July 13 2015
By Tim Farley
This Saturday, July 11, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a teachers’ union with more than 1.6 million members across the country, endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in the 2016 election. The reaction on Twitter and AFT’s Facebook page has been nothing short of overwhelming shock and outrage by AFT members. Mostly, the feedback is that the endorsement of any candidate this early was far too soon and didn’t seem to be reflective of the views of the majority of AFT members.
Randi Weingarten, President of AFT, responded with releasing the results of a scientific poll that indicated that the majority of AFT members who were polled felt that Hillary Clinton would be a stronger candidate than both Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. AFT’s press release states, “The message we heard was clear: By huge margins, you wanted us to endorse in the primary, and to endorse Hillary Clinton. AFT members support Hillary by more than 3 to 1. She’s seen as the strongest candidate by an 11-to-1 margin, and 79 percent of those who will vote in a Democratic primary want us to endorse in the primary.” But what is the real reason for this premature endorsement?
Why did the AFT and Randi Weingarten really decide to endorse Hillary Clinton? Why so soon in the election process? As I asked myself these questions, I was reminded of a time that I was part of a study by Dr. Jon Supovitz, Professor of Education Policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education last fall (http://hashtagcommoncore.com/). The central focus of the study was to determine how social media (Twitter) is “changing the discourse in American politics that produces and sustains social policy”. The study was also highlighted by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/02/25/how-twitter-is-impacting-the-national-common-core-debate/).
The bottom line is that people do things to protect their interests. But whose interests was Randi protecting? Was she protecting her members’ interests? Her own?
You can find out quite a bit about a person by studying their Twitter account and who they follow. Looking at Randi Weingarten’s Twitter account, she currently has 48.3 thousand followers and follows 2,600 people and tweeted 54.8 thousand tweets, which is a fairly prodigious tweeter. What is interesting is the broad array of media outlets, organizations, and people she follows. Those she follows range from liberal to conservative and everything in between. However, I would like to focus on a few of those that Randi follows. Randi follows: Hillary Clinton (2 different accounts), Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bernie Sanders, and others that are not that all that surprising. Those who know Randi, know that she engages with people from all perspectives, even if they strongly disagree with her. So she scours social media to help make her decisions (or react to them).
Randi also follows: Bill Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, Clinton Global Initiative, Bill Gates, Gates Education, and the Gates Foundation. We all know that the AFT took Bill Gates’ money, a total of more than $11 million as reported by Politico (http://www.politico.com/morningeducation/0314/morningeducation13243.html). AFT and Randi have since pledged not to accept any more Bill and Melinda Gates money for AFT’s Innovation Fund. In the article, Randi is quoted as saying, “I got convinced by the level of distrust I was seeing — not simply on Twitter, but in listening to members and local leaders — that it was important to find a way to replace Gates funding”. This demonstrates to me that Randi is open to change if she receives enough feedback from her members. I am not aware if a financial relationship has ended, but at the very least, a Twitter relationship exists between the two of them.
Let’s examine who Hillary Clinton follows on Twitter, shall we? Hillary has 3.8 million followers with 1,023 tweets. She follows 38 people/organizations and include: Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Clinton Foundation, Clinton Global, Clinton School, Clinton Library, Hillary for Iowa, Hillary for New Hampshire, Hillary for New York, Hillary for Nevada, and Hillary for South Carolina (I sense a bit of narcissism.). What is conspicuously missing is Bill Gates. Mrs. Clinton has another Twitter handle, @HRClinton that she presumably used while as Secretary of State. That account has 79.4 thousand followers with her following ZERO and with ZERO tweets. I am assuming that the tweets were deleted. Why 79.4 thousand people would follow a dead Twitter account, I have no idea.
A look at Bill Gates’ Twitter account (@BillGates) indicates that as of this writing, Bill Gates has an impressive 23.4 million followers. Bill has 1,727 tweets under his belt, but that is to be expected for the man who is arguably the wealthiest man on the face of the planet. He also has far fewer people/organizations that he follows than does Randi, with a mere 166. However, let’s examine who Bill Gates follows. Not surprisingly, he follows Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, and Randi Weingarten (emphasis added).
So, what is my point in highlighting certain aspects of Randi, Hillary, and Gates’ Twitter accounts? My point is that an analysis of their accounts can provide a peephole into their psyches. It can also provide insight as to who and what motivates people. The “who” in this case is Bill Gates and the “what” is his money. It isn’t shocking that Randi and AFT endorsed Hillary Clinton for President so early in the race. As a matter of fact, it seems almost inevitable considering how much money Bill Gates has “invested” in AFT, Hillary Clinton (along with all of the Clinton philanthropic endeavors), and ……. Can I get a drum roll please? You guessed it, Common Core itself!!! Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, has invested billions into his educational endeavors. He is simply trying to protect his investment. However, Bill Gates wasn’t counting on the massive and ever-growing Common Core testing “Opt Out” movement.
You can rest assured that the 200,000 NY parents who opted out of the 3-8 testing this year will grow to 500,000 or more next spring if major changes are not made.
– Tim Farley, education advocate.