As I write this, we have seen many days of civil unrest around Illinois and the nation after the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. When I was teaching my introductory high school film class, a film I constantly returned to was Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). It’s a complex view of race relations in New York in the 80s, a volatile time. The film concludes with the death of a young black man at the hands of police, followed by rioting. There were no easy answers then…just as we find today. No easy answers. But lots of sadness. Frustration. Despair. And pain. I cannot pretend to know the depths of the pain our black brothers and sisters feel at this time.
These emotions are compounded by the losses from COVID-19 – the deaths and illnesses, the losses of experiences, and the trauma of separation (think of what our high school graduates are missing this year, for instance). Then there is the staggering economic toll of the pandemic – over 20 million unemployed (with projections of 40 million) and a $10 billion hole in our state budget. The repercussions boggle the mind.
Under the weight of these burdens, we could all easily fall into a sense of defeat and cataclysm. Older colleagues tell me that the closest reference point for this time to them is the United States in 1968, but of course ’68 lacked the pandemic virus and economic collapse. So what happens next? What can we do?
I call on all of us to join in the fiercest spirit of our unionism within our unions to:
Commit with new resolve to rebuilding our society in a more equitable, socially just way
End the corrosion of poverty
Dismantle the structures of racism
Work hard to defend education and public services funding, with increased federal investments to protect from coronavirus related losses
Commit to passing the Fair Tax so we have more funding and tax everyone fairly
Educate our members and families to register and VOTE!
While these actions are consistent with our long-standing ideals, we must bring new zeal and fervor to our efforts.
One of the best parts of my job is meeting the students who have won our Porter and Megel scholarships. This year I had joyous phone calls with three amazing scholars and their parents and sponsors. Their intelligence, positivity and plans for the future inspired me and gave me a much-needed sense of optimism for the days ahead. The large presence of young people at the peaceful protests around the George Floyd murder gives me hope too.
In this toughest of times, we need to care for ourselves and find these moments of joy and hope. In a recent New York Times interview, Spike Lee said, “All of us, and humanity as a whole, have to learn to think about more than just ourselves. If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we’ve got to support one another. We can’t go back to what we were doing in B.C., before corona, with great inequalities between the have and have-nots.”
I know in the months ahead, we will all join together to rebuild our communities, find new ways to relate to one another, teach and care for our students, and do our work remotely. We will also protect one another in the workplace. In other words, we’ll be an even better union.
In solidarity, Dan Montgomery, IFT President