That’s what NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia told members about the endorsement of Hillary Clinton by the union’s board of directors. And there’s no question the prescribed democratic process in the union’s by-laws was followed. The board reportedly voted 118-39 in favor of the endorsement, with 8 abstentions, clearing the required 58 percent hurdle.
Sanders supporters are complaining that NEA should have gone to the members before endorsing. But NEA has never gone to the members for anything. It operates solely on representation. And in the union’s defense, there is no empirical reason to believe that had it polled every one of its 3 million members the result would have turned out differently.
It is also true that 99 times out of 100 there would be no discernible difference between the majority opinion of the board of directors and the majority opinion of the 7,000-member Representative Assembly.
Oh, but there is that one time out of 100. And if a board of directors vote truly represented democracy in NEA, there would have been no board of directors meeting this weekend, because the board of directors would have disbanded 17 years ago.
You see, back in May 1998 the NEA board of directors voted on the Principles of Unity, which would have merged NEA and AFT at the national level. The new organization would have had a 37-member executive board, similar to the structure of AFT, and a 400-member “leadership council,” which was to meet only three times a year and had little policy power.
Despite the fact that they were voting to eliminate their positions, the directors approved the plan by a vote of 106-53.
Two months later, however, the Representative Assembly had its say, and handily defeated the Principles of Unity in a secret ballot vote – 4,091 in favor, 5,624 against.
What democracy looks like changes as you alter your viewing angle. Getting the result you want isn’t the indicator that it’s working.