The Passion Deficit 

Last week, we dissertated briefly on what appears to be a worldwide revolution and speculated on how much of its liberating energy and particulars might filter down to our own modest realm. In the case of the Tennessee General Assembly, it would appear that very little of it will.

In Wisconsin, protesters in the thousands are still turning out to defend the collective bargaining rights of public school teachers in that state, and Democratic members of the Wisconsin state Senate remain outside the state boundaries, thereby avoiding a potential court-ordered return to their chamber that would provide a quorum for passage of the anti-union bill.

In Tennessee, a relatively modest contingent of some 200 protesters staged a rally in Nashville last week to protest legislation in the General Assembly that would abolish the existing right of teachers' organizations, upon majority vote of the organizations' members, to bargain with local school boards; end the practice of dues check-offs for such organizations; divest the Tennessee Education Association of its appointment rights to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System board; and prohibit campaign contributions by members of public-service unions — this last proviso occurring at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court has opened the gates wide for unlimited contributions by corporations.

Taken as a whole, this legislative package, which seems destined for sure passage in a legislature lopsidedly dominated by Republicans of the arch-conservative and Tea Party variety, would abrogate such minimal rights as are now possessed by teachers and other public employees. And they presage further restrictions on the state's working population at large. It is hard to tell whether self-deception or mockery was the primary component of an assertion by state senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), primary sponsor of the anti-union legislation, that he knew "in my heart" that the bills would give teachers more, not less, say in determining their own welfare. Right. And war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength, just as the great satirist George Orwell said they were in his immortal dystopian novel 1984. That ignorance is indeed strength in the current General Assembly can hardly be denied, however.

So what are legislators who oppose these Draconian measures doing about them? Well, they won't be emulating their absenting counterparts in Wisconsin. They've indicated they will stay on the job, voting no and taking their licking, though Tennessee law is identical to Wisconsin law in mandating a quorum of two-thirds present to constitute a quorum. And there are enough Democrats in both the Senate and the House, though just barely, to deny a quorum by their concerted absence.

And locally, the Shelby County Commission failed by a single vote this week to endorse a symbolic resolution by Commissioner Steve Mulroy to defend the threatened teachers' rights. What was it Yeats said about the best lacking all conviction, while the worst were full of passionate intensity? Oh well, another protest rally is scheduled for Nashville this week, and maybe, just maybe, it can ignite some passion, too.


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