Crossing Paths with Clean Water Action

Clean Water Action founder and Twin Cities resident David Zwick signs a letter to President Bush for the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act in 2002. Zwick died Monday, Feb. 5., 2018, in Minneapolis. (Courtesy of Clean Water Action)

New Orleans   It isn’t exactly the answer to a popular trivia question, but there might be some head scratching by outsiders, someone from Mars, or an earnest future researcher trying to puzzle out an answer to the question of how a multi-year and multi-layered partnership developed between ACORN and Clean Water Action.  As always, there’s a story behind it all seeped as much by design as simple good luck and happy coincidence.

Clean Water Action was – and still is – the organization that grew out of the fight for the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 that established most of the protection for water and water sources that we still enjoy and defend against corporate assault and public authorities’ inattention.  The stick stirring a lot of that drink had been David Zwick, an early Nadar Raider, and the founder and executive director of Clean Water Action.

Our paths crossed in 1992 as Local 100 expanded to Texas to organize school support workers in the wake of Governor Anne Richards signing a bill that allowed school workers personal decisions to mandatorily force local school districts to honor their request to join a union and have their dues deducted from their pay checks.  This is the same law that is regularly under constant legislative attack now in Texas.  We moved quickly and had to hire a lot of people to do a lot of jobs.  Mostly Orell Fitzsimmons and I hired organizers, but the drives involved mailing and phone banking lists of thousands that triggered home visits and membership recruitment.  We hired a woman named Wendy Weingarten to manage the chaos of paper and data.  I don’t remember Wendy having much background in that area, but she impressed us as committed and confident, and she became the tourniquet that we applied to that gaping wound.

Working closely day by day and juggling the work with Wendy and her schedule and her growing family, the layers of her life also became clear, and that meant meeting her husband, David Zwick and coming to know Clean Water Action.  David and Wendy had somehow made the decision to move and relocate to Houston for multiple reasons, but one was Zwick’s insightful conviction that a major battleground over clean water was Texas.  He opened an office of sorts to keep up with his national responsibilities not far from our building in the Heights.

Year End/Year Begin meetings were always mandatory in the ACORN family of organizations and that meant Wendy’s attendance was also required, and that David would be around with kids in tow as well.  David, quiet and without comment, because of our respect for his work at Clean Water became the first ever outsider ever allowed to attend a YE/YB.  In the days when everyone there was also asked to evaluate the meeting, David finally spoke, gracefully, about how much he appreciated being allowed to attend and how much he had learned.

A few miles away from our Heights office, Clean Water had another location that housed their local canvass program and its various staffing a couple of miles away where we introduced ACORN and Local 100’s work to their crew briefings.  Having shut down ACORN’s canvass in the mid-1980s, we were intrigued that their canvass was still sufficient to support their work.  The Clean Water canvass was run under contract by something called CCI, much like our own CCI.  We had them run canvasses for us in Austin and Dallas among other cities for some years trying to see if we could make it work.  Last summer as Chaco and I pulled the trailer out of Missoula, Montana to its new home in Manderson, Wyoming, we had a farewell dinner and talked about the small world with my old comrade and friend from Northern Plains Resource Council days, Tom France, and his partner, Meg Haan, who had run our joint operation in Austin back in those days.

I was reminded of all these times and Dave Zwick and his quiet dignity, great contributions, and our thoughtful conversations, as I stumbled on the obituary about his untimely death while reading old newspapers piled and waiting from endless days of travel.

Warriors fall, but the battles are constant and continue.  We honor them still!

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Strikes Against Charters, Amateurism, Disinvestment and DeVos/Trump Agenda

New Orleans       Reporters and commentators don’t know what to make of the anger and activism of teachers who are flipping the red-state script and taking job actions, with and without their unions, to directly target governors and legislators in Oklahoma, North Carolina, West Virginia, and likely Arizona.

West Virginia teachers were out nine days until they won a full commitment from the governor and legislative leadership to fully fund increases for both teachers and state employees.  Oklahoma teachers saw their governor and legislature attempt to preempt their strike with a $6000 raise, but their demands were for $10,000 over several years, raises for school support workers, and huge investments in public schools that have been starved for funding for years.  North Carolina teachers took sick days to go to their legislators with their demands.  Arizona teachers are clearly organizing to be apart of this Teacher Spring offensive.

What’s in the water at the drinking fountains in public school hallways now?

Some of the credit must be given to Trump and the long rolling scandal of his misogyny.  More than 75% of the teaching force is composed of women, and this is a moment for women everywhere to step up and step out.  Teachers are professionals.  They are responsible for discipline and decorum in the classroom and often in the community as well.  Talk to any of them and you will find that regardless of political affiliation, they are offended by the tenor and tone of the national government.

They understand they work for the government, and they see that they have been abandoned by the government and the calls for shrinking public services and closing of the public purse.  They don’t have to go to Washington to join and lead the resistance, they can see the disinvestment in public education right at home and in the rhetoric of their own state legislators and their knee-jerk adherence to the charter and privatization of education over recent years and in the ideological ignorance of Betty DeVos, Trump’s Education Secretary.  The West Virginia spark has started a prairie fire.

Congress in the new budget recently left DeVos stranded like a voice in her own wilderness.  She wanted to cut the budget by $9 billion.   They ignored her and added $2.5 billion.  She wanted to eviscerate the civil rights offices for schools, and they made such action dependent on Congressional action.  They slammed the door on her hands and did so without apology.

Teachers in Oklahoma may not win.  No strikes are guaranteed victory, but they do guarantee that everyone will feel the pain and that lines will be drawn.  Their demand for investment in more staffing and improved physical plants after years of disinvestment are going to stop the bleeding there.  They had won an $18 million down payment on improvements before they stopped work.  They will win more, and their action will prevent legislators from continuing to defund public schools in favor of choice, vouchers, and charters.

Always remember that teachers in statewide actions like these are in every legislators’ districts.  Public support flows from teachers to children to their parents and legislators are being forced to remember that now as teachers flood into their offices in state capital after state capital.

Strike to strike, who can gauge the results, but taken together state after state will start getting this message, so whatever happens this spring, the results will likely rebound to the good for public education and teachers for years to come.

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