Taking the Deliberative Out of Democracy
Let’s recap the events that helped bring last night’s East Providence school committee meeting to an abrupt end.
The third speaker of the public comment period was East Providence teacher Mary Texeria. As Justin alluded to in the previous post, Ms. Texeria made a tough but fair statement saying that she would be willing to accept a pay freeze for as long as five years, if the school committee would “admit” — her word — to all of the factors that have contributed to the East Providence budget crisis. The factors she mentioned were that “the school committee was never supported by the city council”, “too many state mandates”, “the collapse of our economy” and “mismanagement over a 10 year period”. (Start at 0:49 here).
Then East Providence resident Tom Riley took his turn. He also discussed the salary situation, stating that he would prefer to see an across-the-board salary reduction that would preserve the existing number of teacher positions, rather than cuts that result in junior teachers being laid off. At that point, somebody from the union side demanded that Mr. Riley be prevented from commenting on this subject, despite the fact that Mr. Riley’s comments were no more further afield from the subject of the meeting than Ms. Texeria’s.
And the teachers clapped.
In response to a demand that a citizen be silenced, the teachers clapped, eventually loud enough to prevent Mr. Riley from being heard. (Interruption of Mr. Riley is constant, but start at about 1:50 here to hear the end).
East Providence teachers union President Valerie Lawson later went on WJAR-TV (NBC 10) with Dan Jaehnig to say that “we live in a democracy, everybody’s entitled to free speech”. Apparently to Ms. Lawson, a democracy is a place where only union members have the freedom to speak on issues in public forums. This kind of disdain for citizens, taxpayers and democracy is why many members of the general public have ultimately come to take a dim view of teacher unions.
We have to do better than this if we expect self-government to survive.