A teacher behind Arizona's teacher strike and an initiative to fund schools by raising income taxes is once again weathering criticism fit for the Red Scare.
Noah Karvelis spoke at the Socialism Conference 2018 in Chicago last week about the historic strike and the Invest in Education Act. And right on cue, opponents like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Representative Kelly Townsend seized on the news, saying that Karvelis had exposed his alleged leftist ideology.
On Tuesday, the Chamber released a statement mocking Karvelis and lambasting the Invest in Education Act, an initiative that will most likely appear on the ballot this November.
At the conference, a July 6 panel discussion called "Workers Strike Back: Lessons of the Teachers' Rebellion" featured Karvelis among seven other activist teachers from around the nation. Another #RedForEd leader from Arizona, Dylan Wegela, a teacher at Phoenix's Marc T. Atkinson Middle School, appeared on a panel the following day titled "Rank and File Teachers Speak: How We Organized the Rebellion."
In a release, Chamber Vice President Garrick Taylor called Karvelis "the leading agitator behind the initiative campaign to double the income tax on small businesses." The Chamber opposes the so-called Invest in Ed initiative.
Taylor also needled the conference bookers for choosing the Hyatt Regency hotel. "The more proletariat-friendly student hostels must have been booked," Taylor wrote.
Karvelis said that he attended the conference as a networking opportunity with other teacher-organizers after representatives of the Chicago teachers' union asked him to participate in the discussion.
"That was the draw," he told Phoenix New Times, "to go and talk to these educators who are leading these different movements."
If Republicans or the Tea Party had invited him to sit on the same panel at their conventions, he would attend those events for the same reason, Karvelis added.
The fact that Karvelis, a 24-year-old music teacher at Tres Rios Service Academy in Tolleson, has left-leaning views is hardly a secret at this point.
Karvelis volunteered for Bernie Sanders. He has written admiringly of Noam Chomsky and of the role the working class plays in progressive movements. As far as his ideology, Karvelis said, "I’d pretty much say I’m a progressive Democrat."
Combating the hair-raising criticism about his alleged Marxist sympathies is tiresome, Karvelis said. But he's not surprised that members of the chamber are using the socialism conference – they are beating a "big war drum," as he described it.
"They’re intending to scare people," Karvelis said.
Conservative critics pointed out Karvelis' background during the #RedForEd groundswell in an attempt to discredit the movement and the handful of young teacher-activists at the forefront.
In his remarks at the socialism conference captured on video, Karvelis is charged up, but he doesn't say anything inflammatory.
He describes the origins of the #RedForEd movement, when teachers wore red shirts to school this spring, and recaps the Arizona teachers' strike. The cheering audience eats it up. At one point, attendees break into the "Red for Ed" chant that dominated the Capitol rallies during the weeklong strike.
Karvelis also talked about the five demands grassroots organization Arizona Educators United unveiled at the Capitol in April: "They weren't radical," Karvelis said of the demands. "It's a simple idea. Fund our schools, fund our students, pay your teachers. That's it."
Taylor said that the chamber does not believe the "Invest in Ed" campaign is a socialist initiative. But he argued that the campaign is not "completely devoid of ideology."
"Showing up at a conference where the main topics included explorations of Marxism and Leninism is not exactly a mainstream campaign tactic," Taylor wrote in an email to New Times.
State Representative Townsend – a Mesa Republican who previously sounded the alarm about the allegedly "socialist" underpinnings of the #RedForEd movement, unwittingly joining the "furry" community in the process – immediately shared Karvelis' conference appearance on her Facebook page.
"Here's your chance to publicly denounce his ideology and his push for Socialism in the United States of America. (I will point out that it does not say Democratic Socialism, just good old-fashioned Socialism)," Townsend wrote. "How many said I was wrong? How many have the courage to publicly denounce this?"
"This is the man leading the people who are teaching your children," Townsend added.
When reached via email, Townsend explained that she does not want the U.S. to "march ourselves down the path to Venezuela or Cuba with applause." She has tried to expose Karvelis' intentions and call out his supporters, Townsend said.
"I am very concerned at the level of support the leader of this movement has received without any measure of his followers publicly denouncing his openly Socialist ideology," Townsend wrote. "If the shoe were on the other foot and a leader of the Tea Party were say part of the KKK, and the followers did not denounce his activities, they would be lumped in with his abhorrent mindset and scorned."
Much like Townsend, #RedForEd opponent Mike Broomhead felt vindicated. The conservative radio host on KFYI 550 eagerly broadcast the news of Karvelis and Wegela's attendance at the conference to his listeners on Monday.
"I told you all along: They're socialists. Do you want to align yourself with socialists?" Broomhead said on the air.
The Invest in Education Act is a proposal from the liberal Arizona Center for Economic Progress, which filed the initiative in the midst of the teachers' strike.
The measure would raise marginal income taxes on two brackets of the wealthiest people in Arizona.
If voters approve the initiative this fall, individuals earning more than $250,000 annually and households earning more than $500,000 will see their income taxes go up by 3.46 percent. Individuals over the $500,000 mark and households earning more than $1 million will experience a 4.46 percent increase.
#RedForEd leaders like Karvelis and the Arizona Education Association have thrown their support behind the measure, arguing that schools have been underfunded for the better part of a decade, and the tax increase will inject nearly $700 million into Arizona schools. Educators submitted 270,000 signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State's office last week, making it very likely that the measure will appear on the November ballot.
The chamber, on the other hand, maintains that the measure will spell economic disaster for the state.
“I do not believe that the thousands of Arizonans who marched on the state Capitol were marching for a socialist agenda,” Jaime Molera said in the statement that blasted Karvelis. “Did they know that they would be used as a talking point for political ideologues whose views fall far outside the mainstream of Arizona?”
Molera, a former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction who chairs the chamber's opposition campaign, erroneously stated in the news release that the "Invest in Ed" campaign kicked off at the socialism conference last week.
"They filed their signatures and the first thing they did after that was appear at the conference," Taylor wrote in an email.
Molera also suggested that the Invest in Education Act was crafted with "socialist dogma" in mind. “While I respect Mr. Karvelis’ right to engage with and push for the Socialist Party, I do not believe Arizona’s education policy should be subjected to an ideology that history has proven to have failed time and again," Molera said in the statement.
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Wegela, the Phoenix teacher, described the conference as an opportunity to meet teachers from the other states where teachers went on strike, such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. He and Karvelis saw the conference as an opportunity to learn more about organizing, Wegela explained.
"We weren’t presenting on socialism," Wegela told New Times. "We were there presenting on what happened here in Arizona, how we got organized, and how it all went down."
As for the chamber's assertion that the socialism conference served as the "Invest in Ed" kickoff, Wegela responded, "Absolutely not."
"This has nothing to do with the 'Invest in Ed' initiative at all," Wegela said.