LOS ANGELES - Teachers gathered here this week for the convention of the American Federation of Teachers heard the iconic leader of the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina characterize them as part of a movement fighting for the very soul of the nation.
Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, told the teachers that what is needed is a "conversation that understands there are not just policy issues that are left or right issues but there are ones that are the center piece of our deepest tradition of faith, of our values, of our sense of morality of what is right, they are the moral center."
Barber has been the leader of a coalition of civil rights and labor organizations that have been battling right wing lawmakers in his home state for well over a year.
"There is a longing for what Dr. King said 46 years ago in one of his last sermons that if you ignore the poor, one day the whole system will collapse and implode. Every time we fail to educate a child on the front end of life it cost us on the back end, it rips not only the nations economy but at the very integrity of who we are as a nation.
"Every time we deny living wages and leave whole communities in poverty it cost us at the very soul of who we are. Every time we fail to provide health care on the front side of life, it cost us on the backside of life," declared Barber, with teachers rising to their feet in sustained applause.
"Every time we attempt to suppress the right to vote it tears at the heart of our democracy and the necessary foundation to establish justice. Somebody has to raise this crime!," he said, again to sustained cheers.
"I am so sick of a limited moral discussion that the so-called religious right who suggest that the only moral issues are abortion, prayer in the school and homosexuality. I am so bothered by that because most of what they purport only has about five scriptures that would support it and four of them they misinterpreted."
Barber, whose speech at the teachers' convention was yet another example of the growing cooperation between unions and civil rights organizations, turned his attention to education issues too:
"They say the best way to have a better America is to deny public education, attack teachers, attack teacher tenure, attack assistance and support systems and take public school money and give it to private schools.
"They say that the best way to have a better America is to deny healthcare, Medicaid expansion and leave millions of poor people uninsured. They say deny unemployment, deny labor rights, deny LGBT right, women's rights, immigrant rights and hold vicious rallies against immigrant children that that makes us a better America.
"It is not only this extreme thinking that is contrary to our moral values but also it is contrary to our America, to who we really are. We promise that the government of the people by the people shall never fade from the face of the earth. We promised equal protection under the law; we promised that we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal and endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights which are the pursuit of happiness."
Barber reminded the teachers that the people fighting them on education are the same people that are fighting against voting rights, women's rights, and immigrant rights. This is why we have to get together, and not turn back or quit.
He spoke about the need to come together based on an agenda of principles of hope. He outlined this agenda which contain five points points; a livable wage, education equality, healthcare for all, justice in the criminal system and protecting and expanding immigration rights, women's rights, voting rights, holding on to the fundamental promise of equal protection under the law.
Photo: Rossana Cambron/PW