Mara’s Candidate Statement

The GTFF has been my first real experience of democracy. Until recently, I was much more interested in the subcultural pleasures of media activism, cooperative living, and organizing around gender and sexual identity than working with large political institutions.  My involvement with the GTFF has challenged me personally to work within existing systems.  After serving as a steward in Journalism and Communication and chair of the LGBTQ caucus, I am thrilled at the opportunity to run for the position of VP of Political Education.

I’ve gotten progressively more involved in the GTFF over my two years here.  I went to the AFT state convention in Sun River last year, the AFT national convention in Seattle last summer, and AGEL in the fall and spring of this year.  At AGEL in the fall I was approached to be part of the Policy and Planning Council, one of the five policy-drafting committees (just drafting, we vote at convention) for AFT National.  I’m thrilled to represent grad interests there and bring back strategies and information that we can use to campaign more effectively.  I was also elected AGEL co-chair for the next year.  As part of that post, I meet regularly by phone with grad unionists across the country.  Working at the national level is a challenge, but it underscores how important (and unique) it is to have a democratic, member run union.

I’d like to rethink the role of political education in our union.  While liaising with outside political constituencies and mobilizing members in political campaigns is vital to our survival as an organization and a movement of working people, I think the critical work to be done in house is better described as internal communication.  How are we talking amongst ourselves? Who is involved and who is left out of the conversations? How do we resolve problems internally and build lasting cultures of engagement and activism that are flexible, coalitional, and ethical?

I hope to spark conversations about participation, democracy, and representation.  As a member –run union, we draw on each others’ presence and commitment.  However, not everyone has the same ability to participate.  I think the first step toward building a more active membership is addressing internal issues of safety and harassment.  When members do not feel safe at our events, it stifles our ability to be an effective, active force in our community or in state and national-level politics.   We have to fix this.  I hope to get a committee together to draft a harassment policy throughout the year that can be presented at the spring GMM.  I think it’s important to include as many people in the conversation, and to bring in expertise from AFT as needed.  We also need to rethink what is possible and ask what kind of a democratic organization we want to be involved in.

Part of increasing member participation involves speaking the same language.  For those of us who come to the GTFF without a strong background in labor organizing the learning curve can be steep.  To address this I propose continuing the work of the political education committee and to work closely with the VP of Communications to produce collaborative educational materials both online and in print.  The committee will work to produce a glossary of GTFF terms, an expanded Robert’s Rules primer, and a voter guide.  As a zine maker, I bring practical tools for crafting cheap and engaging publications.  The website has space where we can post this material as well in order to get it to as many members as possible.

What I bring to the position of VP for political education is a commitment to consent and consensus, and a view of power that says there is enough to go around for everyone, and a queer and feminist critical vocabulary.  This is a challenge to fit into Robert’s Rules, national committees, and conference calls; however, I want to use my time on the board to challenge us to think differently about politics, education, and participation.

Mara Williams

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