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For centuries, those who aspired to power or held power have employed the political, military and economic strategy of “divide and conquer.” This consists of breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that alone have less power than the individual using the strategy, while preventing smaller groups of power from aligning.

Nobody can accuse Republicans of reinventing the wheel. This method of gaining and maintaining power is not new, but its effectiveness is proven. Today, it is being used to take hardworking men and women, whose interests lie in one another’s success, and turn them against each other. This is illustrated most strikingly in the war being waged across the country against teachers. As a result, we have blue-collar workers, as well as parents who don’t have the resources to send their children to parochial schools, cheering the ongoing attacks on our institutions of public education and the teachers who are expected to impart knowledge and wisdom to our sons and daughters.

Teachers have taken their lumps over the past decade. They have seen reduced salaries and increased health costs while state aid to public education has been raided time and again by greedy Republican politicians in Lansing. As a result, teachers dip into their own pockets to provide such necessities as pencils and toilet paper. Additionally, class sizes have expanded and the general environment in school buildings has not been conducive to learning.

Not every teacher is great; the same goes in every profession. However, fully blaming them for everything – low test scores, bad student behavior, budget deficits, students performing beneath grade-level standards – is wrong. First, it is a cop-out at a time when parental involvement is needed more than ever and, increasingly, schools are merely used as daycare services instead of institutions of knowledge. Second, this is exactly the type of reaction from people that the wealthy, corporate elite hopes for and encourages.

The conditions have been particularly ripe for this type of discontent among those who should be buttressing one another’s efforts. In economic conditions where many people are unemployed, underemployed, or lack job stability, it is easier to lash out at someone perceived as not struggling quite so hard at that moment. Each division amongst people like us, however, is just another fault line exploited by the elites.  

The narrative being pushed today, evidenced by such things as the comments section of news articles published about teachers to Republican politicians’ talking points, is that teachers are lazy, spoiled and are to blame for everything that ails our public education system. We are told that their “way of life” – Cadillac benefit plans, exorbitant salaries and months of time off – are unsustainable. Despite the fact that these things do not exist, it begs the question: Why are positive contributors to society, like teachers, and regular Michigan citizens, like the poor, the elderly and college students, never a priority? Why are their needs never sustainable, but a nearly $2 billion shift in the tax burden away from large corporations and onto the backs of hardworking Michiganders is?

The answer lies in the overall strategy put forth by the elites. If working men and women are busy being angry at the teacher who lives down the street, the union member who they see at the grocery store or the public employee who services them at state agencies, then they do not have time to focus on the real reasons for our economic misery: Wall Street banks and Republican politicians.

Our children are falling behind our global rivals in receiving a quality education; our taxes keep going up; the cost of living continues to rise; and families are losing their homes. Meanwhile, investors are making record profits; banks refuse to lend to consumers; and the wealthiest individuals continue to receive tax cuts. Some would have us believe we should blame each other. I hope we will instead work together, force the government to represent our interests instead of those of their corporate backers, and send a message that the people of this state and nation still value a strong middle class, good paying jobs and an equitable society that all citizens can participate in.

Senator Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) is serving his first term in the Michigan Senate. He represents the 2nd District, which includes northeast Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Harper Woods and all five Grosse Pointe Communities. Stay in touch with him at www.Facebook.com/SenBertJohnson or www.Twitter.com/SenBertJohnson.

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