In his final address to a NEA Representative Assembly (RA), outgoing NEA Executive Director John Stocks on Friday exhorted RA delegates to “come together and make this country whole,” and, most of all, “to embrace [their] power.”
In recent years, NEA members have led a nationwide #RedforEd movement that calls on state and local lawmakers to re-invest in public education; they’ve elected public education defenders, including a record number of women and people of color, to statehouses across the nation; and they have “linked arms,” said Stocks, with social-justice warriors in the Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15, Women’s March, and March for Our Lives communities.
“We demanded and we fought,” he said. And, in many places, “we won,” he said.una After historic #RedforEd strikes, walkouts, and rallies in places such as Los Angeles, Denver, and Oakland, California, educators won salary raises, smaller class sizes, and investments in school nurses, librarians, counselors, and more. Additional states have seen historic increases in education funding, minimum salaries for educators, and new legislation that respects educators.
“We’re living proof that progress is possible,” said Stocks. “But we’re not finished yet. We can’t afford to be.”
In these perilous times, as children are incarcerated on our border, as our free press is attacked, as voter suppression laws are passed, as state and federal courts rule against the rights of LGBTQ people, unions and affirmative action, and as gun violence rends our communities, “our democracy is under threat,” warned Stocks. “President Trump has exploited weaknesses in our moral character. He hasn’t made America great. He’s made us the height of hypocrisy.”
But the problem isn’t just Trump, Stocks said. Inequities and biases around race and gender have been long embedded and codified in American systems. “This country was built on the unpaid labor of enslaved people,” he said. “Today, the household wealth of a white high-school dropout is double that of a black college graduate!”
Stocks reminded delegates that he first addressed them on July 4, 2012. On that day, he spoke about the “social justice patriots” who love their country but see its shortcomings. “Today, as I address the Representative Assembly for the last time as executive director, I want to pick up there,” he said. “Our democracy is calling out for social justice patriots. We need you to come together and make this country whole. Most of all, we need you to embrace your power.”
“Let’s be perfectly honest: an educator can do more for our democracy in five minutes than some lawmakers can do over their entire career,” said Stocks.