One of the answers to today’s toxic political, economic, and social atmosphere is union strength and unity where NEA is in a prime position to “unite the masses,” said NEA Executive Director John Stocks, urging more than 6,000 delegates gathered for the NEA Representative Assembly in Minneapolis to “dig deep, keep fighting, keep educating, keep organizing!”
“This is not our darkest hour,” he said. “Given the context we face as an organization, as professionals and as advocates, I’m here to ask you to search your soul and reflect on what unity and strength mean to you personally and what they mean to this union and our democracy.”
In his presentation, which closed the first day of the annual conference, Stocks made references to current U.S. border policies that separate children from their parents, the recent Janus Supreme Court decision eliminating agency fees, and various resistance movements and national marches involving women, ethnic and racial minorities, gay men and women, and others.
“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 (NEA and other unions),” he said. “It’s our organization, and the people in this room, the work you do, and what you represent.”
The activism, work and results educators achieve at schools, in their communities, and within the nation’s political system, he continued, “is something no one else is positioned or built to do.”
“When you think about what this country needs right now, it’s the NEA,” he said. “We are made of tough stuff. There is a reason why we exist.”
Stocks cited the political agenda of President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to “shut down collective action, kill off unions, monetize everything that is public and create an apartheid state of wealth and concentrated power.”
“Betsy DeVos is an epic failure,” he said, to a round of hearty applause. “We need to make our public schools beacons of hope and opportunity for every student in this nation!”
But having a common enemy, Stocks warned, is not enough to overcome the power and influence of the current Administration.
“I don’t know if (it) 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,” he continued.
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.”
Stocks challenged delegates to do everything they can to help “unite the masses.”
“We can’t be in a movement by ourselves and for ourselves,” he said. “What the Red For Ed 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.”
As a coalition-building strategy, Stocks said one-on-one conversations were key to cultivating new NEA members, local and national community partners.
“We need to proudly share our values,” he said. “This is how we will unite our members and the nation. I firmly believe, we need to give activists a home with NEA.”
Of immediate concern, Stocks told delegates is: “Do everything we can to shut down the appointment of whatever horrible person (Trump) has in mind as the next Supreme Court justice.”
“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,” he said. “We stand on the shoulders of social justice titans. But what about us? Will we be on the right side of history?”
Stocks confidently answered his own question: “Hell yes we will!”