On the third and final day of the AFT convention, delegates overwhelmingly passed a raft of ambitious resolutions taking on the health, economic and racial justice crises our country faces, and envisioning a better America now and as we build back after COVID-19.
In a dialogue with delegates to the 2020 AFT national convention, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Americans are on the threshold of historic change and opportunity. Welcoming Biden to the convention, AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “This is not just about defeating Donald Trump. What you bring at this time is what our nation needs in terms of the empathy, the understanding, the caring about people and the listening to people.”
The AFT honored historian Diane Ravitch with its Women’s Rights Award, then hosted a discussion with Ravitch, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates, and AFT-West Virginia Vice President Tega Toney. With AFT President Randi Weingarten, they discussed the importance of community and their passionate work for equity and justice. Ravitch shared her vision for public school systems that are “better than ever,” supported by Joe Biden in the White House.
“As a chemistry teacher, active in my union, I dreamed of a union that was vocal, engaged, productive, creative and visionary,” says Karen Lewis. When she became president of the Chicago Teachers Union in 2010, Lewis worked endlessly to make that dream a reality. In the process, she earned a place among the icons of the labor movement. Her trailblazing leadership helped shift the narrative on public education in Chicago; that’s what makes Karen Lewis an AFT hero.
The arts enrich our lives, the teaching profession deserves our respect, and our democracy is at stake in this election. Those were among the topics discussed in a wide-ranging conversation that AFT President Randi Weingarten had with Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of the award-winning musical “Hamilton.” Miranda also reflected on his experience as a teacher and his hope that “Hamilton” encourages young people to find inspiration in history.
The Natural Resources Defense Council released a report July 28 showing, through case studies of 14 union workers, that climate change is harming essential employees. One case study is of AFT member Orlando Green, a school bus driver and member of the St. Tammany Federation of Teachers and School Employees who lives in Slidell, La. From mid-August, when school starts, right through October, temperatures on his bus can reach well into the 90s, with the heat index over 100 degrees. Sometimes, Green doesn’t know if his students are napping or have passed out.
Conversations about the three crises facing the country—the public health crisis, the economic crisis and the crisis of systemic racism—are embedded in this year’s AFT convention. A July 29 panel discussion focused on racism in America and the Black Lives Matter movement. The panel included the Rev. Dr. Bernice King, CEO of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change; New York Democratic congressional nominee Jamaal Bowman; Leslie Redmond, president of the Minneapolis NAACP; and Sari Beth Rosenberg, a history teacher in New York City. AFT President Randi Weingarten led the conversation.
Delegates to the AFT national convention overwhelmingly voted to endorse Joe Biden for president, saying the future of our democracy is on the line in this year’s election. And in a session packed with delegate votes on resolutions addressing several issues and policies, the convention voted to back the Green New Deal, to engage in a reimagining of society to increase fairness and justice, to support a rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure and to create new pipelines to leadership for the union’s young worker members.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to fight for a relief package centered on reopening schools safely, protecting frontline workers and helping America’s families get through the COVID-19 crisis. “When states opened too early a few months ago, it set off another stage of this disease. We will not repeat that same mistake when it comes to our teachers and our students,” said Schumer.
In a conversation on economic inequity, AFT President Randi Weingarten and writer Anand Giridharadas discussed how the American economy too often works only for the wealthy and not for everyone else. But through elections and activism, AFT members can fight back and ensure that working people have the salaries and supports they deserve. That’s because they belong to a union—one of the few remaining institutions with the size and influence to stand up for working people.