AFT REPORTS: Some AFT delegates protest Race To The Top while majority don 'Obama Biden 2012' tee shirts during speech by Vice President Joe Biden

Chicago Teachers Union delegates to the AFT convention (above) refused to wear the blue "Obama Biden" tee shirts that were being given away to delegates or hoist the "Obama Biden" signs, instead wearing Chicago's distinctive red tee shirts and silently holding up signs reading "Stop Race To The Top" during the July 29 speech by Vice President Joe Biden. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Trying to send a message to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden when he addressed the American Federation of Teachers on Sunday, July 29, 2012, delegates from the Chicago Teachers Union joined by other delegates held signs protesting Race to the Top. The CTU members wore CTU red shirts, while the majority of AFT delegates were wearing blue shirts with an Obama/Biden message.

The AFT has taken no official stands against the Obama Administration's under-funded, coercive, test-driven Race to the Top education program. The resolution passed by the convention against high-stakes testing and test abuse mentions "No Child Left Behind" (the program of the Bush administration) as creating test abuse, but does not mention "Race To The Top" (the current program of the Obama administration), which requires even more testing.

While the protest against Race to the Top took place largely with delegates sitting in their seats holding signs, a second protest came into the back of the hall, when several dozen people marched briefly through the back of the hall chanting. A number of delegates quickly went to the area wearing blue tee shirts supporting "Obama Biden" and carrying signs.

A group of protesters carrying a banner (which the photographer could not read) entered the back of the convention meeting room and briefly chanted against Obama Biden until they were escorted out by AFT and other security. Within less that a minute after their entry, the protesters were surrounded by others wearing the blue "Obama Biden" tee shirts. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.AFT security and other security escorted the protesters and their banner out into the lobby.

A Detroit Police captain told Substance that no arrests had been made.


July 30, 2012 at 6:44 PM

By: Rich Gibson

Biden Protest

A protest at the AFT convention, however mild, has to be a breakthrough, especially since it came from a delegation as big as Chicago. That's the main thing. Secondary things: (1) Biden, Obama, Weingarten, NEA, and others crafted the RaTT. They back it and no matter what Weingarten says, they will still back it and slam it home with the Common Core. (2) It's not just the Ratt and CC. It's financial collapse/looting (Biden is the banksters' best friend, via MBNA et al) and endless war, blowing back on the home front. (3) The host town, Detroit, is in near total collapse, as is the host union, DFT. Given the chance, 86% of the DFT members quit the union--a long history of corruption and incompetence. Only a judge's order enforcing the check off keeps that fake union alive. The contrast is stark: Resistance a la Chicago, or endless retreats and organized decay (paying dues for one's own oppression) as with DFT. It's class war from the top and imperialist war--or social change. That seems to be the choice of the near future. The more people plan to back CTU, the better the chance to break the will of Chicago's elites, even before a real battle begins.

July 30, 2012 at 8:32 PM

By: Jonathan Lessuck

Biden Protest

The protest at the back of the hall was organized by the Progressive Labor Party and included teachers and others from several states.

July 31, 2012 at 4:19 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Corporate reporters were held hostage during the Biden speech

Substance had at least three reporters covering the Biden speech and the protest at the time the brief screaming and that "banner" erupted at the back of the hall. David Stone caught up with the main facts of the story, I had just moved towards the back from photographing the Chicago delegation, and Kati Gilson had escaped the clutches of the Biden-Obama press handlers (who pretended to have the authority of Secret Service, but didn't!). As a result, we got to report, accurately, both protests, and they were in fact quite distinct. I am still trying to get someone to confirm for me if the "genocide" chant I heard in the back (briefly) was the same chant I had heard (at too great a length) 34 years earlier at an AFT convention in Boston. If I get that confirmation, I will report it.

But the big story of all that was that the Obama-Biden media handlers. There were dozens of them, the guys all wearing the same ties (tacky). They were playing one-on-one with the corporate reporters who had showed up for the Biden speech, but not the rest of the convention. The Obama-Biden kiddie korps (and some of them looked fresh out of high school) were frantically corralling the national TV and other reporters on the riser in the center of the hall, which forced you to photograph or video only what was happening on stage and on the big screen. So it would have been impossible for the national TV and radio reporters to get any other story during the convention (and Biden's speech) — unless they had broken free from the pen they were in and faced the rest of reality.

One group that did was herded back to the proper perspective by one of the gauleiters from the Kiddie Korps. I didn't realize I should have photographed that little herding of sheep, since the realities and the stories were coming very fast.

So about a hundred feet behind the "reporters" who were forced to do their story from the riser, Chicago was sitting, and one member of the AFT Executive Council, Chicago's President Karen Lewis, was sitting with her delegation, and not on stage surrounding Biden. That was a story worth reporting.

At a time like that, our job as reporters and photographers is to go to the story, not to continue pointing in the opposite direction and being force fed a little bit of campaign propaganda as "news". I was very proud that we (Substance reporters; Chicago delegates who are also Substance reporters) were at the stories as they unfolded. Meanwhile, Joe Biden delivered that brilliant speech (and "brilliant" is the appropriate word, as anyone who wants to replay the speech can hear).

So as Biden's speech unfolded, part of the context story was the Chicago protest.

Another part, then briefly the second protest and the chants that virtually nobody could hear.

Another story that I only caught a tiny piece of was the reality of a kind of "Paid Supporter" phenomenon inside the AFT delegations.

The vast majority of AFT convention delegates (my count in the line was about three-quarters) were wearing those blue Obama Biden 2012 tee shirts — true. They were virtually the only free convention souvenirs people were getting; AFT told the press corps there was no convention tote bag this year — austerity and all that. But those blue tee shirts were available everywhere to everyone.

The question was: Are the people wearing those blue Obama Biden tee shirts really as enthusiastic for Obama Biden as you'd think at first glance? Especially if you say the magic words "Arne Duncan" or "Race To The Top"?

Many of the people wearing the Obama-Biden Blue were as skeptical as the people wearing Chicago red of the Obama-Biden record on education.

The stage management, including both Randi's remarks and Biden's speech, were very good. To listen to both, you'd think it was 2008 and we were facing Race To The Top and George W. Bush.


and this is huge: Had Arne Duncan's name been mentioned (I don't think anyone from the stage uttered either "Arne Duncan" or "Race to the Top" the entire time), the boos would have been much louder than the brief boos when Biden said "Romney" and then used the small amount of booing to do a great rhetoritician's job telling the crowd, in that soothing voice, that it's not personal and returning to the family lines he was repeating ("Michelle, Barack, Jill and I..." over and over) and the keystone ("This is not your grandfather's Republican party...").

The brief protest in the back was not the only thing that gave me flashbacks.

The other came at the beginning.

When Biden took the stage, the chants were "Four more years!"

I remarked to those around me at the press table (not in the press prison on the riser) that that chant had been used first in my memory by the last New Deal President decades ago.

"Lyndon Johnson?

"No. 'Four more years!' thundered out across the land in 1972 for the re-election of Nixon-Agnew. And if you look at the policies and not the personalities, Nixon was the last New Deal president. As Biden says, this is a very different Republican Part."

What most people want to ignore is that this is also a very different Democratic Party.

July 31, 2012 at 11:18 PM

By: Brad Jones

AFT Convention

I was a delegate from United Teachers Los Angeles sitting at the back of the hall during the Biden speech. I believe the chant was "Biden, Biden, you can't hide, we charge you with genocide." (certainly a "golden oldie" of chants) Since the PL protesters were being hustled out by security, I couldn't make out the banner message either. Some protesters also carried the CTU "Stop Race to the Top" flyer.

Biden's speech struck me as content-free, except for reminding us that Romney would be worse, almost as if he and Obama hadn't been in charge the last four years.

The saddest thing was the official convention report the following day, which quoted NYSUT President and AFT VP Richard Iannuzzi saying, "This is a president who has stood with us. This president has shown his respect for labor." Really? When? It's one thing to say Obama is better than Romney, but to say the above with a straight face is delusional.

I guess the only "positive" aspect is that the response of the delegates to Biden did not seem all that enthusiastic. Teachers are not stupid people, after all. But we deserve better from Obama/Biden and from AFT leaders.

August 8, 2012 at 1:44 PM

By: Glenn Kissack

Witness to the anti-Biden protest in back of the hall

I was a delegate from PSC-CUNY and, like Brad, was sitting near the back, holding one of the yellow CTU signs against Race to the Top. I heard and saw the Progressive Labor demo, which lasted only a couple of minutes. I admire their courage and conviction; they must have known they would quickly be confronted by Detroit police.

As Senator, Joe Biden supported the invasion of Iraq, which lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of U.S. soldiers. The Obama administration increased the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 34,000 in early 2009 to over 100,000, not counting military contractors. By this October, the number will still be 68,000. Drone attacks have killed more than 4,000 people in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries, according to human rights groups.

The White House continues to support spending nearly a trillion dollars a year on the military and intelligence agencies, while states and localities are laying off teachers and other public employees.

Amidst the chanting of "Four More Years!" is was encouraging to see a dissenting protest.

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