SEATTLE — Delegates to the American Federation of Teachers 81th Convention here applauded as AFT President Randi Weingarten urged them to mobilize for a massive October 2 march on Washington, D.C. to demand jobs and full funding of public education and health care.
"We are affected by and care about the same issues that everyday people care about," she told the 3,000 educators and nurses who crowded the Washington State Convention Center July 8.
"The AFT will be a full partner in the One Nation March on Washington that is being organized by a broad range of civil rights, labor, faith, youth, immigrant rights and other progressive organizations."
She added, "This march will highlight the need for an America that focuses on good jobs, good public education, taking good care of our environment and immigration reform."
She echoed an earlier speech by Ben Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP who recalled the joy on the Capitol Mall when President Obama was sworn in January, 2009. Since then the vast progressive coalition has been too passive, he said. In moments of deep economic crisis, the nation can "tear itself apart with division and hatred" or the people can stand as one to "pull the country together...That's why we are organizing a mass march October 2, the One Nation March on Washington."
Weingarten said teachers face a swirling "vortex" that includes the threatened layoff of 300,000 teachers when school reopens in the fall.
She praised the administration and the Democratic majority in the House and Senate for pushing through President Obama's first economic stimulus that provided $100 billion to avert layoffs and cutbacks last year.
But that money is running out and Republican "deficit hawks" in the Senate are blocking another $15 billion to prevent layoffs and cutbacks this fall, she said. More than 120 school districts have been forced to cut back to four-day weeks and teachers are taking furlough days to save their colleagues jobs.
On top of that, she said, teachers face ferocious "blame the teacher" scapegoating for low test scores with charter schools and privatization held out as a panacea.
While Weingarten praised the administration, on one hand, she assailed them on the other for endorsing the mass firing of the entire staff, 89 school teachers, at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island last spring even though "not a single one of the teachers ever received an unsatisfactory evaluation."
She hailed the AFT's "fighting smart" campaign that won the rehiring of every one of the fired teachers coupled with a package of reform measures to promote student achievement.
She cited the "Pink Hearts not Pink Slips" campaign initiated by parents in San Francisco to fight layoffs of their children's teachers.
"Connecting with the community means reminding people that we need their support and they need our support," she said.
"That's why we're calling on all our 3,300 locals across the country to start this campaign with a day of action when we'll all link arms with our community partners...to fight for public services, to fight for our universities...health care...public education."
Photo: AFT President Randi Weingarten (CC)