Monday, May 30, 2011
An Open Letter to All Teachers in Illinois
Challenges remain before us. We must never become complacent in our belief that justice exists for those who simply “fight the good fight”; nor should we become indifferent to political power and what exorbitant wealth can buy: a “democracy on the auction block, subject to the highest bidder” (Bill Moyers).
Although we can infer that legislators will often pass laws for their own advantage, most of us still adhere to the belief that the legislators’ duty to act justly stems from their duty to keep a promise (David Hume). Perhaps we should recall that despite their pledges, the legislators’ criteria for justice are their consideration for what is most expedient for them—their re-election, which is concealed often by a counterfeit concern for the general welfare of their constituency and the state’s financial situation.
Undoubtedly, our pension is not generally viewed as in the best interest of the welfare of any legislator’s electorate. Our pension serves no purpose, except solely for our enviable, financial promise. How should we argue then for the expediency of this right? Is being just to a minority of citizens beneficial as a means for the majority’s attainment of happiness (Mortimer Adler)? Conversely, and with deference for utilitarian principles, how can we argue that it is morally right that a minority of people suffer so there is a net gain for the majority? Should not “the minority [of individuals] possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect” (Thomas Jefferson)?
There are no easy resolutions to these questions. All of us claim certain beliefs as truths. Nevertheless, what we must remember is that we, both retired and working teachers, cannot abdicate our right to representation in a decision-making process that affects only us, and although our entitled pension conferred to us by the State and U.S. Constitutions is not “an inalienable right,” for most of us, it is our final and only source of income.
It is up to us to secure this privilege by opposing the wealthy influences of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. We must defend our dignity with stubborn resolve. Our primary task is to enlist every teacher in a unification of will to protect our “alienable” rights and benefits that we deem fair and equitable because they are earned, incentive payments for our life’s labor (John Locke). This undertaking perhaps forestalls our pro-active and continual engagement with some of the bankrollers’ marionettes in the Illinois General Assembly.
Indeed, our fortitude and knowledge become our power, and this resilience and knowledge must become our action. Our collective financial fate is challenged and will continue to be in the future. We are intrinsically bound to one another in this regard. As Martin Luther King eloquently stated, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Let us follow King’s message of “direct action,” unify our efforts to confront a conflict of powerful interests, and “arouse the conscience of not only our colleagues but our communities” by proving that our earned right to a defined-benefit pension is not the problem but the solution that should endure as the template for the preservation of justice and dignity of all workers in Illinois.
A demanding call for engagement now intensifies for us. We cannot remain on the sidelines. Apathy is not an option, even though “It is so much easier to look away… so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes” (Elie Wiesel). Let us continue with concerted determination and indomitable courage and meet these challenges. “What is required of us now is a new… responsibility…; that we have duties to ourselves [and to others]; that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of character, than giving our all to a difficult task” (Barack Obama). Truly, “We Are One,” but only if we demonstrate this refrain’s assumption by our willingness to organize and to act upon principles that we believe are so valuable that to do nothing would be an injustice.