During the 2012 presidential campaign, I got a phone call from Obama for America asking for money. At the time I was still a registered Democrat, and I’d given frequently during the 2008 campaign, so the ask wasn’t a stretch.
But things had changed since 2008, particularly in an issue of great importance to me.
“I’m sorry — I will not give anything to Barack Obama until he commits to getting rid of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education,” I told the operator. “Please feel free to pass that message on.”
He persisted, with this line: “But Mitt Romney will be worse.”
That’s when I went ballistic. By the end of my rant, in which I told him just how very sick I was of Democrats asking me for money over the years using that pathetic, negative argument, he probably would have preferred if I’d just hung up on him.
Like other parents, in Connecticut and across the nation, and further, across the breadth of the political spectrum, I have been speaking out for years about the misguided and problematic nature of current educational policy. For the most part, our voices have been ignored, because the corporate reform lobby has more money. Much more money. And as a politician laid it out to me quite bluntly in black and white — or should I say white and green — “Until Citizen’s United is overturned, I live in a world of money.”
Every time I have tried to discuss with Democrats at any level the very real problems with education reform in Connecticut, the very real anger voters (Democratic voters) feel with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his ham-fisted education commissioner Stefan Pryor, the answer I get — with no small degree of arrogance — are variations on, “Where else will you go?” . . . “The other side is worse” . . . “Are you really going to vote for Governor Foley?”
That attitude has become even more apparent since April 18, when Neil Vigdor reported that former state representative and Wait What? blogger Jonathan Pelto might be considering a third party or independent run for governor. Instead of acknowledging there are real problems with their candidate, the Dems are doubling down on the “you have nowhere else to go” message. And instead of looking at why there is support for what would surely be a long-shot Pelto bid — a bid that is being fed by the widespread anger at Malloy that has people considering voting for a third party candidate and which might affect the broader Democratic ticket — they are instead focusing their energies on propaganda and attacks on Pelto. Nothing we haven’t seen before from the Malloy folks. Remember the infamous John DeStefano in a dress ad?
What’s been even more eye-opening — and to the truth, desperately depressing — are the remarks of white privilege uttered to me as if I should agree. When I expressed my concern and disgust that Democrats would support a charter revision that took away the rights of Bridgeport residents to elect their own school board, I was told that “education is a complex issue” and that it is one thing to have elected school boards where parents are educated, “like you and me. But Bridgeport . . . ?” Not so much.
One Democrat sent me an email chiding me for criticizing Democrats publicly, and saying that I should instead try to turn them to my point of view, as if I haven’t been trying desperately to do that for the last decade or more. This person concluded an email with: “We need a savvy PR strategy toward GOOD EQUAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS for the ‘brown’ children of America’s future.”
Well here’s the difference between my email correspondent and me — I want good equal public schools for ALL children, not just “brown” children. I want the same educational opportunity for every child in this country as I’ve wanted for my own. Good public schools are how my family made the transition in one generation from immigrants living in the tenements of the Lower East Side of New York City to being successful professionals. I don’t view this crusade as a Rudyard Kipling-esque “White Man’s Burden.” To me it is an essential part of preserving American democracy and the fast fading American dream.
Last Sunday, I took a teacher friend to a YA Literature panel and tried out the “Foley will be worse” line on her. “If the best you can offer is ‘the alternative is worse’ then you’re not giving me a reason to vote for you,” she said.
The Democratic Party needs to take a good long look in the mirror. If they decide to stick with the “status quo” and re-nominate Dan Malloy at the upcoming convention, they should seriously consider how that’s going to affect the ability to get an angry and frustrated electorate out to vote. “The other guy is worse” isn’t a winning strategy, and they’ll only have themselves to blame for losses in November.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.