On Monday, September 26, 2011, I, along with at least 3 other folks from the RT board, and 500 other members of our union, PSC-CUNY, descended on the CUNY Board of Trustees meeting to demand that the university adequately fund health care for adjuncts, who do more than half of the teaching on CUNY campuses. About 100 of us made it into the meeting room, where we stood silently in the audience holding paper signs urging CUNY to “DO THE RIGHT THING.” Early in the meeting, as CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein was droning on about CUNY’s participation in various economic development projects, all of which sound as if they are designed to reinforce various corporate initiatives, someone next to me starts rustling his sign. The rustling makes a low noise, and I think I see Goldstein glance up briefly, as if looking for a fly he hears buzzing across the room. A few other protesters gently shake their signs, and the signs in unison create a rustling sound that reverberated around the cavernous meeting space. Soon everyone in the room who is holding a sign starts waving them, and a tide of sound builds, gently at first, and then louder and louder, until Goldstein is almost inaudible, drowned out by a hundred rustling pieces of paper. Some of the Trustees glance around, or fidget, or sniffle, apparently uncomfortable. Then, Goldstein looks up and addresses those of us assembled in the room, reading from a prepared statement: he admits that we have a “legitimate concern” and announces that, for the first time ever, he is going to include funding for adjunct health care in the budget request he will submit to the state legislature. Stunned, and gratified, we applaud and file out. As we gather with our colleagues who have been demonstrating outside the meeting, our union president announces the victory, while warning us that it is, of course, merely a first step, and will require a great deal more collective action to enforce.
In general, I feel remarkably pessimistic about the present political conjuncture, and many signs – from the prolonged high unemployment in the face of historic corporate profits, to the execution of Troy Davis—give me little hope. But I was heartened that Goldstein publically admitted the ethical force of our demand for adjunct health care, and it made me wonder if a new outrage about economic inequality, at least — if not about racism, and militarism, and sexism — may be brewing. In addition to Goldstein’s decision, this week saw the circulation of sensate candidate Elizabeth’s Warren statement, captured on video at campaign event, that “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody,” and the growing attention to Occupy Wall Street, which is being led by many college and college-aged people, and links to which students in one of my classes posted on our course blog. Maybe I’m grasping at straws, and maybe these seemingly positive signs do not amount to anything. Any optimism I feel tends to be fleeting, and may only last as long as the caffeine coursing through my system thanks to the strong up of coffee I had this morning. But I had to ask: do you, radical teachers, see any evidence of emergent, progressive possibilities in the current moment?
By Joseph Entin