My first NEA Representative Assembly. A New Orleans memory.
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We needed a place to sit and have a drink after wandering through the French Quarter this morning.
It’s the weekend of the French Quarter Music Festival that precedes the more famous New Orleans Heritage and Jazz festival the first week in May.
The weather is glorious.
The sit-down place was in the French Market.
A local band was playing You Send Me.
A woman walked by with a dozen parakeets on a stick.
Anne had half a muffuletta sandwich. I got the cup of gumbo with some ice tea.
“Sweetened?” I asked.
“Not sweet,” the waitress said.
I looked up and saw Cafe Sbisa across Decatur Street from where we were sitting.
New Orleans was the site of the first National Education Association Representative Assembly I ever attended back in 1998.
The big issue was merger with the AFT, which I supported. I was the only delegate from Illinois that supported it. Our state president, Bob Haisman, led the national opposition to merger. It was eventually defeated by three to one.
A teacher, Debbie Brandt, was our union’s Region Chair. One of her responsibilities at the RA was to organize a Region dinner, which she did at the same Cafe Sbisa on Decatur Street.
Debbie had invited President Haisman to join us, and he did.
Hais, as people called him, was a big man with a shock of white hair and was the perfect image of a union boss.
He pulled out the chair next to where I was sitting, put his arm around my shoulder and said, “So you’re the kid who’s voting yes.”
Now, I wasn’t actually a “kid”. I was fifty years old, but new to attending to the the national union. I had focused my union activism on local action, contract enforcement and grievances.
But Hais knew he had nothing to fear from me, especially on the merger issue. He had organized the shit out of NEA President Bob Chase, who negotiated the merger agreement with the AFT but couldn’t deliver the votes of delegates.
So this “kid” thing was pure condescension.
Hais leaned over and in barely more than a whisper said to me, “I run things. I used to have a picture of Stalin on my office wall. But I want you to know that you can vote the way you want. We’re a democratic union, after all.”