In my experience, Joe Seeman is the most dedicated person on behalf of social justice that I know. If there is a petition to circulate, a meeting to go to, a picket line to walk on, or a demonstration to protest, Joe is there.
For all my respect to Joe, I now find myself in serious disagreement with him.
Saratoga Progressives Action(SPA) is effectively led by Joe and Ellen Egger-Aimone. I use the word “effectively” because of the loose structure of SPA. They maintain what is termed a listserv (Google Group). Members post messages and Seeman and Egger-Aimone moderate. As moderators they are able to control which emails are allowed to reach the members.
I am on this list and on April 26 I received an email from Ms. Egger-Aimone. Referring to the current races for the Saratoga Springs School Board, she wrote, “They have become a focal point and somewhat of a referendum (my emphasis) this year.” In light of the fact that she and several of the people she supports later attack the group supported by Saratoga Parents For Safer Schools as being single issue candidates, I expect the irony will not be lost on my readers.
The email goes on with the following:
“We are in the midst of canvassing. We all know that the best way to get votes is to walk and talk to voters. The 3 candidates that we are encouraging you to support are:
John Brueggemann for Saratoga Board of Education
Natalya Lakhtakia for School Board
Re-Elect Heather Reynolds for Board of Education
A casual reader may be forgiven if they assumed, as I did, that Saratoga Progressive Action had endorsed these candidates. According to Joe Seeman, however, SPA does not endorse candidates. This policy does not seem to have prevented them from using the list to organize on behalf of these three candidates.
So I wrote to Joe asking whether all the candidates had been invited to the meeting at which the decision “to support” particular candidates (as compared to “endorsing” them) occurred.
He responded that SPA had a meeting in March. He alleged that it had been “widely publicized, invited our members & any candidates.” Oddly only three candidates, who share similar platforms,attended (Brueggemann/Lakhtakia/Reynolds). According to Joe, “the consensus of everyone at the meetings” was to support them. He finished by informing me that he would be going door to door for them and ends with the blistering “…and keep our School Board from being taken over by Big Money reactionary interests.” This seemed like not too subtle a reference to the other candidates in the race.
I then contacted several of the candidates who had not attended and asked if they had received an invitation. They had not.
So I wrote back to Joe advising him that the candidates had not received an invitation.
“I explained in my previous email, we widely publicized the meeting which invited candidates (my emphasis) to tell us about their campaigns.”
So this shows just how impoverished my understanding of social media is. I always thought that when you invited someone that you actually contacted them personally. I never thought to invite individuals by publicizing it on the web.
It is important to note that Saratoga Unites, another progressive group, organized a forum for the candidates for the School Board at which most of the candidates attended and those that did not sent comments. In the case of the Saratoga Unites Forum they chose the traditional method for invitation (they contacted the candidates individually) which explains the higher participation of the candidates..
Still even the word publicized seems an exaggeration on closer inspection. As neither Jane nor I could recall getting an email from Joe’s group (let alone multiple emails as he alleges) announcing a meeting where School Board races would be discussed., we did a random survey of a number of other people we know who are on the list and like us, they were sure they had not received an email advising them about a such a meeting .
Eventually I did find an email from the listserv. I am attaching the full email to the bottom of this post but the title of the email was:
“Public Invited to ‘Tell us about your campaign!’ Saratoga Pizza & Progressive Meeting.”
It goes on to say that they will be meeting “to hear about local progressive campaigns.”
Later in the email it has a heading “Some campaigns, issues, & projects we may (my emphasis) hear from:
What follows is a laundry list the third item of which is “School Board election coming in May.”
Now, dear reader, I think many of us can be forgiven for missing this “invitation.”
Some may attack me for being excessively cynical but it is apparent that this was entirely set up to support the candidates that the leadership of this group wanted to support. It simply begs credibility that somehow the three candidates advocating the disarming of monitors were able to find the “invitation” and discerned that they were being invited while most of the rest of us missed that a decision on who this group would work for would be decided at the meeting.
I find this all quite sad and disturbing. The people who did this would be the first ones to be absolutely and appropriately outraged if any other group acted this way.
So I wrote to the listserv a letter that while strong, I thought was restrained considering what had occurred. I have every confidence that there were many people on this listserv who would share my indignation were they to be alerted as to what had transpired but, as will become clear, my email was blocked from being disseminated.
I wrote the following:
My friend and comrade, Joe Seeman’s post to the list regarding his plans to canvas for Saratoga School Board candidates Brueggemann/Reynolds/Lakhtakia is emblematic of the sad state of a significant element of what appears to be the local left.
It is disturbingly disingenuous to pretend that the “Progressives” broadly solicited candidates running for school board to attend their March meeting. For Joe or anyone to suggest that they seriously thought that the other four candidates were aware of the meeting would add to my profound disappointment with this group.
The pretense that this was an open process can only be described as a grotesque caricature of the kind of charade put on every four years by the major parties to anoint their presidential candidate. The only thing lacking was balloons.
Worse, I find it very distressing that someone like Joe Seeman would use such hyperbole and sensationalism in asserting that our local school board is threatened by the danger of “being taken over by Big Money reactionary interests.”
These kinds of reckless accusations are so representative of the worst of our times. It is demagoguery to be playing on the prejudices of the left regarding dark money. The group he is referencing is called Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools with no pecuniary interests in the outcome of the school board elections. It obviously portrays the candidates associated with SPSS as far rightist attempting to somehow subvert our schools. It is unfortunate that Joe is unable to distinguish local people who feel passionately about this race from the kind of players like the Koch brothers or the John Birch Society.
In fact this “Progressive” group’s support of Dr. Brueggemann and Dr. Reynolds is appropriate because these candidates indulge in similar demagoguery.
The fact that Joe feels free to make this kind of statement is symptomatic of how insular the Progressive list has become and how little interest there apparently is in engaging with voices that do not echo back their orthodoxy.
In the opponents of Brueggemann/Reynolds/Lakhtakia they have created straw men who are cheap targets easily exploited. Rather than the thoughtful people they actually are, they are portrayed as the boogey men of the NRA.
This kind of behavior on the part of the “Progressive” leadership is in so many ways a mirror image of the Trump people who they see as blind ideologues. In fact, if they would actually be willing to talk and maybe listen to the other candidates they might find out that these others are thoughtful people who care about education. Instead, like the Trump people they don’t need to engage since they have already judged and condemned anyone outside the “tribe.”
Consider Connie Woytowich.
Connie Woytowich is a candidate for the school board, she was originally endorsed by the Saratoga Parents for Safe Schools and she is not a member of the NRA.
She is a NYS Master Teacher, a selective designation made by the State University of New York for teachers of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
She teaches biology, chemistry, and a college level course called Personal Genetics at her alma mater, Colonie Central High School. During her long career she taught at Albany High School and Corinth giving her urban, rural and suburban teaching experience.
She also is the Co-Director of Camp Invention in Saratoga, which is a nationally acclaimed one-week summer program led by local teachers where children become innovators through teamwork and immersive, hands-on creative problem-solving.
While serving as the president of the Division School PTA it became recognized a National PTA School of Excellence.
Just as an example of how she helped achieve this recognition her group set a goal of purchasing a learning tool called an “Earth Balloon.” Six months after taking on the presidency, she chaired a gala to raise the $25,000.00 needed to obtain the balloon. They were able to purchase it and make it available to other schools. Previously renting the balloon had cost $7,000.00.
She has never indulged in any name calling and has scrupulously dealt with the other candidates with respect and courtesy.
One thing she is not is a reactionary.
What is most disheartening, Joe, is that your campaign confuses the valid and important issue of gun control with the complex questions about how to properly protect our schools. Meg Kelly led the successful effort to end the gun show at the City Centre. She also supports Connie Woytowich. Life is more complicated.
The Left that I was proud of was committed to educating people regarding issues to create a better world. My old comrades would never perpetuate false myths to further short term goals. Oh, how times have changed.
Joe responded as follows:
Notice of our March Saratoga Progressive Action meeting was sent to this
email list with hundreds of subscribers numerous times, also sent to the Saratoga Democrats & other lists. It was posted on our facebook group & numerous other progressive pages. It reached thousands of local progressives.
All candidates were invited.
John, your claim that our meeting or process wasn’t open is totally baseless.
“Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools” has raised over $30,000 for a school board race where candidates in the past have spent under $500. They spent $9,000 on a Trump/Putin/Republican reactionary consulting firm “Go Right Strategies” which is tied to Republicans like Dana Rohrabacher (whom another Repub says is paid by Putin) & Ted Cruz. “Go Right Strategies” auctioned off an aR-15 assault weapon for another Republican campaign. This is the same weapon used in mass shootings in Aurora, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Parkland, Pittsburgh and yesterday in Poway.
“Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools” deletes any comments on their facebook page that differ from their more-guns party line. They are supported by Republicans and work hand-in-hand with Republican propaganda outlets like Am radio station 1300.
This is indeed an attempt by reactionary big-money Trump-Republicans to take over the Saratoga Springs School Board.
John, if you want to support Trump-Republican reactionaries, and bash our Saratoga Progressive Action group with bullshit accusations, go ahead, but not on our Saratoga Progressive list. [JK: My emphasis]
Now I will concede that my email was extremely strong but I submit it was within the bounds of civility. Readers of my blog will know that I publish similarly spirited criticisms directed to me. I am, in fact, as this post demonstrated, publishing Joe’s email which sharply takes me to task.
I responded to his email asking for copies of the emails publicizing the meeting to the candidates and the members of the list. I wanted to be sure I had not missed anything. He wrote back informing me that because I had attacked him he saw no reason to provide me with the documents. There are ethical responsibilities to moderating a list. The moderator has access to the archives of all emails. While it is humanly understandable that he would refuse, it violates his duties as a moderator. It also leaves unresolved whether he sent out multiple emails advising the members of the listserv about the purpose of the March meeting.
I then received an email from Ellen Eigger-Aimonee, the other moderator that went out to the list informing the subscribers of the listserv that if anyone violated the rules of the list which included no personal attacks, they would be banned from the list. (See full text of her email at the end of this post). The timing of her email strongly suggests that the threat was prompted by my email and any repeat will result in my being banned.
What I find most troubling is that not only was the decision on supporting candidates utterly opaque and undemocratic but that Joe’s reckless characterization of the other candidates running for school board as ultra-right wingers was also so reckless and irresponsible. I cringe in writing such a harsh criticism of Joe but I do not know how else to describe it. It is the logical result of being unwilling to engage fairly with others.
As a person who considers himself of the left, I find all of this terribly depressing. I know Joe Seeman to be a kind and caring person. It is indeed sad to find him infected by the tribal prejudices that make the social change he seeks all the more elusive.
Here are the two emails referenced above.
From: Ellen Egger-Aimone <email@example.com>
Date: April 30, 2019 at 6:20:10 PM EDT
To: Saratoga Progressive Action <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Appropriate Discussions
This email forum is for announcements of events and civil discussion of topics. It is not a place for personal attacks on any other people. In the future if Joe or I feel that a member is making personal attacks against someone else we will remove them from the group. Please keep all your discussions civil and respectful. There is too much disrespectful discourse happening in social media. This group will not allow this.
Date: March 14, 2019 at 2:19:15 PM EDT
To: Saratoga Progressives <email@example.com>
Subject: Sunday: “Tell us about your campaign!” Saratoga Pizza & Progressive Politics meeting,showing “Line in the Street” gerrymandering documentary
Please join us Sunday, starting 2pm, in the Susman room of the Saratoga Springs Public Library, 49 Henry St. We will have Pizza & snacks, hear from local progressive campaigns that need our help, & view “Line in the Street” a documentary on fighting gerrymandering.
Please RSVP & invite friends: https://www.facebook.com/events/357478854848229/ https://act.indivisible.org/event/local-actions/137511
2 – 2:30pm: Pizza, soda, potluck (we’ll provide Pizza & Soda, bring a potluck snack if you like)
2:30 – 4pm: Local progressive candidates & issue campaign leaders are invited to talk about their campaigns.
4 – 4:30pm: Filmmaker Bob Millman will show “Line in the Street” a documentary about fighting
Please let us know if you have a campaign to tell us about! (My emphasis)
Advisory sent to the media below.
Hope to see you then!
March 17, 2019
Contact: Ellen Egger-Aimone 518-573-6122
Public Invited to “Tell us about your campaign!”
Saratoga Pizza & Progressive Politics meeting
Local campaigns to be discussed
followed by showing “Line In The Street” gerrymandering documentary
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY— On Sunday March 17, Saratoga Progressive Action & Saratoga Unites are co-sponsoring a meeting in the Susman room of the Saratoga Springs Public Library to hear about local progressive campaigns.
2 – 2:30pm: Pizza & soda and informal discussion.
2:30 – 4pm: Local progressive candidates & issue campaign leaders are invited to talk about their campaigns.
4 – 4:30pm: Filmmaker Bob Millman will show “Line in the Street” a documentary about fighting gerrymandering in Pennsylvania (http://lineinthestreet.com)
Some campaigns, issues & projects we may hear from: (My emphasis)
– Village elections this month
– Petitioning for upcoming elections happening now.
– School Board election coming up in May (My emphasis)
– Statewide issue campaigns while the legislature is in session, including NY Health Act, campaign/election reform.
– Action needed on issues such as climate change & immigration.
– April 15 “Tax Day” action calling on repeal of the Tax Scam
– April 6 Skidmore Sustainability Fair, also proposed street fair
WHAT: “Tell us about your campaign!” Saratoga Progressive Pizza/Politics meeting
WHO: Open to the public, co-sponsored by Saratoga Progressive Action & Saratoga Unites
WHERE: Saratoga Springs Public Library Susman Rm, 49 Henry St Saratoga Springs NY 12866
WHEN: Sunday March 17, 2pm
Public invited, asked to RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/357478854848229/ & https://act.indivisible.org/event/local-actions/137511