Remarks as prepared for delivery by NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia to the 97th NEA Representative Assembly

Thank you for that introduction, Miss Becky. It was ok. But you’ve got a long way to go to beat the best introduction I’ve ever had.

My best introductions was when a PTA president once read my resume and then said: And I can tell you that Lily Eskelsen is truly everything she pretends to be.

How Zen is that?

Well, we can’t be pretending to be anything these days. We have got to get real. What we’re facing is real. And it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous to public education and public service. It’s dangerous to our democracy; to protections for people who need and deserve protecting.

Good Lord, how long have we been living through this administration? I know – it’s been 1 year and a half? Doesn’t it seem a whole lot much longer. It’s like we’re living in Dog Years.

There’s something different about this moment in our history. Billionaires, like Betsy DeVos and the Koch brothers, have never been more embedded in political power. Billionaires are trumping the rights of working people to organize.

Billionaires are tearing families apart; forcing toddlers out of the arms of their mothers as they beg for asylum – for a place they can escape violence and persecution.

Billionaires are selling our public schools to charter chains.

Billionaires have placed themselves over the rest of us; they have no sense of servant leadership; Billionaires believe that they are our rulers.

They demand our silence. They demand we pretend. Instead of speaking out on racial injustice, they demand that we stand in silence and pretend that everything’s just fine.

We’re supposed to pretend that poor people are to blame for a housing crisis. We’re supposed to pretend that hunger doesn’t impact the learning of children. We’re supposed to pretend that returning to a time that allowed health insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions will make health care great again… ??

There’s something different about this moment. These are dark days, but Martin Luther King reminded us, “…only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars.”

And Oh My, we have seen true stars align. We have seen the people march and speak up and refuse to be silent and refuse pretend; we have seen the resistance rise –

In the past 18 months, how many of you right here in this room have made your voices heard for Women’s rights? 18 months ago I was at the March! How many of you have stood with our Dreamers and immigrant families? How many of you have lifted your voices for racial justice? How many of you have fought for the dignity and acceptance of our LGBT Communities?

And how many of you in the room stood proudly this year in a national Red for Ed Wave? You challenged politicians who pretended that educators had taken vows of poverty and obedience for the honor of working in our public schools.

Our Red Wave started in West Virginia! Where are you West Virginia! Then Kentucky! Then Oklahoma! Arizona! Colorado! North Carolina! – YOU spoke the powerful truth that we are fierce fighters who will stand up for ourselves and for our students and we will be heard!

There are stars that shine in this dark night. But I’m not sure that any shine brighter than our own fearless students. It’s still hard for me to fathom the tragic deaths of students and educators to gun violence in school after school after school. From our smallest kindergarten babies to college campuses – we mourn.

It’s hard for me to talk about it. I’m not going to try. I’m going to do something I’m not sure has ever been done in a president’s report to the RA, but I need to see a star shine. I yield my time to one of our students: From Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – I yield my time to recent high school graduate, David Hogg.

DAVID HOGG

You hear passion in David and in his friends and in our students in every state. You see them come together in a collective voice. You feel the power of their action – they’re not complaining. They’re not waiting for permission; they’re not waiting to be saved; they’re not pretending. They are demanding something from all of us and demanding something of themselves. But there’s something behind that power. And when you see them standing together. When you see them marching, you can feel it. There is profound power in their love for one another.

There’s something different about this moment. I feel something different in me, that I don’t like. Because I don’t always feel that love. I have worked over years to defeat bad politicians and bad legislation and called out bad actors… and I’ve never hated them. Before.

I have felt hate in in me this last year and a half, and I don’t like it. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like me – It feels like I’ve lost something about who I pretend to be.

And I’ve seen families who won’t talk to each other. I’ve seen my colleagues who never back down from a good debate – look at each other like they’re enemies instead of opponents on an issue. I feel like we’re in danger of all being sucked into an agenda that feeds off fear and hate. I feel like we’re in danger of losing something. And I want it back. I don’t want to turn into what I’m fighting. I don’t want to use fear and hate to win.

I heard a quote: You don’t win by destroying what you hate. You win by saving what you love.

I used that quote in a speech a few weeks ago, and a woman came up and said to me: Thank you, Lily, for quoting the Bible. And I said: Actually, it was the last Star Wars movie.

St. Luke. Luke Skywalker. It’s all good. A quote. A poem. We need something to remind ourselves that we’re fighting to save what we love.

GUITAR

There’s nothing we can do – if we forget who we truly are.

But we have all we need – to remember.

All you need is to stay true to yourself….

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done

Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung

Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game

It’s easy.

Nothing you can make that can’t be made.

No One you can save that can’t be saved

And nothing you can do but you can learn to be you in time.

It’s easy.

All you need is love.

All you need is love

All you need is love, love,

Love is all you need.

Nothing you can know that isn’t known

Nothing you can see that isn’t shown

Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you were meant to be.

It’s easy.

All you need is love.

All you need is love

All you need is love, love,

Love is all you need.