Why I'm Running for OEA Executive Board

“It’s a bike lane,” shouted the cyclist as he rushed past us on Grand, near El Embarcadero.

“F—- you,” shouted one of the two joggers who were running, two abreast, in the bicycle lane!

“F—- you, too,” came the cyclist’s immediate and impulsive response, just as he sped through the red light at the intersection.

It was an exchange of words that left everyone, including me — the innocent passerby, angry and hurt. No meaningful ideas were shared, no useful arrangement was made for the future. Instead, the joggers felt a distrust and anger towards the cyclist, and the cyclist clearly felt no love for the joggers. Future interactions with other joggers and cyclists by the parties in this exchange will be forever tainted by this interaction.

This cyclist does not speak for me, but I fear that the joggers may feel that all cyclists are jerks because their experience with this one cyclist was so hostile. And clearly the guy on the bike in this story regards joggers in the bike lane as his enemies. (Passing them forced him to swerve into a lane usually filled with cars — although at 7:00am on this particular Tuesday the lane was empty.)

As I continued my ride to school, I started thinking about the fact that this exchange is symbolic of the way the teacher’s union in Oakland sometimes interacts with the administration of the school district. And while each side may feel their anger is justified, the [all too typical] heated exchange between the two sides isn’t building common ground on any of our shared issues and concerns.

The bike rider and cyclists in this morning’s exchange chose to fight one another, using the language of conflict and anger, and neither acknowledged the mutual need for safety from cars. Each side felt that their position was just and righteous, and each felt that the other was wrong. Neither took the high road. As a biker, I could easily see biker guy’s point — having to swerve into traffic to avoid the joggers is a potential risk. But from the jogger’s perspective, biker guy’s over-the-shoulder hostility is an unkind and unwelcome assault during an early morning jog. Lost in the exchange was any sense of dignity, humility, or common civility.

The first step the Oakland teacher’s union must take in building a bridge of understanding and mutual respect is to start a conversation with the district that recognizes our shared goals and agenda. Of course both sides may have different views on how to create a fair and mutually beneficial contract. Using rhetorical tactics like biker guy used with the joggers this morning, though, won’t lead to a successful outcomes. We need to employ language that invites further conversation, not rhetoric that offends and creates distrust.

It’s no excuse for our union to argue that the district hasn’t always acted in good faith. If we are a professional union, a guild of teachers committed to the civic good, we can’t blame others for our failure to improve the nature and content of the conversation. When we, members of the teacher’s union speak, we need to use a voice laced with dignity and respect — we need to be accountable to our best ideals, not held hostage by our basest instincts.

My reason for running for the OEA executive board is to join a caucus of board members who feel that the time for the tired rhetoric of anger and division has passed. We look forward to being part of a union committed to raising the quality of conversation surrounding the issues that lead to better conditions in our schools for teachers, for students, for families, and for every citizen of this community.

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Tuesday April 17, 2012 — Mark —