)

Outside the Wisconsin State Capitol (2/26/11)

Credit: Eric Brunsell

Public sector employees and their proponents are now entering the third week of massive protests at the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. This last weekend marked the second Saturday in a row with 65,000 or more participating in rallies - the largest rallies Madison has seen since the Vietnam War. Hundreds of protestors have set up camp inside the capitol, sleeping on the cold marble floors and eating pizza and subs donated by individuals from the United States, France, Egypt, Ecuador and dozens of other countries. Outside of Madison, thousands of workers have been rallying in cities across the State. In addition, supporters throughout the country and around the world have been rallying in solidarity.

At the center of the protest is a budget repair bill proposed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Among the provisions in the bill are proposals that increase the amount that public employees contribute to their benefits, provide for selling of public utilities (without the requirement for competitive bids), and changes to how Medicare decisions are made. However, the most controversial of the provisions is the emasculation of the ability of public sector unions to collectively bargain benefits and workplace rules. The public sector unions have conceded the increased benefit contributions, but stand firm in their opposition to changes in collective bargaining.

Over the past 15 days, I have visited the state capitol more than I have in the previous decade combined. The reduction in compensation is not why I have carried signs, marched, and grabbed the bullhorn to lead chants from the capitol floor. To me, the attack on more than 50 years of collective bargaining is an attack on the voice of teachers, an attack that comes with a devastating human toll.

In other countries, teachers are referred to as Nation Builders. In Wisconsin, they are called greedy.

"I am not selfish," wrote a former student, now a high school science teacher, on Facebook in response to being confronted by a counter protestor. I sent an e-mail of encouragement to an elementary teacher and she replied that she read it at breakfast on her birthday and broke down crying. "It must be the stress," she said. Another former student, told me that he has decided to quit the profession, saying, "I love what I do, but is it really worth it? Is this what people really think about us?" Over the past week, I have talked with dozens of public educators that have been demoralized over the rhetoric surrounding this bill - upset with the loss of collective bargaining, but devastated by the contempt that is being shown for public workers, specifically teachers.

Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul, and Mary) "If I had a Hammer"

"We have to reject the idea that collaboration is a code-word for cowards," Education Secretary Arnie Duncan said. "Nothing is more demanding at the district level." He continues, ""Collectively you have the power to stop the nation's decline. The best solutions will come at the local level."

Unfortunately, elected officials in Wisconsin and many other states see things quite differently. As former Washington D.C. public schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee famously said, "Cooperation, collaboration, and consensus-building are way overrated." These officials seek to end collective bargaining and eliminate the voice of the teacher, through their union representatives, in educational policy discussions.

I believe that strong public schools need strong teachers and strong teachers need a voice - a collective voice amplified by their unions. This is why I protest.

see more see less

Comments (12)

Comment RSS

Educators make a difference

Was this helpful?

Up till now I have been proud to be a school counselor in a state with one of the best education programs in the country. The past few weeks have been a challenge for all of us. My hope and desire is there are enough reasonable people who are willing to put people above politics and put all of this in it's place. Yes there are problems and things need to be changed, but a doctor doesn't have to kill the patient to find out why they are sick. We need to be a part of the solution or we will be part of the problem.

Elementary Teacher


Was this helpful?

Gov. Walker is starting to get some backlash from the media.

see more see less

Eric Brunsell Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh

follow this blogger