Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by NEA President Lily Eskelsen García to the 95th NEA Representative Assembly

Hermanos y hermanas, there is something important we must do to begin the work of this Representative Assembly.

I don’t want to begin with tears, but I will not begin without this.

One year ago, I asked 9 delegates to stand up on this stage and read the names of the 9 men and women who attended a Bible class in Charleston, South Carolina and who were killed in an unspeakable act of hate.

They were killed for no other reason than the color of their skin.

Today, we mourn with Orlando.

And we will not begin without honoring those who lost their lives for no other reason than that they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender.

(SLIDE SHOW;
49 DELEGATES COME TO FRONT OF STAGE w/PICTURES OF VICTIMS;
SONG BY STEPHEN HENRY;
NICHOLE AND FRANK: READINGS.)

Delegates please stand for a moment of silence.

Delegates, please thank Stephen Henry from Tennessee for his beautiful song, and Nichole Devore from California and Frank Burger from Michigan for the readings.

Thank all of you who participated and thank all of you who are continually sending your love to a community that has suffered such a loss.

I read something that was said at a rally and I think it relates to all of us:

If you want to honor the victims, make this the year to find your flag.
Find your rainbow.
Find your freedom to be proud to live who you are.

A whole lot of people told me: You don’t want to start the RA on something as heartbreaking as Orlando. I know what they meant. But I know you wouldn’t want it any other way.

When we come together, there’s usually such pure joy in the room. Because, we’re very weird people. We’re people who actually look forward to the idea of sitting in a room with no windows, with 10,000 other weird people for four days using Parliamentary Procedures. Good times.

But we’re a family inside this room. We fight like family. Even if we’re in the middle of some hot and heavy debate, when it’s all over, we’ll still be family.

This is a safe place.

But it’s fitting to start by acknowledging that there’s a real world out there, and it’s not a safe place. It’s dangerous, and the work we’ll do in this safe place is important, because it has the chance to change the world out there. That dangerous world needs us. It’s not a game. It’s life and sometimes it’s death. There’s nothing more real.

I’m inspired by what brings us into this room. I’m inspired by the mission of this union – that WE, the members of the National Education Association, accept the profound trust that has been placed in us. That we advocate for our students and our colleagues and the integrity of our professions – that we unite our members and the entire nation.

And that we don’t wait for anyone’s permission. We take the lead in fulfilling the promise of public education –to prepare every blessed student to thrive – to succeed – to love living in a diverse and interdependent world.

That world is complicated. That didn’t intimidate you. 
Last year, this Representative Assembly spoke with one voice and set us on a course to directly take on one of the most complex, divisive and dangerous issues in our country: Institutional Racism.

Racism is a hard thing to talk about. It sounds like we’re not being patriotic to say that it still exists. But it does. It exists in who gets pulled over; in who gets hired; in who goes to a public school that has everything a student needs to succeed and who doesn’t.

Last year, you were very clear that we would use whatever power is at our disposal to combat a disease that infected our country from its birth.

I taught my 6th graders the School House Rock Preamble to the Constitution: Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…

And then I taught them that when our Constitution was written “ourselves and our posterity” did not include women; it didn’t include American Indians; it didn’t include people who were enslaved. And THEN, I also taught them that our Constitution was written by men who had vision.

They believed that things would inevitably change – even if they couldn’t imagine how, so they planned it to be a living document that could change with times. And good people – patriots and dreamers and social justice warriors – have amended it over the years to be more inclusive of all races; to be inclusive of women.

Our Supreme Court, empowered by our Constitution to interpret the laws, declared that separate was inherently unequal and it outlawed racial segregation. It found that the equal rights guaranteed by our Constitution do, indeed, protect the equal right of LGBT people to marry the person they love.

The moral arc of the universe is long, and hearts and minds are bending towards justice – but if our institutions – our policies, our programs and practices – don’t change, then the oppressive conditions that people face will stay the same.

We’ve had institutional racism in our own house. And we weren’t afraid to acknowledge it and do something about it. At this RA, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the merger of the NEA and the ATA ¬ the American Teachers Association that represented black teachers in the segregated south. Our eyes are on the prize of eradicating institutional racism wherever we find it. And while we focus on racial injustice, we cannot close our eyes to others who face discrimination. To others who are denied their right to pursue happiness; their right to simply – live.

Matthew Shepherd was a young, gay college student in Wyoming, brutally beaten on a lonely road who died of his wounds in 1998. We’d thought we’d come so far in 18 years. Last month, 49 men and women celebrating Latino Night were dancing in a gay nightclub in Orlando – the happiest place on earth – and they were gunned down for being LGBTQ. We’re reminded how much work is left to do for everyone in every community to be safe.

As president of NEA, I’ve talked a lot about toxic testing, but now we’re living under a toxic, choking environment where entire groups of people are demonized, targeted and terrorized. I see a political agenda here.

For years, we saw state legislators all over the country passing laws against marriage equality. The Supreme Court ended that debate on the side of equality – and within a heartbeat, state legislators all over the country suddenly decided the real threat to America wasn’t gay marriage – it’s which bathroom a transgender student can legally use.

No one claimed there was a problem; No one had ever thought they needed laws on this before. But all at once? Politicians in state after state begin filing strangely similar pieces of legislation? Gee. It’s almost like there’s a plan to drum up fear and divisiveness for political reasons. And the LGBTQ Community is their convenient target. There’s always a target. Immigrants. Women. Sexual Orientation. Race.

We’ve had our disagreements with the Obama administration, but a lot of us cried watching his inauguration. It was just something we never thought we’d see in our lifetime. We thought, maybe the election of an African American president was a signal that we were seeing a world that was more just and accepting. That your race, gender, religion and sexual orientation or gender identity wouldn’t define you or make you a target…

But people are still targeted without shame by demagogues who use fear and divisiveness for their own political gain.

So. Let’s talk about The Donald. A man who has made a living selling his name as a brand knows how important a name is. He likes to call people names. Lyin’ Ted. Little Marco. I have my own name for Donald – which I am not going to share with you. You might have some of your own.

We all laughed a year ago. A reality TV star who can’t open his mouth without insults and accusations with no basis, lies and threats. A man whose most senior policy advisor is apparently named “I read it on the internet.” And he’s not kidding.

I’m going to stick to facts. And the fact is: Donald is a racist. Donald led the birther movement, launching a personal crusade accusing the first African American president of not being an American; of not being our legitimate president. He accused Mexican immigrants of being drug dealers, criminals and rapists.
At a campaign event, he started griping about a federal judge who was hearing the fraud case against his Trump “University”. He says the judge isn’t capable of doing his job. Why? Because his parents were born in Mexico. Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan even admits that statement is the definition of racism.

Let me tell you about this judge. He took on a major drug cartel when he was a federal prosecutor; he got credit for cracking a major case and was under a death threat from drug gangs and needed federal protection for doing his job so well and so courageously. The judge is the definition of courage; he’s a man of impeccable intelligence and a heroic public servant. How dare Donald impugn this brave man’s character? But a bully has no problem pushing people around who don’t do what they’re told.

When Republican Senator John McCain said something that Donald didn’t like, Donald attacked, saying: “He’s not a war hero. He just got captured. I like people who didn’t get captured.” John McCain was a Navy pilot who was shot down and spent 5-1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He refused early release because there were other prisoners who had been there longer.

Donald is a self-serving man who talks so tough and so easily about going to war – and yet belittles the sacrifice of a prisoner of war.

I’m an Army Brat. My father was a soldier. My husband was a soldier. My baby brother was a soldier. I know people whose loved one didn’t make it home. How dare he mock their service.

Donald is sexist. He routinely has referred to women as “bimbos”, “slobs,” “pigs,” and “dogs” and other words that I can’t tell you because my mom’s in the audience and she’d wash my mouth out with soap. Donald is ignorant of our Constitution saying that as president, he will impose a religious test, banning all Muslims from entering the country and calling for special government surveillance against mosques.
Donald is a fraud bankrupting businesses and losing other people’s money while he paid himself millions in bonuses. He preyed on vulnerable people who gave him their last dollar with promises that his fake “university” would help them make a better living. He made promises to the gun lobby that on the first day in office he’d eliminate the ability of a community to declare that their schools were gun-free zones.

I could go on. But I don’t have to. You know I’m not calling him names. You know what I’m saying is true. And you know me. I can get emotional. But I’m not easily frightened. I want you to know why I am so emotional about this race. I am terrified that this man has made it this far. This unfit, unworthy man will be the Republican nominee for president of the United States of America. And I am so proud that more and more Republicans are bravely speaking up and saying they will never support Donald Trump. They will put country before party and I applaud them. They see what I see: Donald Trump is a racist, sexist, hypocritical, egotistical thin-skinned bully who must never get without 1000 miles of the White House.

Politics ain’t bean-bag. That came from an Irish writer in 1895. And he meant it’s not a child’s game. It’s mean and rough and if you’re going to be in it, you’d better be in it to win. We know that. It’s why we’ve never been silent in politics. We know that it matters who wins.

This is my 30th Representative Assembly. Yes, I was sitting right there with the Utah delegation at the age of… 9. (Work with me here, people) I know so many of you in this room personally. We’ve laughed together. We’ve cried together. We’ve talked about this race for a year, and I want you to know why my voice trembles a little when we do.

It matters to the world who wins. It matters who the president is.

Let me go back to what I said about President Obama. It was an absolute understatement to say that we’ve had our differences with this administration. We called for the resignation of his Secretary of Education. But I stood over his shoulder and I watched him take a pen and sign out of existence for all time – No Child Left Untested and put in its place a law designed to make sure students have an opportunity to succeed, regardless of their ZIP code. That didn’t just happen. You sent educators to talk to members of Congress; students and parents testified at hearings; we tweeted and blogged and put thousands of calls and emails into Congressional offices and you met with them when they came home. We showed them what it means to teach and what it means to learn. We showed them that educators can work with parents to advocate for what students really need. That’s who we are.

But we didn’t just say Stop the Stupid. We said: start doing something smart. It’s not that we don’t want information – we just don’t want useless information. We want a dashboard of good indicators – indicators of success that go beyond a standardized test AND we want indicators of service and support – What did the system give those kids to help them succeed? Which kids have professional librarians, school nurses, what’s your counselor to student ratio? Who has access to paraprofessionals who can tutor? Which kids gets AP classes and which kids don’t get recess.

And he listened. He signed the Every Student Succeeds Act – it ended high-stakes federal test mandates and gives us a fighting chance to start measuring things that matter to kids – and it’s in the law that states have to involve practitioners – us – in developing what’s going on the state dashboard and how it’s going to be implemented.

And some states are going to be really smart about including us and some states aren’t. But we’ve got the opportunity that we didn’t have before. And we will not waste that opportunity; whether we get invited or whether we have to crash that party – we’re showing up. Your state leaders are going to count on YOU to show up and put your best ideas into getting this right.

But it took a president to open the door to something better. And not just on testing. It took a president to find a way to give a safe haven to our Dreamers – something to allow those who arrived as undocumented children; who stayed in school; and were never in trouble with the law – to be able to attend college and get a job or serve their country while we all wait for comprehensive immigration reform.

It took a president to get the middle-man banks out of the federal student loan program. It took a president to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policies in the military. It took a president to take a giant leap forward into affordable health care for millions of people whose primary care plan was lighting a candle and praying they wouldn’t get sick. It took a president to appoint Hilda Solis and then Tom Perez as Secretary of Labor. This president appointed Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

The next president will have a profound impact on the Supreme Court. Politics ain’t bean bag. And it’s not perfect. But we won something better for students and families and communities; we moved forward in achieving our mission because of a president that we helped elect. Because we didn’t sit it out.
We had choices and we made them and we organized and we acted.

I focused on the record of Donald Trump this morning, because in any campaign, you have to know what the world would look like if you should lose. But our choice will not come from our fear of losing. We have to believe in the possibilities of what the world will look like when we win with the right president. It is not enough to simply be against something. It is up to us to get out there and work to elect a president who believes that as a nation, we’re stronger when we’re together.

But you see, this election is about more than politics. Tomorrow we’ll hear from a candidate who cares deeply about our students and our professions. And while I’ll talk more about her tomorrow, I will tell you now that for so many years I’ve been inspired by her dedication to children and her leadership on the issues that are closest to our hearts. I’ve seen her bring Republicans and Democrats together for children’s health care; She’s fought for children with disabilities and children with dreams. She’s fought for women and unions and working families all her life.

You have power in choosing our next president – and no matter who SHE is – you will have a voice in shaping the future of this country. And that’s unimaginably powerful in this imperfect world. A lot of people don’t care about making a powerful choice. They stay home.

I could never do that. Because 8 years ago, someone helped me focus inside myself why it’s wrong to do that. Eight years ago, I was in a taxi leaving the Denver airport heading for the convention to nominate Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States. And I have a habit when I hear a taxi driver with an accent that I ask where he’s from. I heard an accent. I said, “So, where’re you from?” and he said, “Ethiopia.” “Wow, what brought you here? How long have you been here?” And he said, “If you don’t mind me asking, are you here for the convention?” I said, “Yes, I am.”

And he got very excited and started asking a million questions: “Colorado has 9 electoral votes. I think we’re going to be very important as a swing state – the question for me is Ohio…” and he’s just going on. I said, “You realize that you probably know more about how we pick our president that a whole lot of people who were born here and are going to vote in this election. I’m embarrassed that I don’t even know who the president of Ethiopia is.”

And he looked at me through the rear view mirror and said, “You don’t have to know who the president of Ethiopia is. The president of Ethiopia can’t hurt your children. The president of Ethiopia can’t help your children. The president of the United States impacts everyone in the world, but we don’t get to vote for them. You do. All we can do is hope that you choose wisely.”

And so we will not sit quietly. We will unite our members and the nation to see which candidate will fight for students from preschool to graduate school; which one respects collective bargaining and retirement security, and Dreamers and one who is an erratic, reckless demagogue who speaks from hate and ignorance. We are not afraid of demagogues and bullies.

We will act. We will harness our passion for our students and inspire our circle of influence. And we will not waste our collective power waiting for permission – we will lead to something better: to opportunities of all our students; to respect for all our professions in public education and in public service. We will fight for the whole community that surrounds the whole family and raises up the whole child to become a whole and happy adult.

We are fearless. We are warriors. We are what democracy looks like! Ya es tiempo. Now is the time. Go Fight Win. Adelante!

Speakers

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