EI General Secretary, David Edwards addressed the Representative Assembly of the National Education Association (NEA), the top decision-making body for the more than 3-million member union, the largest in the United States.
"I want you to know that the world is with you, as you are in the world and the world's students are in your classroom," declared Edwards to the more that 6.000 delegates gathered at the annual meeting, held this year in Minneapolis, Minnesota from the 2 to the 5th of July.
"Tyrants depend on fear and ignorance to erode democracy and the one profession that stands between them and that desire stands before me now. Continue to rise up, speak up and organise collectively, and the worlds teachers are with you," he stated.
"It is a time to turn outward. We will stand with our brothers and sisters to overcome this moment and we will come back stronger," added Edwards as encouragement to the gathered union members, whose organizations have been under attack from powerful corporate interests and the administration of Donald Trump.
Refuse to be silent, refuse to pretend, resist
The convention is being held just days after the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision which aims to weaken the voice of unions and deal a financial blow to organized labor in the United States. The conference also follows a year of tremendous teacher activism in the United States, as educators from West Virginia to Arizona rallied with parents, students, and community groups to demand more resources for students and better working conditions to attract and retain caring, committed, qualified educators.
“These are dark days, but Martin Luther King reminded us, “…only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars,” said NEA president Lily Eskelsen García in her address to the delegates. “And we have seen true stars align. We have seen the people march and speak up and refuse to be silent and refuse pretend; we have seen the resistance rise."
“But I’m not sure that any shine brighter than our own fearless students,” said Eskelsen Garcia, who then yielded the stage to one of the most visible student leaders, David Hogg, recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate. The school in Florida was the scene of a horrific mass shooting in February which left 17 students and staff dead.
“We have been speaking up, mobilizing, and standing strong because our friends and family mean the world to us,” Hogg told the delegates. “We are young and that means we don’t have to accept the status quo. And we never will. We intend to close the gap between the world as it is and what it should be.” Students across the nation are ready and energized, Hogg continued, and they understand that they have the power. “They know that when they show up this time, the young people will win.”
Our students should feel welcomed: National Teacher of the Year
Also attending the conference, and one of the featured speakers, was Mandy Manning, the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, recognised for her steadfast commitment to immigrant and refugee students who come to her school from all over the world including countries like Syria, Chuuk, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Myanmar, Sudan, Mexico, and Tanzania.
“In the past month, we have seen children ripped away from their families, families detained indefinitely as a tradeoff for keeping them together, the Supreme Court upholding the President’s xenophobic travel ban, and naturalized citizens now have no assurance they’ll maintain their status. We live and educate in a time when not all students feel wanted, welcomed, loved, enough or that they matter,” Manning said told the delegates.
She spoke briefly so that she could pass the microphone to two students who, she said, “teach us how to keep on marching, and, ultimately they give us hope. They are showing us how it’s done. They prove that in our schools we are creating confident, strong citizens, who are collaborative, compassionate, and powerful.”