Wildcat strikes and progress!

All the way from Bloomberg news. It’s been a shit time for educators across the spectrum. The breaking point may be near. High time for some much needed militancy.

Could Wildcat Teachers’ Strikes Spread to Other States?

Oklahoma and Kentucky may follow West Virginia as educators across the country take advantage of a strong economy to agitate for more pay.

By Josh Eidelson

March 6, 2018, 6:15 PM GMT+1

Updated on March 6, 2018, 11:44 PM GMT+1

The fury among low-paid teachers that triggered a wildcat teachers’ strike in West Virginia—the longest in its history—may be spreading.

Teachers across the country may soon build on the state’s example. The Oklahoma teachers’ union said it will shut down schools within months if its demands aren’t met, and some teachers said they may strike even if a deal is reached.

“The end goal is funding for public education and our core services, and if it takes us closing down schools to do that, then we are prepared and willing to do so,” said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association. On Thursday, the OEA will announce a timetable that could culminate in a school shutdown if lawmakers don’t pass teacher raises, something the legislature hasn’t done in a decade. While some teachers may have been on the fence, said Priest, the two-week West Virginia strike “has given them an emboldened sense of purpose and a sense of power.”

That may not be enough for the rank and file. Some Oklahoma teachers are planning a wildcat strike of their own. Leaders from a dozen schools met last week to discuss such an unsanctioned walkout, and they plan to reconvene Wednesday to vote on a strike date. If the union’s plans aren’t to their liking, they may walk out, said Larry Cagle, who teaches advanced placement courses and is one of the organizers behind the independent effort. “We’re going to force this on the union and on the superintendent,”  he said. “Teachers are ready—they are chomping at the bit.”

“A lot of people do not trust the promises made by the governor.”

Teachers have complained of low pay and poor treatment by politicians for years, breeding a high level of distrust when it comes to any new promises. In West Virginia, teachers expressed skepticism on Tuesday right up until the legislature voted to approve a pay hike bill and the governor signed it.

Nevertheless, American teachers are benefiting from a tailwind these days thanks to a tightening private-sector labor market, which brings stronger state revenue as well as alternative job opportunities, said Heidi Shierholz, who served as chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor during the Obama administration. “The argument that the money just isn’t there, that it’s ‘blood from a stone,’ rings a lot more hollow at a time like this,” said Shierholz, who now directs policy for the Economic Policy Institute.

Hiking teacher pay may be necessary for states to stay competitive when it comes to retaining educators, said Chris Edwards, an economist at the Cato Institute. However, states that buckle to pressure from striking teachers could be hurt when the economy goes south, he added.

“If they do make big commitments, then a recession comes, then they get themselves into budget troubles,” said Edwards.

In West Virginia, the strike by thousands of school employees began Feb. 22 with the backing of the schools’ three unions, and then morphed into a rare “wildcat” walkout when teachers rejected an agreement between union leaders and the governor. Teachers said they were concerned the deal didn’t offer a concrete solution to the pressing issue of escalating health insurance premiums, and they lacked faith that the legislature would approve the 5 percent raises agreed to by Governor Jim Justice, a Republican.

“A lot of people do not trust the promises made by the governor,” striking teacher Kristina Gore said Thursday after West Virginia’s Republican-controlled Senate shunted the proposed pay raise to committee. On Saturday night, the Senate voted to approve raises of only 4 percent for the teachers, who have not had an across-the-board increase since 2014.

On Tuesday, legislative leaders and Justice announced the new deal to fund 5 percent raises. The package signed today includes a 16-month freeze on premium increases under the teachers’ health care plan, according to the state’s American Federation of Teachers local. Rather than counting on the additional revenue projected by the governor’s office, Senate Finance Chair Craig Blair said Tuesday morning that the chamber would make “very deep cuts” elsewhere in the budget to compensate for the raises.

“Teacher strikes have tended to breed more teacher strikes.”

Favorable economy notwithstanding, this year is shaping up to be a perilous one for the embattled U.S. labor movement, with the White House and Republican-controlled Congress hostile to unions and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected by summer that may slash their budgets by outlawing mandatory union fees in the public sector. Nevertheless, the West Virginia walkout has provided a beacon of sorts for activists who see it as the stirrings of grassroots organizing and defiance that they say the movement needs to survive. “Everybody I know is excited about this and what it shows is possible,” said former Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen, who now chairs Our Revolution, the advocacy group of Senator Bernie Sanders, Democrat of Vermont.

If strikes break out in other states such as Kentucky, where teachers are fighting lawmakers over pay and benefits, it wouldn’t be the first time. “Historically, public-sector strikes have tended to come in waves,” said Georgetown University historian Joseph McCartin. “Teacher strikes have tended to breed more teacher strikes.” From 1945 to 1950, there were around 60 work stoppages by teachers around the country, many mounted without official union backing or legal protection. At the time, said McCartin, schools were underfunded and classrooms increasingly crowded. Teachers felt left behind amid quickening private sector wage growth in a postwar economy.

Striking school workers inside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, on March 2.Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg

West Virginia’s example has “lit some fires” among teachers in Kentucky, said Jennifer Ward Bolander, a special education teacher there. “It’s definitely a subject of everyday water cooler conversation now,” she said. While she and other teachers are eager to avoid a strike, she said, there have been increasing rumblings about the possibility since West Virginia pulled it off.

Teachers in Oklahoma have now gone without raises for a decade. Average pay there is the lowest in the U.S., according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Jonathan Small, president of the conservative think tank Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said he expects the Republican-controlled legislature to approve a raise for educators. Small said he would support an increase of at least $5,000 a year for each teacher, at a cost of about $246 million, which could be paid for by spending down a surplus while increasing the state’s gross production tax on oil and natural gas.

Many Oklahoma teachers aren’t willing to wait. “People are talking about ‘strike’ now out in the open, and that’s been a change,” said John Waldron, a teacher and a member of the union’s legislative committee. “The groundswell right now is pretty loud.” Union leaders are hearing regularly from members who want to go on strike, and that pressure has helped force the leadership’s hand, said Waldron, a Democratic candidate for the state legislature.

In a statement, Oklahoma state Senator Greg Treat, the Republican majority floor leader, said “teachers deserve a pay raise” and that lawmakers have “repeatedly, in a bipartisan manner, passed revenue plans to fund teacher pay.” He argued that Democrats have obstructed such efforts. Minority Leader Steve Kouplen rejected the claim, blaming Republicans for driving the state into insolvency with tax cuts that don’t allow for a fully funded public sector.

The threat of a wildcat strike in Oklahoma has even split the labor movement there. Priest, the Oklahoma union president, argued that the vast majority of teachers “are on the same page” about strategy, notwithstanding a few groups “that don’t have all of the information.” Before shutting down schools, she said, the union will push for local school board resolutions endorsing school funding hikes and expressing support for teachers in the event of a shutdown. “We have an opportunity to stand together in a unified voice,” she said, “and we need to do so.”

Walk out!

Teacher Pay

Here we go! as last posted here Labor lessons from former coal country

We are now in the midst of a genuine walk out.  Best of luck educators throughout West Virginia!

This is a pre-K through college fight and we need to have each other’s backs–adjuncts, Pre-K teachers, K-12, and the post-secondary tenured, together, are a mighty, mighty force in this country. Let’s have some solidarity.

 

From Dissent.com  (Full article here)

“When Logan County special education teacher Leah Clay Stone entered the West Virginia capitol building on February 2, she saw a sea of teachers from the chamber doors of the Senate and House all the way back to the rotunda. Her county was part of the first work stoppage this month that saw public school teachers flock to the capitol building in Charleston to protest continued low wages, spiking insurance premiums, and poor working conditions.

The teachers flooding the galleries that day came from schools in just three counties. But since February 2 the rebellion has spread. Today marks the second day of a statewide work stoppage, with schools closed in all fifty-five counties. The teachers—who don’t even have legal collective bargaining—wear red T-shirts with the outline of West Virginia and the word UNITED emblazoned across them, a visual that calls to mind not only the Chicago teachers’ strike of 2012 but also the Wisconsin capitol occupation in 2011, against Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislature’s move to take away collective bargaining rights from the state’s public employees. Now West Virginia public employees are showing that even without collective bargaining rights, they too can make a heck of a lot of noise.

On Thursday morning, thousands of teachers headed to the capitol, carpooling because the walkout included bus drivers. Others stayed close to home to make sure they had a presence in their schools, where they were met with support from students and parents. That support has been building over recent weeks: Ashlea Bassham’s ninth- and tenth-grade students and others had already held their own walkout in Logan County, wielding signs that read “I’m in the bleachers for my teachers.” Parents have held informational pickets and walk-ins, standing outside schools in the cold and the snow to support the teachers. The movement has spread from county to county, neighbor to neighbor, as teachers who live in one county and work in another talk to friends at home and on the job. “It literally was like a fire just catching and going,” says Stone, who is the local vice-president for the Logan County Education Association, one of the two associations in the state.

At the beginning of the legislative session, the executive committee of the association called an emergency meeting to discuss changes to their insurance plan and other bills being introduced in the legislature. The teachers called for a vote to walk out. “I don’t think there was anybody still seated. It was a resounding yes,” Stone said. She then put her production-management background to use pulling together a voting process, getting representatives from every school to collect ballots. “We managed to get ballots into every school and all three bus garages and had them back into my hands and counted in twenty-four hours,” she said. “I literally was creating a ballot as I was walking out the door of the building. I was like ‘somebody else needs to drive, I need to take care of this.’”

The teachers were trying to avoid the district getting an injunction to halt their action, but instead the superintendent closed the schools, a pattern that would repeat itself in every county across the state as teachers stood up to join the statewide day of action. A movement organized by teachers on the ground was able to spread in part through existing networks, in part through social media. “A lot of people blame Facebook for all the bad things in 2016 with the election, but it has actually been really helpful here because West Virginia is so rural and spread out,” said Jay O’Neal, who teaches in Charleston.

Like other teachers who have resorted to stopping work in recent years, the West Virginia teachers have emphasized that their goal is to make education better for every child in West Virginia. “Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions” has become the byword in these campaigns. The West Virginia teachers have demonstrated this commitment not only with their demands—for filling teacher vacancies, for smaller class sizes—but with immediate action. “As soon as we called the work stoppage for Thursday and Friday our locals took it upon themselves to start working with churches and food banks and different places to provide day care for the parents who needed it, to provide meals for the many students who get their hot meals at school,” said Dale Lee of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA).

The legislature and the board of the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) have begun to make some noises about conceding some to the teachers’ demands, but nothing is concrete and the work stoppage is set to continue at least through Monday.

 

The teachers began to notice trouble in January, right at the beginning of the legislative session. In that first session, Bassham noted, there were over thirty bills introduced that seemed ominous. When it comes to salaries, West Virginia teachers are already some of the worst off in the country—forty-eighth, according to Lee—and their health-insurance premiums had increased so much over the last year that it amounted to a pay cut. “I keep seeing this number thrown around—$45K is the average teacher salary. I’ve been teaching for seven years and I am nowhere near that,” Stone said. O’Neal added, “I moved here in 2015 and my second year teaching, I made less than my first.”

That pay cut came from a change to how PEIA insurance was calculated—it shifted from being based on the individual teacher’s income to total family income. That could effectively double the already-high premiums for insurance that used to be seen as a counterbalance to low wages. On top of that, the teachers would be penalized if they did not participate in a wellness program.

Those issues already left teachers feeling undervalued and disrespected. And that came on top of legislators proposing bills that threatened public education—such as introducing charter schools, “education savings accounts” (giving parents public funds to spend on educating their children, or a “backdoor voucher” in Lee’s words), so-called “paycheck protection,” which restricts the ability for automatic deduction of union dues, and other attacks on the already deeply restricted unions. Anger at the anti-union proposals opened the door to bring up other issues that had been frustrating teachers for much longer, like sky-high class sizes in secondary schools and a lack of electives for students.

Despite it all, Lee noted, “We have great schools. We’re right at 90 percent graduation rate, and for a rural state that is exceptional.” To him, legislators’ complaints about spending are disingenuous—the state is paying for past underfunding of retirement benefits and counting those dollars as education spending. Because West Virginia’s population is quite spread out, that also means that transporting students costs more than it would in more densely populated states—more dollars that aren’t going to the classroom but are still necessary to spend.

Meanwhile the state has a shortage of certified teachers because it’s hard to convince people to enter a job when starting salaries for people with advanced degrees are still in the $30–35,000 range. “You’re sold the idea of, hey, go to college, get a degree, get an advanced degree, and then you still really can’t make ends meet,” Bassham said. “Obviously we do it because we like the kids, but I also like to be able to pay my bills and not have $8 to last me six days until payday.”

 

Leah Clay Stone is a second-generation member of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA)—she and her walked picket lines with her mother during a 1990 teacher strike. Her father was a coal miner through the 1980s. West Virginia is a state with a proud labor history that gets lost in the “Trump Country” profiles. Many of the teachers in today’s fight have personal experiences like Stone’s. It was not lost on anyone I spoke with that the first teachers to stop work were from coal country, from Mingo and Logan Counties, the sites of the great mine wars.

Stone also recalls, as a teenager, going to party with friends on top of the infamous Blair Mountain, the site of what historian Elizabeth Catte, in her new book What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, calls “the largest show of armed resistance in the United States since the Civil War—and the most significant labor uprising in the United States.” Immortalized in part in the 1987 movie Matewan and in memorable labor ballads, the Battle of Blair Mountain pitted workers and their allies—like venerable labor agitator Mary Harris “Mother” Jones—against a “private army” that would later be praised by the National Rifle Association (yes, the same one that currently wants to arm teachers against school shooters). It is a stark reminder that West Virginians died to organize the unions that the state’s officials are currently bad-mouthing in the press.

Today’s action is the first statewide walkout of teachers in almost thirty years. “If you look at what teachers and their allies are posting on social media, you can see that they are connecting the upcoming action to the state’s important history of labor uprising, from Blair Mountain to Widen.” Elizabeth Catte told me via email. She pointed to a tweet from Richard Ojeda, a candidate for Congress from the state, who posted a photograph of himself in a red bandanna with the caption, “The term redneck started when WV coal miners tied red bandanas around their necks during the bloody battle of Blair mountain to unionize. Today, our teachers channeled their history. #UnionStrong”

“It’s rather impressive to me that people don’t have the knowledge of what it means to be union proud. Or what it means to be involved in an organization,” Stone, who recalled doing a school project on Mother Jones, said. “For the past few years we’ve struggled to keep membership even in our organization. But in this moment and this movement people have been finding out that they are the movement. If they want something done they have to speak up.”

These days, of course, the labor movement is a shadow of its former self in terms of both militancy and membership. With collective bargaining banned for West Virginia teachers and public-sector workers, unions are voluntary associations—meaning that teachers at any given school might be members of the WVEA or the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia (AFT-WV), or neither. Without collective bargaining, the WVEA’s Dale Lee explained, mostly the associations fight to get work issues that unions might bargain over—like duty-free lunches and planning periods—written into state law.

There is a separate association for school service personnel, the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, who have also backed the job action—cooks, custodians, maintenance workers, and bus drivers. Beyond that, Bassham told me, they are standing for all public employees who are struggling. “It’s not just a teacher issue, it’s not just a school issue, it’s our state not wanting to take care of the people who are trying to make our state a better place.”

Their message is a reminder that despite pollsters’ tendency to make a college degree the dividing line between “working” and “middle” class, the categories are often not so clear cut. The reality is that college-educated workers too have to fight for decent wages and benefits. That the teachers all cite Blair Mountain’s miners as inspiration is an act of class solidarity and a reminder that the so-called knowledge economy we have been told to prize over manual labor doesn’t come with a guarantee of good pay any more than coal mining did.

West Virginia’s government has long been dominated by coal and other extractive industries. In fact its sitting governor, Jim Justice, is a second-generation coal tycoon and a billionaire who owes his own state millions in back taxes. But Jay O’Neal is heartened that teachers and their supporters—including the mine workers’ union—are now calling for raising taxes on those extractive companies in order to fund education. In a literal sense, the teachers are fighting the same companies that the coal miners were, decades ago.

 

On Thursday teachers from all three education workers’ associations took to the streets and the capitol halls, dressed in red, bearing handmade signs, some of them wearing those red bandannas. They waved to passing drivers and marched with other unionists. Schools throughout the state remained shuttered Friday, and at an afternoon press conference, union representatives said they were prepared to continue the walkout until the state commits to address their demands: higher pay, fully funded insurance benefits, and rejection of the regressive bills.

Teachers had already driven to the capitol on snow days, on treacherous mountain roads. “Our colleagues in the northern panhandle and the eastern panhandle have to come so much further,” Bassham said. “They drove on some crazy mountain roads to holler at legislators, and it was fabulous.”

Those legislators are slowly beginning to take action, Stone said, though there is also “quite a bit of grandstanding. . . . They want you to think that they’re doing everything they can for you but their voting record doesn’t show that.”

Public-employee strikes in West Virginia, as state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has stated, are illegal. And yet the teachers have gone out anyway, taking the risk because it can’t get much worse for them. With the Janus case looming before the Supreme Court, potentially decimating every public-sector union in the nation, and right-wing governors looking for additional ways to punish unions, the West Virginia teachers’ situation is a bellwether.

These teachers recall that there were no laws protecting the mine workers in the 1920s either. Stone said, “West Virginians have a long background of doing what’s expected until it gets to be too much, and then we make sure we do what’s right, and we really want our legislators to do what’s right instead of what’s expected.”

Mother Jones would be proud.”

 

Hell yes she would.

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Labor lessons from former coal country

Some Motivation from West Virginia. The battle hardened state has a long history of labor struggle. This bit comes from Krystal Ball at the TheHill.com All eyes on

Could this be the moment the labor movement has been waiting for?

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Link Here

It’s been a rough couple of decades for the national labor movement. Unions have been subjected to a full blown assault by the GOP, eroded by new work arrangements and all but abandoned by Democrats. Major newspapers no longer employ labor reporters, 28 states have undermined unions with so-called right-to-work laws, the Trump administration has decimated the National Labor Relations Board, and every year brings another grim statistic about how union membership has fallen.

With this set of facts piling up, plenty of people have decided unions are now irrelevant and left the movement for dead. Turns out, though, that West Virginia didn’t get the memo.

Teachers, school service personnel and other public employees in the Mountain State are on the verge of a historic statewide walkout over pay that’s near the worst in the country. Over the past few weeks, these workers have staged local walkouts, flooded town halls, and descended by the thousands on the state capital in Charleston. Today, teachers will walk out of schools in at least three more counties, and on Saturday they’ll rally in a massive protest at the Capitol building in what is expected to be their largest action to date.

 

With no sign that the Republican-dominated legislature is going to accede to the teachers’ demands for a decent wage, the only avenue left is a coordinated statewide walkout. According to Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union: “Unless things change, we’re headed toward a work action.”

It’s hard to overstate just what a dramatic scene this will be. When thousands of teachers walk out of West Virginia schools, they’ll be bucking a national trend in a big way. Last year was the second lowest year ever recorded for large-scale strikes. In the entire country for the entire year, there were only 7 strikes involving more than 1,000 workers.

If you’re surprised to see a resurgence in progressive radical action coming from West Virginia, then it’s time you toss out your old stereotypes of West Virginians as an endlessly trod-upon people who don’t understand their own self-interest and reflexively back Republicans. You may also want to revisit your history.

West Virginia was a cradle of militant unionism and the site of some of the most storied, important battles between labor and management. In fact, if you’ve ever called someone a “redneck” or been called one yourself, you can trace that proud pejorative back to one of the bloodiest battles between labor and management to occur in our nation’s history. In the Battle of Blair Mountain, miners literally fought against management and government for their right to organize and to earn cash instead of scrip and to shop outside of company stores. In order to easily identify their brothers in arms, the miners wrapped red bandanas around their necks.

You might also be surprised to learn that those rednecks were composed of whites, black migrants from the South and new European immigrants. They spoke different languages, came from different cultures, but their red bandanas stood as a sign of cross-racial, working-class solidarity.

In other words, West Virginia may be the perfect place for workers to once again disregard the rules meant to keep them in their place. The perfect place for workers to demand more from a system that has been systematically rigged to deliver for business and the politically connected at the expense of working people in every community. The perfect place to lead a vanguard of progressive activism that just might be the jolt the entire national labor movement needs.

These modern-day rednecks are ready to fight.

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Krystal Ball is president of The People’s House Project, which recruits Democratic candidates in Republican-held congressional districts of the Midwest and Appalachia. A former candidate for Congress in Virginia and host on MSNBC’s “The Cycle,” she is a video host for the soon-to-be-launched Hill.TV project. Follow her on Twitter @krystalball.

I come from a “shit-hole”

Another powerful post. This time from yet another “shit hole” country.

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Koyote the Blind

I am not an American.

I was born in the continent known as “America”, yes. But somehow this United States has given itself the name of the entire continent.

Ronald Reagan demoted the rest of this magnificent continent to the mere “Backyard of America.”

That’s when I came here, to the “land of the free,” when Ronald Reagan sent billions of dollars to military dictators so they could use the money to rape, torture, and massacre my people. I didn’t want to come here. Oh, how I hated coming to this land so full of restrictions, prohibitions, and people kept so ignorant of their own history!

Once I came here, almost no one I met knew where my country was. They all assumed I was Mexican. Except for Mexicans. They knew where I was from, and knew they couldn’t trust me because if was from where I was, I had…

View original post 455 more words

Notes about a “Shithole” country.

WASHINGTON — Once again, Haiti, a country with deep historical ties to the United States, is in the news. Once again, a negative narrative permeates the public dialogue and Haitian people are compelled to defend our humanity. Once again, the circumstances require us to wage a battle on two fronts: tackling the physical rebuilding of our nation so that future generations can prosper, while simultaneously combating prejudice and stigma that risk being, over time, institutionalized in the American consciousness.

Over the Christmas weekend, Haiti found itself the subject in a public spat between two major American institutions, the White House and The New York Times, over some comments the president allegedly made regarding Haitians and the AIDS epidemic.

While the controversy, fortunately, has receded from the headlines, it brought back painful memories for Haitians of a sad chapter in the United States’ public health policy. In the 1980s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued official warnings that simply being Haitian made a person more likely to contract HIV. The C.D.C. eventually — and rightly — dropped the unsubstantiated claim.

The reports of the president’s supposed comments — and the ensuing discussion of them — fit into a broader, troubling continuation of a narrative that is far too common in the United States, one that stigmatizes Haiti and Haitians as nothing more than the sum of natural disasters and instability, a country rampant with death and disease. In many American eyes, Haiti is in perpetual need of charity. This attitude provokes “compassion fatigue” — or worse yet, disdain.

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It is long past time for such thinking to end. Influential American news outlets and political leaders should lead the way by resisting the reflexive tendency to paint Haiti and its people, whether living at home or abroad, with broad-brushed narratives that lack historical context and oversimplify complex socio-economic realities.

Haiti has been a vibrant, steadfast hemispheric partner since its birth. Hundreds of Haitian soldiers fought in the Siege of Savannah alongside American troops to battle British imperialists in the Revolutionary War. Sparked by this nation’s commitment to independence and freedom, Haiti soon followed with its own revolution, throwing off the shackles of slavery and colonialism. Thus, Haiti and the United States represent two of the oldest republics in the hemisphere, bound by dignity and a pursuit of freedom for our peoples.

The Haitian-American population has made significant contributions to American culture and the United States’ economy. Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a Haitian man, founded the city of Chicago in the 18th century. W.E.B. Du Bois, a leader in the American civil rights movement and a man of Haitian heritage, played a key role in creating the intellectual framework for equality for African-Americans.

Today, Haitian-Americans serve in the United States armed forces, and they represent their communities in state houses and on City Councils around the country. They are prominent scientists and engineers; they are taxi drivers, doctors, nurses and professional athletes. They are public-school teachers and university professors.

As Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, I have witnessed firsthand the Haitian people’s dignity, perseverance and resourcefulness. I have seen my people’s commitment to rebuilding communities and restoring homes after hurricanes. I have seen how young entrepreneurs in Haiti are now making exquisite chocolates to export to the United States. I have seen how engineering students in Haiti are now using technology to work remotely with Haitian-American engineers on disaster prevention.

These are examples of the countless positive initiatives underway in Haiti, with the support of the diaspora. Yet these attributes seem to be chronically lost in wider conversations about the Haitian people.

The recent controversy over President Trump’s alleged remarks have resurrected painful memories for Haitians. But it is a reminder of the urgent need to change the way our country is discussed in the United States. The narrative about Haiti should reflect our government’s development priorities.

We want our country to create wealth and prosperity for its citizens, not be viewed just as a recipient of humanitarian aid. Rather than American businesses donating excess inventory to our country, we are hoping they will invest in our country. Rather than students spending a week of spring break doing volunteer work, we want them to study abroad for a semester at one of our universities. Rather than writing a check to a charitable organization like the Red Cross, take a vacation on our beaches.

Given our two countries’ long intertwined history, it is time to we get to know each other on a level of mutual respect and understanding.

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These pictures are mine, taken just a few weeks ago. Do you have a story about Haiti? Do you need to vent some political rage about this situation? Drop a line.

 

comments welcome.