Alexandra DeSanctis reported on Monday that the NEA has taken a more explicit abortion stance, now opposing “all attacks on the right to choose.” She’s right to note the absurdity of a teacher’s union having a position on abortion:
The statement . . . doesn’t even make an attempt to articulate why the NEA has a stake in the abortion debate at all. It merely takes for granted that, as an influential left-wing organization, the group must necessarily champion the entire progressive agenda. This is a growing tendency on the Left, as “intersectional” thinking takes hold — the idea that each interest group within the broader progressive movement has a responsibility to embrace and advocate the particular interests of the rest.
If the National Rifle Association were to suddenly issue a statement declaring its belief that life begins at conception, and every human being has the right to life, it would be a cause for confusion and surely for immense criticism from the group’s opponents.
If anything, I’d say the NRA analogy understates the case. Supporting gun rights is seen as a socially conservative position, so it’s not a huge stretch to think the NRA might be pro-life as well. The NEA’s stance is more analogous to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce officially coming out against abortion — a development that is, of course, unthinkable.
The fundamental challenge of “intersectional” organizing is that the issues don’t actually intersect all that much. The rank-and-file members of interest groups are too heterogeneous to support every progressive cause outside their own group’s domain. Abortion is a good example. The General Social Survey asks “whether or not you think it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion if the woman wants it for any reason.” Pooling all the data since 2000 and dropping the people who had no opinion, a slight majority (52 percent) of public school teachers answer “no.” In other words, roughly half of all teachers support at least some “attacks on the right to choose,” as the NEA would put it. This really shouldn’t be surprising because, to reiterate, being a teacher has no obvious connection to one’s position on abortion.
More broadly, the NEA’s own data from 2005-2006 show that 55 percent of public school teachers are “conservative” or “tend to be conservative.” I could not find a more recent NEA survey, and this one shows that the percentage who identify as conservative may be decreasing. But whether conservatives actually make up a majority of teachers is beside the point — clearly a large proportion of teachers are not going to be on board when the NEA veers into non-education issues, regardless of whether the union takes the liberal or conservative side.
The only way for intersectional organizing to succeed is for the moderate rank-and-file to stay silent about it. So they should speak up, and the sooner the better.