All the speakers proved creative in weaving the main theme into their presentations. From California
Governor Jerry Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the dynamic Rev. Dr. William Barber II, President, North Carolina NAACP, Cynthia Nixon, Actor-Activist, newly elected NEA President Eskelsen Garcia to a host of others, the audience was inspired by the variations on Reclaiming the Promise. AFT President Randi Weingarten roused the 3,000 delegates and guests with her State of the Union address.
Her bold call to Reclaim the Promise of America included creating economic and educational opportunity for all. The unprecedented, unwarranted attacks on teachers, public schools and other public institutions, backed by big money and aided by ALEC, are starving public schools, hurting students and widening the gap among the wealthy, the middle class and the poor. Her response to the challenges is for the union, in solidarity, to: connect with the community; be solution-driven; engage, empower and elevate the professionals. She related that it is time to “fight back; fight forward; move forward.”
An important responsibility of the delegates was to debate 91 resolutions from AFT locals across the nation, first in committees, then in plenary sessions on the convention floor. The resolutions were divided into the following committees: Educational Issues, Health Care, Higher Education, Human Rights, International Relations, Labor and the Economy, Union Organizing and Collective Bargaining, Political Action/Legislation, Public Services, Retirement, Registered Nurses, Women’s Rights and School and College Support Staffs.
All seven retirement resolutions were adopted. One important issue had to do with ensuring the continuance of traditional Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Another resolution called for the adoption of a new consumer price index formula called CPI-E to determine cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) to Social Security each year. The CPI-E more realistically tracks inflation for senior Americans. The longest debate on the convention floor dealt with The Role of Standards in Public Education. This resolution, submitted by the AFT Executive Council, affirms the importance of educational standards and the promise and potential of Common Core State Standards, but severely criticizes the way in which they were developed, implemented, evaluated and the excessive testing program. The resolution decries the lack of educational practitioner involvement in the entire process. It especially attacks the rush by profiteers and corporate interests to “cash in” at the expense of children. Further, it includes many specific sensible solutions to fix what is broken and to shift the present corporate model to one that is student centered. Finally, policymakers and administrators are held accountable for the proper implementation of Common Core State Standards.
A special resolution called for the resignation of United States Secretary Arne Duncan due to his anti-teacher, anti-public school and anti-union policies. His views represent corporate America’s attempt to instill the corporate/factory model of education into the classroom. When asked to approve this resolution, the entire body stood up, cheering and chanting “yes!” While the resolution is symbolic, it sends a message to the Obama administration that its educational policies have been destructive to teachers, parents and especially students.
This convention was one of the best that I ever attended. The intelligence, articulation, passion, thought-provoking ideas and respect for opposing ideas displayed in all sessions were evidence of the high level of excellence exhibited by the delegates representing their locals from all parts of the country. The 2014 AFT Convention was both encouraging and motivating.