Liz Davis

A remote memorial for my former colleague, fellow union member, friend and ally, Elizabeth Davis, is scheduled for May 6.

(Apparently I recorded an incorrect date. For details and to register for the on-line event, go to the website of the Washington Teachers’ Union.)

(If you didn’t know, Liz was the president of the WTU until her tragic death in a car crash on Easter Sunday. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.)

During my very first year teaching, Liz and I happened to be posted at the same school, a big new open-space building almost as far south as you can get and still be in DC.

Interesting times — there was a teacher strike that year, and we both were definitely doing our best to be on the left, progressive, anti-racist side of things. Looking back, I feel that I mostly made a hash of it. Liz was much more of a fighter than I was, frankly.

I haven’t been to a general membership meeting of the WTU since I retired in 2009, and I unfortunately don’t have a good reading on how well she was running things.

I only recall one serious disagreement with her, which I should explain later, but in hindsight on the event, I see we were both partly right and both partly wrong. Long story. I should write it up.

What Teachers Need To Do — or, rather, What Traitors Have Led the DC Teachers

I would like to commend Diane Ravitch on an excellent post on why teachers in Philadelphia need to organize and go on strike. She refers to a local Philly opinion piece: a  column that explains in detail why they should do that.

The big question then becomes HOW do you do that. Hopefully the Philly teachers have gotten rid of any corrupt, sellout union leaders like we’ve been plagued with here in DC. That’s what the teachers in Chicago had to do in order to organize the strike that took place there.

I say that concerning DC because, of our last two teacher union presidents of my local, WTULocal6,

(1) even though she sometimes talked a good game, Barbara Bullock confessed to stealing somewhere near five million dollars from US TEACHERS right from under our noses, partly by verbally abusing anybody who crossed her in any way. I saw her do it, and I’m sure she also browbeat Esther Hankerson, who was my colleague at Francis and at Deal JHS and was #2 in the WTU leadership under BB…  Bullock was only sentenced to a few years in jail, and is now free. I’d be surprised if even 10% of the stolen money was ever recovered.

Funny how embezzlers and corporate thieves get off easy, especially in comparison with those caught with certain drugs…. Think of the Enron thieves and Michael Milken (he’s out!) and then read the book by Michelle Alexander and you’ll see how the ‘War on Drugs’ is essentially acting like the Jim Crow laws (read “Slavery by Another Name”).

I regret now that,  like many others, I did not notice BB’s corruption, and I also regret not making a public, principled protest when I found how she was maneuvering not to have monthly membership meetings — ones that might have helped hold her to account. I sat on labor-management contract negotiation committees as a rank-and-file presence during the arduous process of hammering out a new contract between the Board of Education and Superintendent of schools (and their lawyers and the city council and mayor as well) on the one hand, and the Washington Teachers’ Union on the other, around 2000-1.


You may ask, how did I not notice she was stealing? Very simple: I don’t follow women’s fashion at all — I try my best not to look at my wife’s fashion magazines (except for some of the really cute models, to be honest) and don’t pay any attention to labels. I get my clothes from Costco, Filene’s, sales, discount catalogs like Sierra Trading Post, and whatever my family members get me. The other two teachers and I were by far the worst-drerssed people in the rooms whenever we had negotiations — you know that all of the lawyers and bureaucrats negotiating for the Board of Ed (few of whom had ever taught) were dressed to the nines every single day. Personally, I just thought that Bullock wore really ugly, loose-fitting clothes because she was overweight; I also just thought she really liked her to-me-unfashionable long wispy hair and pocketbooks that looked funny to me, too.


Later on, after BB was convicted and went to jail, I ran into the other two rank-and-file classroom teachers who were on the negotiating team with me that year and asked them if they had any inkling of the monies that BB was stealing. We all had the same reaction. None of us any idea that all that ugly stuff was worth all that money. Stupid me, I had no idea she had not one but many, many expensive, wigs — all of them ugly (in our opinions). I saw a whole bunch of white-elephant figurines on her desk once, and made a comment that those looked like Republican symbols. Apparently that’s her college sorority’s symbol. (Why does anybody need dozens of them, all different?)

But that’s apparently what she and her crony Henderson spent their ill-gotten cash on, that they stole from me and my colleagues: kitchy tchotchkes.


We definitely agreed that she was an amazingly good negotiator. But despite that, Barbara Bullock’s betrayal make all teachers look stupid and criminal.

In my opinion, the fact that BB and her closest associates were so publicly corrupt, (convictions and confessions, not just allegations, remember) had a HUGE negative effect, nationally.

That betrayal demoralized teachers and friends of labor everywhere. It also emboldened the billionaires, Wall Street crooks like Milken, the Koch Brothers, Joel Klein, Bill Gates, the Amway family, hedge-fund traders,  right-wingers and religious fundies and assorted eduShysters who want to divert funding for public education for the poor into their own bank accounts, even though they say the exact opposite.

It’s the results that count.

Their first attack is on the teachers, and boy have they been busy at it for the past 6-7 years. And you know something — the same group of edudeformers are the same group that invented the PLATINUM parachute for themselves and the sub-minimum-wage job with no benefits, difficult-to-impossible transportation at crazy hours, no job security at all, and the balloon mortgage on your house that you put all your savings into. They are also the ones that brought you the fact that after all those years in college and/or grad school, you’re still an unpaid intern working part-time at a bunch of demeaning jobs, and you can’t pay off all those student loans, and if you declare bankruptcy, the one debt you can NEVER write off even a portion of, is your student loan. Even though it those loans were often supposedly guaranteed by the gummint. (You didn’t read all the fine print! ) And brought us banks that failed and economies that have huge fractions of unemployed, all around the world. While the One-tenth of one percent is more wealthy than any ruling class any time, any where, in history.

In places like Pakistan and other third-world countries, workers are  burned alive or otherwise killed. Here in the US, more and more workers long for the good old days when they only had to work 40 hours a week, had health and other benefits, paid vacations, a decent, fully-funded pension plan, and the right to have elections for their own union representation who could speak for them if case they had a disagreement with their boss. For many of us, those things, like the weekend, are things of the past. If you only want to work 40 hours a week and expect overtime for anything more than that, you’re a ‘moocher’. If you want a guaranteed pension and a freely-elected local union and paid health care, you’re a “lazy union thug”.

But if you are a billionaire who never worked a day of actual hard labor in your life, who simply managed to find all the loopholes to squeeze large amounts of money from every working person out there because you run a near-monopoly or have figured out how to disassemble companies and fire workers and dispossess homeowners to rake obscene profits, well, then you’re an outstanding visionary. Who can tell the teachers what to do, in detail.

 (2) And then remember her successor, George Parker? Once he lost the following local union election, he literally went over to the enemy!

Just think of it–the person who during election campaigns claimed that he would defend the interests of teachers, students and parents, actually went to work for Michelle Rhee’s astroturf-funded organization, RheeFirst. Sorry, “Students First”, which is doing everything it can to break teacher unions, degrade teaching into a part-time, non-professional job in every low-income public school whose sole responsibility is to read from a script, give out and collect standardized tests every single week that were written by other low-paid temps, and — don’t forget — work miracles on a 95-hour workweek with no benefits. Yeah, our past union president went to work for arguably the most anti-public-sector “Edu-DEform” organization out there – funded by the worst of the worst billionaires.

 When the last contract came up for a vote, it was very difficult for teachers to see how much it differed from previous contracts. In the past, we got to see the old contract printed with the parts that were changing being very carefully annotated, which is as it should be. Contract language that was being retained would be in an ordinary font. Sentences, words, letters and paragraphs that were being deleted were written like this with crossouts. New contract language was in bold-face.

However, this time, none of that clarity. Teachers got a copy of the new contract, and only someone who had as much undivided time as a lawyer could possibly go over the two contracts line by line to see what we teachers had given up. Time, of course, is one of the things that a teacher does NOT have.  Even I, a retired teacher, didn’t have time to analyze the changes in the short amount of time we had.

This last WTU-DCPS contract, which for the first time brought in special, poisoned bonuses that were paid for by some billionaires for just a couple of years, at the same time that the schools were imiplementing – without any field testing whatsoevber – a radically new evaluation system largely based on mindless following of a single teaching model and a random-number generator called “Value Addicted”, was a real game-changer all over the nation.

Apparently Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, and George Parker colluded on this contract — and it really sucks. It was a real step backwards for the labor movement.

Benedict Arnold, traitor to the new American republic >200 years ago, George Parker, traitor to teachers much more recently.

 Philly teachers, I hope you are successful in organizing. Be aware that there are many, many folks all over the country who do not believe the stories being peddled by the billionaires and their paid mouthpieces like Michelle Rhee. If you organize well, you can win.

Good luck and timing wouldn’t hurt, either. I wish you the best.


%d bloggers like this: