It was a tremendous honor to be one of GNTA’s three representatives (and one of over 3000 that gathered from all across the United States) to attend the American Federation of Teachers biennial convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota this summer. From July 17-21, delegates were treated to numerous speeches by political big shots and educational luminaries. However, one speech stood out from the others. Not because it was the most humorous or the most poignant (it was neither of those), but because it was, by far, the most significant and promising for our cause as educators and unionists. It was the first time in a very long time that I heard a presidential candidate for a major political party express intelligent and common sense ideas not just about the state of education in America, but to proclaim the positive role that public unions play in educating our young. I’m referring, of course, to the speech given by Hillary Clinton.
AFT President Randi Weingarten introduced Clinton and framed this year’s presidential election as “a moment of reckoning for our country,” saying that this November’s contest is a “battle for [America’s] soul and for our children’s future.” Weingarten was certain to note Clinton’s lifetime of fighting for public and early childhood education, human rights, economic opportunity for all, and universal healthcare. She sharply contrasted the Democratic nominee with her opponent, Donald Trump: “What do you call it when a candidate for president debases an entire religion, mocks a disabled reporter, refers to women as pigs, and calls Mexicans rapists? I call it a threat to civil society, to decency, and to the values that underpin our country. Frankly, it is perilously close to fascism.”
Hillary Clinton received tremendous applause as she went on to outline her vision for public education in the next four years. The (then) presumptive Democratic nominee rejected a return to the kind of top-down reform we’ve seen under the Obama administration. Instead, she acknowledged that real educational improvement comes when those in power forge a partnership with the teaching professionals on the front lines. She said, “I want to thank you for being one of the essential partners for everything we need to do to move the country in the right direction. I want to say right from the outset that I’m with you. When I’m president, you will always have a partner in the White House, and you will always have a seat at the table.”
Most impressive, however, was her unabashed support for public unions and the values that we espouse. Clinton is an advocate for higher salaries for teachers and school-related professionals, career-long professional development, and relief from the oppressive burdens of student debt. And, she insisted, that to make these a reality would require the active participation of unions: “If we are serious about supporting educators, we need to support unions.” She vowed to be an enemy in the White House to those who support reckless charter school expansions, the privatization of public education, and the imposition of vouchers.
The following day, AFT delegates voted overwhelmingly to endorse Hillary Clinton for president. To this delegate, the choice is clear. Clinton has the opportunity to make history in November, not just because she could be the first woman ever elected president, but because she truly understands and values the importance of what we all do every day in our classrooms and in our buildings. I would urge you to watch her speech for yourself andmake sure you’re registered to vote in this November’s election.
GNTA President & AFT Delegate