Thursday, February 24, 2022

This Is A Full Throated Defense of Camille Eterno. Proceed With Caution

I know only a few folks inside UFT Unity but they are damn good people. These are people with whom I have chosen to know and have chosen work with and they are among the best folks I have ever met in the profession. I don't believe that anyone, in the group of folks who I know,  would be part the type of tactics I am about to imply here. In fact, as I understand, they were helpful in countering their ef. But what you are about to read actually happened to Camille Eterno as I witnessed it. And anyone who I would call a friend would be damn concerned about it.  The steps that have been taken to mistreat her have been clear to me from the beginning and very simple to identify. I'm sorry they will take some time to explain but I am going to take some time to explain them. 

How did we get here? She is a professional woman of color in 21st Century America. She is the wife of the city's most famous chapter leader. She is a decades long educator, unionist and active member of the UFT. She has served as a chapter leader. No, I'm serious. How did we get here? She has served as a delegate. She is one of the few educators in New York who has served as an elected chapter official at not one, not two but three different chapters. Three times elected; by three different groups of teachers. How, on Earth did we get here?  She is the one of the very few people who is well liked and respected by every single person in the UFT opposition groups. And, despite the toxicity that pervades opposition, she is the only trade unionist with whom one of those groups will even consider working.

This year she has been grossly mistreated within the UFT.  Grossly mistreated. 

The following is a depiction of what has happened to Camille Eterno, offered as clearly and as accurately as I can explain.  I learned some of the instances third hand but I always checked for accuracy. I learned others first hand. I am writing this without Camille's permission (I showed this to her before I published) and it represents only my own assessment of what I saw occur.  By in large, there were three main steps involved to Camille's mistreatment. I'm going to explain them with varying detail here.

First, they kept her away.  

Camille Eterno was duly elected this past September as her chapter's delegate. After her election was resolved, it was not certified. This is the only time I can remember hearing something like this happening. The only time. There is some back and forth about it. The Eternos assert all of the information was transmitted from the chapter to the union. A source close to Unity says there was no. What is known is that, in September and also in October,  no certification, introduction material or word was sent to Camille. Again, she is the only delegate, as far as I am aware, who did not receive a welcome or "new school year" packet from the union following the election.  In contrast, when I was a delegate, I received an email and had a packet mailed home. I also received a duplicate packet at my chapter -and I received these items every single year that I was a delegate. 

I have been a teacher for twenty two years. Camille is the only delegate I know who was not contacted after being elected. The only one. 

In October, after having to reach out to ask why she hadn't yet received any word from HQ, she finally received her certification as delegate.  After she called. The election was held in September. She was certified in October. 

Or was she? The evidence of the certification disappeared and she had to go through it all over again. She was certified in October, alright. Twice.

To review:

  • Not contacted. 
  • Had to call to have the election certified. 
  • Had to do it again. 

And to repeat: In contrast, when I was elected delegate and chapter leader, I received all of my materials in an email, and in a packet mailed to my house and a duplicate sent to my school. This happened every single year that I served. No one else I know or have heard of has experienced this. In so far as I know or am aware (and this includes any other cases and every other year that I have been here), the only person who has this experience this is Camille Eterno.  Following the second certificationdelegate Eterno was finally "invited" to attend the DA. 

Of course, this information was sent to her only *after* the in-person spots to attend had been filled. This is not contested information. This was sent with not enough time to register for an open spot.  I happened to have been on the telephone when that email arrived. The late invite actually happened.  

This is a well known and well respected leading member of the opposition. This is the wife of the toughest chapter leader of his generation. This is a two-time veteran of UFT service.  This is a duly elected delegate. They know full well who she is.  And she was "invited" to attend her own DA with not enough time to actually be there. 

And so went October. They kept her away from being in the room. 

They played keep away, you see. They simply kept her away from doing what she had been sent there to do. This same pattern continued for several months. 

Here is how James described the pattern to me when I asked:

"No email invitation in November, December, January or February. In February, Camille emailed LeRoy for live DA. ________ claimed Camille was unsubscribed from DA email list. There is no record on our side that we unsubscribed"

That is five full months of kerfluffles. That is a mysterious "removal" from the delegate email list. These things don't "just" happen insofar as I have ever known or seen. 

During all of November, December and January an elected delegate of the UFT was not seated in her own Delegate Assembly. That UFT member just happened to be a leading member of the opposition group. That actually happened in the 21st Century in the most modern city in the New World. 

By February, when the invite did not come again, a special appeal to LeRoy Barr was made so she could attend. By now, she was a presidential candidate and had been kept from executing her duties for five (5) full months. Delegate Eterno was able to represent her chapter at her DA -for the very first time in February, 2022 -after an intervention from all the way up to LeRoy. Her chapter had elected her to go in September.

(They do that, by the way. It's common among any professional organizations. They play keep away with the invites to their events. It is one way they keep the "other voices" out of the room. This isn't true for the Unity folks that I know. But of the Unity folks I have chosen not to know, they absolutely play keep away. That's just an aside). 

She has taken a lot of flak for what occurred inside that assembly last week. Let's start with a clear reminder: When she (finally) got there, she didn't lend any voice to the breach of dignity that had taken place over the previous twelve weeks. As I see it, what was done to Camille was a complete malpractice of democracy. The unseating of (by way of not sitting) a duly elected chapter representative is an enormous breach of the most basic kind of trust we know. AdComm members had to get involved just to get her in the room. 

This is what we have come to expect from dusty nations and broken institutions -not the greatest and strongest local union in the United States. 

But when she took that mic, she did not speak about what had occured with her. She didn't come to the DA to lend voice to that experience. She didn't go to raise her voice about any behind the scenes abuses that had been visited upon her.  She didn't raise a motion about being inexplicably removed from the delegate email list. Most importantly, she didn't call her experiences what they were. 

What she did do when she got to the mic was ask the union president not to speak for so damn long at the meetings and also to call on delegates from her slate more often. This is a description of what her slate has called for. That is what she advocated for.

(Now there is a lot I could say about her slate -the UFC join slate. I am truly excited about some of the newer, younger voices who are part of it. The younger colleagues seem to understand things that some (some) of the older voices could never seem to grasp; that embracing positive energy, seeking positive momentum,  having a general upstream mindset are the winning approaches. The newer generation knows that they can't fight you only when you have 1000 people behind you. The younger colleagues really get it and I hope they come to take over the reigns of the opposition very very soon (please hurry!). I find some of the older folks, though, to be less than savory in character. I believe some of these personalities are the reason the opposition has remained divided for so long. Were it not for deliberate work by some close friends, I don't believe that slate would have happened at all, and due the actions of some of the older more veteran voices, it almost didn't. I am also turned off by some of the toxic turn the campaign has taken.  For this reason, I am not part of the campaign in any way. So all I am going to say about them here is that I am not part of the UFC and I am not part of its campaign. 

But that campaign has chosen Camille Eterno to represent them as president. And Camille Eterno came to that mic to bring their business to the chair. 

They would have supported her if she had used her time to cry foul. They would have chanted and yelled and screamed if she had gotten to that mic and talked only about what happened to her -as what happened to her was something less than graceful. Someone had kept her away, you see, for several months. Camille's slate would have supported any strategy she proposed.

--But she chose to ask the chair to stop talking for so long.
--She chose to ask the chair to recognize for debate the people with whom she caucuses and is running. 

That is the character of Camille Eterno. Let's take a gander at the character of the Unity faithful who have talking about her. 

Then, they blamed her for not being there.

If this did happened to me, I would be speaking about nothing but this when I finally made it to the mic at the DA. Camille raised a point of order to the chair. 

I have known this union for two full decades. The reaction in that room when she did so, and what has been said about her since,  has been nothing short of tropism.  The president screamed and reacted. The secretary screamed and reacted -and was permitted to act out a bit longer before being ruled out of order (with a nod and a wink). Tauntingly, among the words he reportedly spoke were "If someone just showed up today, I'm not surprised they don't care about tradition." (This, after having been denied entry to an assembly that she was duly elected to be part of.) And the statement was made by a high ranking officer of the same union who had, by actions of commision or omission, denied her entry for all those months. Nice. Nice touch.

True to the definition of tropism, the Unity faithful acted in accordance with the sentiments expressed in the room that night. In the eight days since the DA, Unity's faithful have taken to social media and dropped comments like "This was her first ever DA" and  "In 18 years this is the first time I ever heard Camille anything. Not a committee. Not a social event. Not the union at large" and 'how can she be qualified ....'. or "She didn't even know where the DA was being held in the building. Does she go to the meetings?". These are all quotes. Her and her husband are also awesome people and it really pisses me off to have to sit back and hear and read these things about her.

Now she used (as would any member of any junior high school Model UN team) a parliamentary procedure to bring her business to the floor: She called a point of order once she got to the mic. When the chair ruled her out of order, she used another parliamentary procedure (again, anything a school child is trained to use when they attend a Model UN conference) -she appealed the ruling of the chair. These are the types of things you learn in high school student government class. It is not anyone's fault if Camille paid attention in high school student government class.  And it is no excuse to raise of the of the words and sentiments that have been raised about her. 

(This is just another aside. but after keeping you from being there, they shrug and ask "Why weren't you there?" This is something they do as well. As an example, I vaguely recall an incident related to phone banking during the recent mayoral primary election. Many of the Unity faithful took to social media last summer and asked folks why they weren't there phone banking to help the union. Not all folks, mind you. Just the folks who dared to disagree with them. These folks had never received one email about phone banking. No one had contacted them and said "hey. Want to make some phone calls with us?" But there they were on Facebook having to explain to one of the Unity faithful that they were not at the event because they were never informed about the event.  They take steps so that you don't let you show up, you see, and then they tell everyone else that you didn't show up and therefore must not 'really' care. That's the pattern).

 First, you see, they keep you away. Then they blame you for not being there. That's how they roll. 

She went to ask the president to not speak for so long at the meetings and to call on delegates from her slate more often.  She used two parliamentary procedures -similar to what any junior high school student would use at a Model UN conference -to bring her business to the floor. I'm not sure what the crime there was but I heard grown men act like babies in response to this. I heard tooth sucking and mumbling under breaths in response to this. I heard tropes invoked (the real kind) in response to this. These types of attacks may only aim to hurt and damage the reputation of a known and trusted colleague and leading member of the union but they actually serve to undermine trust between members and leadership. I'm a regular member. I politely declined invitations to petition from both sides. I claim my regular member status with pride. All I need to know in this union is that the contests that take place are being conducted in a fair and just manner. I, an average member, have come away doubting that. 

They kept her away and then blamed her for not being there. 

Finally, they say bad things about her

Before the night had ended I had heard observations that Camille "was rude to a staffer" upon entry and that she had 'yelled' at the microphone. That's just one of the things being said about her. I heard this both first and third hand. James Eterno says that she was asked to provide vaccine proof at the door.  I understand there was back and forth from that. I'll say here that she received the invite at 4:16 that afternoon -with clearly not enough time to go home and get her vaccination credentials. I'm sure that, when she walked up, she asked the staffer if she could let her pass because she was a teacher and could not be teaching were she not vaccinated. 

But I also understand the greater context: She had been effectively kept out for several months leading up to that moment. The people accusing her don't want you to know anything about that. 

Of course the request may have seemed like another attempt to keep her out.  Up to that moment, she had been offered, let me be polite here, **reasons of excusal with no solution** at every turn by staffers as she had been kept out. For five months. A request when she made it to the door asking for vaccine proof (when all working teachers have obviously been vaccinated) wreaked of another effort to keep a person out, when I first heard about it. It was only after I understood the other point of view that I came to see both sides.  But it fits the pattern I have described above. It fits the pattern of two decades of observation of the comings and goings of the UFT. I would have liked to know which leader instructed that staffer to ask for vaxx proof? Whether this leader ensured that everyone was asked for one that night? And had those same instructions and procedures given the month before, at the January DA, when Mrs. Eterno wasn't there?  I would just want to check. 

But note: If she didn't get in, they would have kept her out again!

She wants more time for delegates and less time for officers and they're trying to demonize her for voicing it -for compelling her way in so that she could voice it. She wants more time for the alternative points of view and less time for the their talking points and they are trying to convince you that she is some type of rude Karen who doesn't know or isn't interested in her own union. This is decades long unionist. She met her husband in her union hall. This is a three time elected chapter based union official. I know a swiftboat move when I see one. 'Rude'? 'Disinterested'? 'Unqualified?' These are some awful things to say when you have the most powerful microphone in the union. This is a woman of color in a woman's profession in a city of color. 

Were it me, I would have stolen that mic and demanded an explanation as to why they had kept me away.  That meeting would not have gone on until I had been dragged out of the door. And I would have been dragged out that door kicking and screaming. 

Camille used her time to bring her slate's business to the floor.  

And she got the job done! Eight nights ago at the DA, she led her slate into several victories. Now you won't hear much about them, of course. They will all be too busy saying bad and nasty things about her.  But these are the victories she won for delegates on the very first night she was permitted to be in in her own DA:

1. For the first time in UFT history an active, accurate and public account of all votes from the DA was taken and was shared in an electronic format. This came after repeated attempts, across months, to tell teachers that it was simply not possible to do.  They said it was not possible. It took Camille Eterno exactly 25 minutes and two parliamentary procedures to make it possible. That's leadership. Accurate votes were taken from all who were on call and who were in person to know.

 🥅Transparency. Win for members. 🥅

2. Parliamentary procedures will now be used -generously- in our union's DA. It will be less neat than it was before. But democratic processes are a messy affair. This is because she bravely refused to surrender the microphone until her opponent ruled her out of order. These procedures are used in any student government class but Camille weiled them  like an art form last week. The $200k+ professionals who run the union can learn to live with them. Any parliamentary establishment uses parliamentary procedures. Also, water is wet. Just deal with it. Others will be using them soon. They (parliamentary procedures) are here now. They (parliamentary procedures) are among the great equalizers between minority and majority. Ask your smartest gal/guy. (S)He'll tell you. 

  🥅 Back and forth at the DA: Win for members. 🥅  

3. The parliamentary procedure of challenging a rule of the chair can now be used whenever any one member of the DA has, with seconds,  become so displeased that they no longer wish to allow the process to continue. In other words, if the chair speaks for too long in hopes of running out the clock like a teacher who's lesson plan came up a bit short,  then any member with seconds can simply appeal the chair's ruling in this manner and force a debate on the ruling. No more "you're out of order" moments without repercussions.

-->This is going to take a moment to explain: Any democracy pivots upon the acceptance of the minority. You have to get to a place where the minority can accept, in consensus, your leadership. Challenging a rule from the chair is one of the ways that any delelage can voice extreme disagreement. Challenging a rule from the chair keeps leadership honest and on their toes as yo all mind our Ps and our Qs over at the DA. It means that any one small group of delegates of the Delegate Assembly is important enough to do that. Challenging the chair is the thumb in the nose of a proceeding that has ignored too many members' wishes. Ever wonder why you're pissed at your union? It's because nobody challenges the rules of the chair down at the DA andso the majority gets away with whatever they want. Less democracy there means we;re more pissed at our union here.  And that one little move -challenging the rule of the chair- is here now. And I expect it's going to be used much more often as leadership, and the next generation of opposition, begin to come into tune with each other. That will, in effect, stop the presses. And that knowledge will keep leadership clean and honest in the heat of the contests that may occur at the DA. K, thanks.  <--

 🥅Ability to challenge the chair for any delegate who wants to use it: Win for members. 🥅

4. I know the good Unity folks very well. When faced with a true challenging moment or question, they always ask 'what went wrong' and 'how do we fix that'. I like Mulgrew! I like hearing him talk about the issues that pertain to me. I sure do like the lighter work rules. But the president's address has, in point, taken on a life of its own and it really should be shortened. That isn't only about an election. The length of his address has exacerbated other delegates to the point that they are employing disruptive tactics in order to shorten it. Duh. I don't think much else needs to be said here. Just duh. They're really good, smart leaders. I'm sure they're asking themselves right now how they can shorten the time officers, President included, take take for their reports. Everybody chill. They're good people. They're working on it. I'm sure of it. That's who they are.  And I'm almost certain that they will ask each other what the hell happened between the months of October and February to prevent a duly elected delegate from being seated. 

🥅Good, reflective leadership that responds to the moment.  Win for the members.🥅 

This is some of what Camille accomplished in less than 1/2 hour of floor time.  And that's what Camille may take away from this experience: that progress was made and that her team has got momentum toward it. I'm not sure she spends much time feeling offended by being kept out -or by being ridiculed after having been kept out. But I was watching too. Lots of us were. And we're plenty offended. 

It's time to stop personalizing this contest and it is long since time to start professionalizing it.  It's time to stop swiftboating a woman in a woman's profession. It's time to accept that the people who are challenging you on the floor of the DA know exactly what they are doing: They want more time and they are prepared to disrupt, within the rules, to get it. And it's time to accept that those delegates are being well led by an Eterno again (the better Eterno, if you ask James). 

I stopped paying attention to UFT matters. Too much toxic. Too much ugly. Too much bickering. Too many people with broken personalities and busted moral compasses. I have a small handful of friends left in oppo and a small handful of friends in Unity. God bless all you folks. I don't know how you do it. Despite my not paying attention, I still heard about this example of ugly. I blamed oppo at first for being disruptive. I don't any more. I'd call on both sides to sit down at a table or over an email and figure out a path for the DA agendas that works for all, but I have a feeling that both sides want this digustingly toxic fight a bit too much. Fine. You can have it. I'm out. Catch you all at the bar when it's over. ..or not. ✌️

(I am much more concerned about  a 3% cut in education next year ($1B) with a whopping ten percent of that cut coming from projected teacher salaries and a press that really really wants to obfuscate those cuts. We may have lost 20% of public school students pre to post covid. That reduction in register is going to have fascinating, maybe ground breaking if not scary. consequences. This is population loss. This is big news. wth are you all?)