NEA President: United Educators a Powerful Antidote to Fear and Divisiveness

Lily Eskelsen Garcia's Keynote Address at NEA's 2016 Representative Assembly, Washington, DC.

In her keynote address to the 2016 NEA Representative Assembly, (RA) NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia warned that the nation, despite the tremendous progress of the past 8 years, could surrender to fear and demagoguery this election year – unless educators work for justice and stand up and be counted.

Eskelsen García began by honoring the victims of the recent mass shooting in Orlando. Beginning the RA on such a mournful note was difficult, she said, but it was necessary to acknowledge the danger and uncertainly that exists outside the hall.

“There’s a real world out there, and it’s not a safe place,” Eskelsen García said. “The world needs us. It’s not a game. The work we do is important, because it has the chance to change the world. “

Eskelsen saluted the delegates’ work over this past year in tackling institutional racism, but urged them to help protect others who face discrimination.

“It’s almost like there’s a plan to drum up fear and divisiveness for political reasons,” she said.

And in this election year, this toxic climate is being stoked by the presumptive GOP nominee for president. In talking about Donald Trump, Eskelsen Garcia didn’t mince words.

“Donald Trump is a racist, sexist, hypocritical, egotistical thin-skinned bully who must never get without 1000 miles of the White House,” she said to resounding cheers from the 7,500 delegates.

Whether it’s his shameless attacks on an honorable federal judge, the vilification of Mexican immigrants and Muslims, his leadership of the “birther” movement, or his relentless misogyny, Trump’s ascension to the top of the GOP ticket is a chilling development, Eskelsen García said.

“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.”

On July 5, the RA will hear from presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Eskelsen praised Clinton for speaking out against fear and ignorance and her belief that “as a nation, we’re stronger when we’re together.”

“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.”

Politics ain’t beanbag, Eskelsen García reminded the delegates. It’s a tough business, but it always matters who wins elections and educators across the country know that. Silence is not an option. Although the NEA has had its differences with President Obama over the past 8 years, the many historic accomplishments of his administration – the Affordable Care Act, the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, theEvery Student Succeeds Act, and his work on behalf of the millions of undocumented children – would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of educators.

“We won something better for students and families and communities; we moved forward in achieving our mission …because we didn’t sit it out. And we will not waste our collective power waiting for permission – we will lead to something better.”