Commentary: National Education Association Executive Director John Stocks addressed more than 6,000 delegates at NEA’s annual Representative Assembly, which is meeting this week in Minneapolis. The following are remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you Lily … Thank you delegates … it is not easy coming up here at the end of a long day filled with powerful speakers.
Lee Saunders, Randi, David Hogg, and our incredible president Lily. Listening to those leaders alone is worth the trip to Minneapolis.
The theme of today is union strength and unity.
I could tell you that these themes are critical to our survival … I could tell you that unity has never been more important to us … blah, blah, blah, blah, blah … but delegates, I’m not here to tell you what you already know.
Given the context we face as an organization … as professionals and as advocates … I’m here to ask you to dig deep. When I say dig deep I mean search your soul and reflect on what unity and strength mean to you personally … and what they mean to this union and our democracy.
Delegates: If you don’t think Janus has anything to do with you … DIG DEEP and think again.
If you think that what’s happening to children at our borders today won’t be reflected in your classrooms tomorrow… DIG DEEP and think twice.
If you think that Trump, or someone like him, can’t win again in 2020 or in your state … DIG DEEPER.
Their agenda is to shut down collective action, kill off unions, monetize everything that is public and create an apartheid state of wealth and concentrated power. As radical as that sounds … frankly, it’s working.
Delegates, I’m not saying we are the answer to all the ills of society but there is a reason they are trying to destroy us.
When you think about what this country needs right now … It’s the NEA. It’s our organization, and the people in this room, the work you do, and what you represent. The work you do to strengthen our classrooms, communities and our democracy is something no one else is positioned or built to do.
Delegates, listen to me … this is NOT our darkest hour.
Three years ago … before Trump was even a glimmer in the eyes of the Koch brothers … I told this RA that we were in a movement moment … and now here we are.
I want you to think about the resistance movements that have been growing these last few years:
The women’s march and the Me Too movement.
The Black Lives Matter movement.
The movement for righteous and just immigration laws.
The March for our Lives and the Never Again movement.
In this toxic climate, more and more people want to stand for something, they want to be active, they want to associate themselves with a cause and an organization that is not only good but that is powerful and has the infrastructure to make a real difference.
Delegates, I firmly believe, we need to give these activists a home with NEA.
We can't be in a movement by ourselves and for ourselves.
During Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearings, we had thousands of people ask us how they could help us and how they could join us in the fight. We are still in touch with some of them but we haven’t actually organized them. And can I just say, while I’m on this subject, we may be deeply divided as a country… but there’s one thing I think we all can agree on, Betsy DeVos is an EPIC FAIL!
I don’t know if having a common enemy is enough to unite us long term but we need to put that theory to the test and we need to build a long-term, large-scale coalition.
NEA … we have to unite the masses.
The #RedForEd movement showed us:
In West Virginia!!
And in North Carolina!! …
What the #RedForEd movement has shown us is that when members and non-members, parents, community, and students stand together … we are a formidable force and together we can fight and win.
Had we been marching by ourselves … I don’t know that we would have won the kind of victories we did.
We need to be in deep relationship with people … talking one-on-one and cultivating new members and partners. We need to proudly share our values and ask them to join us. This is how we will unite our members and the nation.
All the people that this supreme court and this president have wronged: our unions, our LGBTQ family, immigrants, women, our Muslim brothers and sisters, poor people, people of color, our working families… Good lord, is there anyone left!!? If that doesn’t make a majority, what does??!
We need to unite all these people and all these movements, and we need to join together to do a few things:
We need to do everything we can to shut down the appointment of whatever horrible person he has in mind as the next supreme court justice!
We need to fight to get our babies back to their families!
We need to stop police from murdering black people!
We need make our public schools beacons of hope and opportunity for every student in this nation!
Again, we need a long-term, large-scale coalition.
We need to give these folks a home with us.
I was reading a public opinion poll the other day that said our union favorability is higher than it been in decades — a 63 percent approval rating which … by the way … is 21 points higher than the approval expressed for “the U.S. Department of Education leadership.”
I want to remind us all that our mission compels us to unite our members AND the nation.
This is not a time to isolate ourselves. We won’t get far by labeling people free loaders. We can’t shrink away from people or partners. Just the opposite. This is a time to lean in. This is a time forge deep relationships with all who share our values. Our core values are timeless:
A Just Society
Delegates, these values didn’t come out of nowhere.
We have been at the forefront of some of this nation’s most important movements … Abolition, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights. These movements helped shape who we are.
If we truly live by our values … we will always be on the right side of history … whether it is immigration, racism, gun violence, school funding, or economic justice.
Delegates, let me remind you …
This is the union that denounced slavery in 1865, the same year the civil war ended, and we said no states should be readmitted back to the US until they agreed to provide free public schools for Black children AND White children.
… This is the union that demanded an end to child labor and said that every child should be in school, not working in a factory.
… This is the union that that worked alongside the American Teachers Association and Dr. King in Selma, Alabama, to launch a voter registration campaign for Black educators called, “Fit to Teach, Fit to Vote.”
… This is the union that that put a stop to firing teachers when they became pregnant!
… This union was the first union to have a comprehensive statement in support of same sex marriage!
My point is, we are made from tough stuff … from righteous stuff. There’s a reason we exist. This organization has a true calling and a clear purpose. Delegates! We stand on the shoulders of social justice titans. But what about us? What about all of us in this room today!
My question to you is this … will we be on the right side of history? I can’t hear you! I said will we be on the right side of history!!
Hell yes we will!!
NEA! This is NOT our darkest hour.
Delegates! For our students, for our union, and for our democracy!
We MUST … Keep fighting!
We MUST … Keep educating!
We MUST … Keep organizing!