My first trip to Rep. Council
My First Trip to Rep. Council
I attended the May 16, 2012, SDEA Rep. Council meeting with Michelle Sanchez (current AR) and Emily Neidhart (next year’s AR) because I also plan to run for CR at my school and wanted to learn more about what my duties will be. It was my and Emily’s first time at Rep. Council and it was to be our introduction to how the meetings operate.
We had also brought flyers to pass out to teachers and parents that have talking points about the layoffs that people could use at School Board meetings. The flyers were written in both English and Spanish. We had heard repeatedly at SDEA membership meetings that sites should be organizing to fight the layoffs and we have taken this work seriously.
Our Frightening Experience with SDEA Board Members and Others Begins
I arrived and as I walked towards the front of the SDEA building I saw Emily and Michelle each drive into the parking lot separately. I decided to wait a moment for them so that we could all walk in together. As I waited, I saw two men (whom I do not know) who had been walking towards the front of the building notice me, stop walking and have a conversation as they repeatedly looked at me. I later found out that they were Manuel Gomez and Scott Mullin, both SDEA Board members.
As we headed for the auditorium, I heard Manuel Gomez ask Michelle for a flyer and turned to see him dramatically crumple it up, lunge towards the trash can and throw it away, and then lunge back at Michelle with an outreached hand and snarl, “Can I have another?! Can I have another?!” Michelle was stunned and stuttered, “Well that wasn’t very nice.” At this point he attempted to wrestle the flyers from Michelle’s hands and then mine, growling about how he wanted to throw them all away. The events that followed happened in a jumbled, rapid succession.
As I continued along the side of the building, I picked up an escort of Scott Mullin and later Manuel Gomez who took it upon themselves to yell, “Shame! Shame!” and several other things that I ignored as loud as they possibly could into my ears and occasionally attempted to pull the flyers from my hands. I smiled wondering if they knew that they were almost yelling my name, and handed flyers to the very perplexed people that I passed along the way. The looks on the vendors’ faces as we approached their tables were priceless.
When I reached the table where reps picked up their packets and stood next to it, I was boxed in and pinned against the table by Scott Mullin and Manuel Gomez and whoever was standing behind me. All I could see were two people standing extremely close and shouting in my face. Scott Mullin is taller than me and he blocked my view most of the time. A few times, I saw one of the Reps., Tommy Flanagan, circling around and yelling shame. Rep. Kandi Nieto appeared at one point and yelled at me again as she had done earlier when we first arrived. People continued taking turns trying to pull the flyers out of my hands.
As I attempted to pass out flyers to the Reps, Scott Mullin changed his approach and started pointing to the parking lot and shouting, “Get out of here! Go to the parking lot! Go to the parking lot!” Manuel Gomez copied him and started shouting the same thing. I shook my head and said no and looked for the next person to offer a flyer.
Mob Behavior at the SDEA Rep. Council
And this is when everything changed. Scott Mullin took a step forward and pushed into me with his chest as he yelled at me to go to the parking lot. His outreached arm with finger pointing to the parking lot loomed over my head as he physically tried to push me back. I had to catch my balance. He slammed into me two more times, each time yelling, “Go to the parking lot!” Go to the parking lot!” This time, I had to take a step back so that I didn’t fall over. Following Scott Mullin’s lead, Manuel Gomez stepped closer, too. Too close. I realized that the other people standing behind them who were also yelling seemed to be getting closer. I realized that I was at the center of an angry mob that had just escalated to violence. This was no longer a group of teachers. These, were bullies.
I found my voice and sputtered out something about how my dad had been in law enforcement and that I knew he couldn’t touch me. I got louder and yelled for him to stop touching me and that he was pushing me. He immediately stepped back and yelled, “Then why don’t you go call your law enforcement dad?!” Manuel Gomez chimed in, “Yeah! Go to the parking lot and call the police!” These men were clearly not in control of themselves.
I think it was at this point that several people rushed out from the auditorium to see what was going on. Scott Mullin and Manuel Gomez and others continued to harass me while I called out something about SDEA members trying to suppress free speech. I called out to the other Reps telling them that we were just trying to pass out a flyer with talking points that parents and community members could use with the School Board, and that we now had it translated into Spanish. One Rep loudly declared, “I believe in free speech! I want one of your flyers!” and she stepped between the angry men to take one from me. I have no idea who that woman is, but she was my hero.
SDEA’s President Bill Freeman’s Non-Response to Witnessing Mob Behavior
As the chaos calmed down and Scott Mullin and Manuel Gomez were pulled away from me, I could finally see past them and I realized that SDEA President Bill Freeman was standing about 5 feet away and had been watching. He was looking at me expressionlessly,with no concern on his face. Bill and I looked at each other for a few seconds and I realized that he had not intervened or tried to stop the mob that had just besieged me, and that he was not even going to ask me if I was okay. I am still shocked by this image.
Soon after, the walkway emptied and everyone went into the Rep Council session. Emily and I found Michelle, went inside, and sat together. There was no mention of what happened before the meeting by Bill at the podium. No discussion of inappropriate behavior. No public disavowal of the tactics just employed by Bill Freeman’s most vocal supporters against people perceived to be his enemies. Nothing but a reminder to respect each other’s opinions.
How I Felt After the Meeting
After the Rep Council meeting, the gravity and potential danger of what I had experienced began to sink in. I began to wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t mentioned law enforcement. How far would things have escalated? I had been surrounded by an angry mob of individuals that had lost control of themselves and were feeding off the hostility of each other. I had been surrounded by people that were literally shaking with rage and directing it at me. In retrospect, I was in a truly terrifying position. I had trouble sleeping.
I decided to file a police report about the incident. As I explained over the phone what had happened as I was transferred to different departments, I was repeatedly told that I should have called 911 immediately. I knew that at the time, but I didn’t want to derail the Rep Council meeting. I just wanted to be able to share a translated version of talking points for parents.
I woke up Friday morning and decided I couldn’t handle going to work. The stress, anxiety, lack of sleeping and eating had taken its toll. I again started thinking how scary the whole encounter had been. How a group of men had targeted and descended upon three women. How a group of men surrounded, verbally attacked, and then used physical force against a woman because she disagreed with them. I thought about how this mob of men committed these actions in broad daylight with witnesses all around and that they acted with impunity.
What Happens When You Voice a Dissenting Opinion at SDEA?
And that’s when it hit me. The only person dealing with the negative consequences of their actions was me. I realized that I was making excuses for people that I voted for. I realized that I was hoping they would “come to their senses” and that I was waiting for an apology. I realized that Bill Freeman’s most vocal supporters had mobbed me because of my association with someone that voiced a dissenting opinion and that Bill Freeman did and said nothing to rebuke the act. I wasn’t scared any more. I was furious. And I still am.
In a previous email I sent out in April to fellow staff members, I noted that during the first general membership meeting I attended at Lincoln HS, a fellow union member had told everyone that he wanted to “knock out” Executive Director Craig Leedham. I believe Tommy Flanagan’s exact words were, “Knock him on his ass.” And in that email I expressed my horror that I witnessed elected leadership nod in agreement and that no one said anything to admonish this open threat of violence. And now threats of violence have escalated to actual violence and there is still no official statement from SDEA to admonish this behavior. This is simply appalling.
Accountability is for All of Us
I believe in the goodness of people, especially teachers. I believe that no one is perfect and that we all make mistakes in our lives. I believe that the people that surrounded me that day are good people that were swept up in a mob mentality that resulted in those people temporarily behaving badly. And I really just want to believe that this behavior was a freak anomaly that has never happened before, and one that will never happen again. But as things presently stand almost a week after the Rep Council meeting, I have yet to hear from anyone involved in the incident or from any union leader about the incident that would reassure me that this was a regrettable, unacceptable anomaly. This is what has disappointed and hurt me the most. Maybe people feel too awkward to acknowledge what they did? I’m not sure. I am still hopeful that the people involved will take ownership of their actions and apologize so that we can move past this. To help address my concerns, I ask that the following actions occur:
I want a formal written apology from the SDEA Board for what I experienced at Rep Council and a message sent to all members that clearly states this type of behavior represents the exact opposite of everything SDEA stands for and will not be tolerated.
I want Scott Mullin and Manuel Gomez to apologize for their behavior and resign from the SDEA Board immediately.
I want Bill Freeman to explain his inaction when witnessing this violence. His inaction seems to condone this type of behavior and I would be greatly relieved to hear that he does not.
I want the people who are responsible for this horrible moment in SDEA history to take ownership of their actions and either apologize or be held accountable by their peers.
And most of all, I want the good-natured and hardworking members of SDEA to know that nothing like this will ever happen again, and that no one can bully us for voicing dissent.
Hopefully, we can transform this unacceptable incident into a teachable moment that enables all SDEA members to better participate in our union.
Together (even when we disagree) we are stronger!