Five ways Election 2012 is like the Stanley Cup Playoffs


By Amanda Litvinov / photos by clydeorama

This playoff season has been a hockey fan’s dream—assuming you like big hits, lots of overtime and plenty of surprises. The defending Stanley Cup Champions were knocked out by a team that barely made it to the post-season, and old guard clubs like Detroit and Pittsburgh hung up their skates after one round while Nashville and Phoenix advanced. (Yes, there’s NHL hockey in Arizona.)

A Stanley Cup contest is not so different from a big election year. The stakes are so high, every player knows an OK game won’t be good enough. Coaches put a few more miles’ wear on their shoes pacing behind the bench, and a “win any way you can” philosophy takes over.

Guess what, defenders of public education and the middle class? Our playoff season doesn’t start in the fall. It starts now. Here are some truisms that transfer from the rink to the political arena.

1. Without the right goalie, we don’t stand a chance.

The puck stops here. The goalie is the last person to determine whether it gets through or not—much like a governor or the president is the last hope for blocking bad legislation. Put the wrong guy between the pipes and you lose your shot at the Cup. Put the wrong guy into office and you and your community may lose a whole lot more. Just ask the educators of Chester Upland and other school districts in Pennsylvania, where $860 million in funding cuts advanced by Gov. Tom Corbett devastated opportunities for the state’s school children.

The years since the 2010 elections showed us “what can happen when education legislation and decisions are left in the hands of politicians who do not support public schools,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “We as a nation have to get our priorities right. We cannot sacrifice our students’ futures by shortchanging them now.”

When it comes to the presidential election, it’s time to get behind the “Goalie-in-Chief” who shares our definition of victory: a country where working people who play by the rules can earn enough to educate their children and retire with dignity. A country where everyone pays their fair share to ensure a great public school for every student. That’s why NEA’s Representative Assembly voted last summer to support the reelection of President Obama.

2. We’re going to overtime in game 7—count on it.

No team is going to skate away with the Cup this year; likewise, with more money at play in political campaigns than ever before, the presidential election and key contests across the country promise to remain rough and tumble to the finish. Those are the games in which heroes step up—and the nation’s school kids are looking to us.

3. Opponents not playing fair? It’s up to us to call a foul.

Too bad we can’t just blow a whistle and put politicians in a penalty box when they’re not playing fair like they do in hockey. But as education activists, we have other ways to get our point across.

Our collective voice is our strongest defense, during an election season and every day that follows. When we don’t like what we see from the opposition, it’s our job to call them on it. Just look what people banding together were able to accomplish in Michigan, where working people stood up to a nuclear attack on their rights; Ohio, where a grassroots effort saved collective bargaining; and Wisconsin, where an extremist governor and state senators face a recall election demanded by an angry electorate.

4. We must visualize winningand losing.

Every hockey player dreams of having his name etched on a silver ring of the Stanley Cup. But for some, it’s even more motivating to imagine the other team parading the Cup around their hometown.

Have you stopped to consider that things can actually get worse? They will if more anti-education politicians are elected. Envision your schools with fewer educators and support professionals, your students wedged into overstuffed classrooms in aging buildings in need of repairs. Even if you already have a state legislature and a governor who aren’t doing right by working families and students, it will get worse if we end up with a president willing to do the same.

Figure out everything you can do between now and November to make a winning scenario come true. No matter who or where you are, there’s something you can do to help, whether it’s registering new voters, talking to your colleagues and neighbors about pro-public education candidates, or signing up with EdVotes to stay informed and find out more ways to get involved.

5. Remember, there’s a time to shake hands.

There’s a really good lesson in this one. No matter how nasty the hockey playoffs may get, at the end of the final game both teams will line up and shakes hands with every one of their opponents, as if to say, no matter what just happened out here, we’ve got to be able to look each other in the eye and start again next season.


Maybe it’s time for legislators to establish a tradition like that. After election season is over, it will be time to work together—and fast—to restore support to our public schools and keep rebuilding America’s vibrant middle class.

None of this comes with a trophy, but history will remember us for it.


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