A mercenary is a person who takes part in an armed conflict, who is not a national or a party to the conflict, and is "motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party" (Wikipedia)
How spot-on is this as a description of the folks who staff corporate reform movement shops?
Well, our San Francisco Parents Across America member, Caroline Grannan, was just banned for a month from posting comments on a blog that leans toward the corporate reform agenda. Her offense? Attaching the label “mercenary” to newly-hired Obama campaign staffer, Linda Serrato, who used to work for the Parent Revolution after she worked for the Obama 2008 presidential campaign, after she worked for Hilary Clinton's campaign. The blogger characterized Caroline's comment as “offensive”:
Here's what Caroline wrote:
Serrato, like Parent Revolution director Ben Austin (the main force behind the Parent Trigger) and the rest of that crew, are purely hired mercenaries who promote whatever position they're paid to promote. A lot of the conversation seems to be based on the mistaken assumption that they are heartfelt advocates who infuse their work with their deep belief in the Parent Trigger, wherever they go. That seems naive to me. Once the last paycheck is deposited, Parent Trigger will be forgotten.
Exposing the agenda behind the propaganda
While I might not agree with Caroline about how much we can see into someone else's heart, I completely agree that it is critically important for us – and for the mainstream media - to loudly, regularly, and publicly call into question the motivation of the corporate reform movement and its agents, because corporate reform is first and foremost a propaganda campaign.
Case in point, the income and expense report I mentioned in my PURE Thoughts blog yesterday showing that the Education Reform Now group, which paid for the anti-union robo calls to Chicago Public Schools parents over the weekend, had an income of $9 million last year (up from $1 million the prior year) and about half of that was spent on a contract with one advertising firm.
Let me go back to the Wikipedia passage I quoted back in late 2010, during the Waiting for Superman furor:
As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda. Propaganda can be used as a form of political warfare. (emphasis added)
It is clear from their spending and activities that, for corporate reformers, the war against public education is a propaganda war in service of their political agenda to privatize schools, destroy the teachers unions, and generally take control of education away from the public and put it in the hands of businesses and politicians.
Time to be (on the) offensive
So, if we are to fight this propaganda war, it's legitimate, it's necessary, to analyze and expose the political agenda behind the propaganda. That must entail questioning and critiquing what motivates the propaganda mercenaries carrying out the fight. In doing so, we are being “offensive” only in the sense that we are fighting pro-actively to protect democratic public education.
Is everyone who works for corporate reform just in it for the money, as Caroline suggests?
Could be. Going back to the definition at the top of this article, mercenaries generally earn substantially more money than the local troops. Oh, yeah – we know that's true. Most grass roots advocates make little or nothing, even as hired staff.
But I suspect that most mercenaries actually like the battle itself and have battle skills that they are proud to display (think Jonah Edelman at Aspen last year). Each battle builds the resume. So, there may be more to it than money.
The other thing about mercenaries is that they are “not nationals” - i.e. “not from around here.” They come in for the job, they are not people who live and work and raise families in the place where they drop in to carry out their boss's agenda. So, they are almost the definition of astroturf. No roots, just coverage that can be picked up and moved somewhere else.
And that's a pretty good way to tell the mercenaries from the real advocates.