by Dennis Green
In the very moment when it seems as though chaos and darkness has overruled your world, see if you can find the light within that darkness. What can you learn from it, what can you gain from this moment? It may seem like total failure, but it’s not. It’s meant to teach you the way out of darkness.
Sounds very Zen, I know, but it’s also what we make of politics. Someone has to win, and someone has to lose. Those who win have to temper their satisfaction, and those who lose have to temper their disappointment, turn it into something else, a profitable moment.
What can you learn from this defeat? Some will urge you to learn hatred and resentment of your opponents, but that’s not what the light will teach. At its best, it can teach you a touch of humility, and beyond that, how to question your own motives and methods in a way that gives you a chance for victory one day.
Shine the light. Wasn’t Measure E the epitome of unfairness? If it had been framed any differently, could it have won your opponents’ support, or at least not earned such vigorous opposition? Did it send to the community the most positive message it could? Or was it on the face of it self-serving?
You say you’re coming back again with another school parcel tax proposal in March 2011. So ask the light to open your eyes, just for a moment, and to close your mouth. Now listen, and look deeply into the matter. What does the heart of your opponent say? Is he simply obstreperous? Penurious? Wrong-headed? Or does he care as much as you do about the children and the schools, and simply disagree on the means to get there?
Can you design a parcel tax that’s at least fair? One that is not regressive for home owners, hitting that little cottage on the West End as hard as the McMansion in the Gold Coast? One that is not split-roll for commercial property owners, nor capped to shift the burden away from the shopping malls? If so, you will cut your opposition in half. If not, it may double.
Can your go any further to cut expenses? Can the administrators take a temporary pay cut? The teachers take a pay cut or at least forego their next scheduled salary increase? That would make a huge difference to the voters, softening the perception that no one at AUSD is willing to make a sacrifice during these tough economic times.
Can the district office cut expenses? Do you really need those $300/hr. political consultants and expensive outside attorneys? If you replace Measure H, a split-roll tax, with Measure F, a flat-rate tax, will the lawsuits against Measure H just go away?
Finally, can you promote the public schools of Alameda without making false claims? Can you admit, honestly, that much improvement in proficiency scores remains to be made? Can you admit that tenure and the seniority system might be protecting teachers who are not performing well enough to remain in the system, that rewarding the best teachers with extra pay might encourage them to continue meeting the mission by doing their very best?
Every disaster in life contains within it the seeds of our rebirth. Every failure and defeat can make us better, stronger human beings. After all, those who cannot learn from failure are doomed to repeat it. And that is all too often most certainly the American Way.
If you can admit that your past opponents are not the enemies of education, and the students, and the schools, then reach out with the hand of peace and reconciliation. Partner up with us and create together a vision of better, more successful schools in Alameda, in some ways that don’t depend on more and higher taxes alone, but also the creative spirit of the best that is within us all.
Do this and I will be your friend.