Head of NEA, country’s biggest union, says Trump is a danger to democracy
Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, head of the National Education Association, speaks at the unions convention in Houston. | via PAI

HOUSTON (PAI)—Republican President Donald Trump is a danger to democracy and that automatically disqualified him from even being considered for an endorsement from the nation’s largest union.

That explanation came from Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, president of the 3.2-million-member National Education Association (NEA), in her keynote address to the union’s recent convention in Houston, held over the Independence Day weekend.

“We need a new president who will respect our democracy, who serves all the people including the ones who don’t have a membership to Mar-a-Lago. We want one who will not corrupt our institutions by giving friends and family gifts of government positions where their decisions benefit their personal and corporate wealth,” the Salt Lake City primary school teacher declared.

“Donald Trump is pushing our beautiful, imperfect nation toward something that would break the hearts of our Founding Fathers and Mothers. Towards authoritarianism and despotism. In the history of history, wherever authoritarian, anti-democratic despots took over, they had a common strategy. It’s about who you oppress, who you scapegoat, and the institutions you corrupt,” she said.

The convention delegates agreed, but not all the way. California delegate Mark Airgood proposed putting the union on record for impeaching Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors” due to his cooperation with Russian manipulation of the 2016 election, in his favor. His motion lost.

Trump is not the only threat to public education, Eskelsen-Garcia said. Trump’s responsible for naming an anti-education, anti-teacher Education Secretary, Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos. But shady and secretive corporate chieftains, led by the Koch brothers, also scheme to wreck and privatize U.S. schools for their own profit, she explained.

And the way to battle Trump, DeVos, the Koch mega-millions campaign machine and their corporate and political allies is to get involved politically and to get out on the streets and expand the nationwide #RedForEd campaign, Eskelsen-Garcia declared.

Eskelsen-Garcia’s address preceded NEA’s hosting of Democratic presidential contenders, interviewed by teachers’ questions—which the NEA chief read or in videos she introduced—on school-related and union-related issues.

The contenders, by and large, agreed with teachers’ positions. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., declared, unprompted, that the best way to raise teachers’ pay and improve schools was to strengthen the right to organize through labor law reform—and to order state and local governments to bargain with public workers, including teachers, who unionize.

And Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., advocated an immediate raise of teachers’ pay to $60,000 yearly, enactment of the $15 an hour minimum wage so that support staff—bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors and others—could earn it, and a moratorium, at least, on any more charter schools, a favorite right-wing cause.

Charters were just one reason Eskelsen-Garcia blasted Trump, DeVos and the Kochs. But she also praised her own members’ RedForEd movement because it “scares the DeVos family and the Walton family,” the notoriously anti-union and anti-public school owners of Walmart, “and the Koch brothers. I’ve noticed billionaires who have plans to privatize our public schools, hardly ever paint a picket sign and rally on the capitol steps, ‘cause there’d be like four of them and their limo drivers.”

“Oh, no no,” Eskelsen-Garcia said sarcastically. “They’re so much more civilized. They plan their education industry takeover where no one can see them. They sit and sip at the country club and decide the fate of students they will never see.”

“I have never taken a politician to a country club. I take them to a school cafeteria for corn dogs. I want governors and senators and mayors to meet you. I want them to listen to the people who know what they’re talking about. Because people who THINK they know everything are so annoying to those of us who actually do. (her emphasis)”

“The Koch brothers will never take their case to the public because the public’s not stupid. They have to hide their agenda. Because their agenda is profoundly un-democratic and un-American.”

“They want a permanent and institutionalized system where mega-wealth and mega-corporations rule. Donald Trump was not their favorite candidate four years ago, but he is now. He’s delivered their tax cuts. He’s accepted their preferred list of corporate-friendly judges. And he’s placed their cronies in key government positions expressly to sabotage agencies set up to protect consumers, the environment, health care, workers, and, of course, education.”

And while NEA “tries very hard” to find politicians of both parties to support, especially in GOP-heavy red states, “Trump disqualified himself for our consideration many times and in many ways. But most particularly on education issues, he disqualified himself with two words: Betsy DeVos.”

Eskelsen-Garcia called the controversial GOP big giver-turned-cabinet officer “the least qualified person to ever hold a cabinet position in charge of protecting children’s access to quality, equitable public education.” And when DeVos called education “not a priority” for Trump, Eskelsen-Garcia replied, deadpan, “No…kidding.”

But Trump himself is even worse, the NEA president said. His attacks on democracy include:

Suppressing the free press. “You don’t want people being informed with the truth. You need to carefully manage information so you always look good and good people can’t distinguish the truth from a lie,” Eskelsen-Garcia explained.

“You suppress wages. You kill unions. You want people underpaid and fearful of the future. You intentionally create insecurity so you can scapegoat some group as the cause and offer yourself as the savior.”

“You suppress the vote: Make it hard, inconvenient, even dangerous to register or cast a ballot, because the more that ordinary people show up to vote, the more the authoritarian loses.” Given the huge share of people of color in teaching, voter suppression is important.

“And you suppress education. You don’t want people who are prepared to engage as critical thinkers and make informed decisions; who are curious; who ask tough questions.”

“This has been the formula at work right now in our beloved country, but I don’t think everyone sees it,” she warned.

“This election is very different than four years ago. It’s actually very different from any election I’ve ever seen. Every election is about the future, but this one is to protect our democracy. We will need more information and more member engagement than ever before. We are only at the beginning of the process to select the candidate who will face Donald Trump.”

Besides hearing from Eskelsen-Garcia and the Democratic hopefuls, the convention’s 9,000 delegates plowed through a wide range of resolutions setting priorities and policy for the union.

Key decisions included having NEA demand “the immediate end to the detention and criminalization of immigrant children and their families, including an end to ICE raids, which inflicts chaos, fear, and instability on entire communities,” deciding to work with other unions and its locals “to play a leadership role in ensuring a fair and accurate census” next year, and  to “create model legislative language” and use it to lobby states to eliminate standardized teacher certification tests.

Delegates also voted to endorse reparations for descendants of slaves, but turned down impeaching Trump, a nationwide electronic poll of members for a presidential endorsement, and a nationwide strike in favor of the Green New Deal, plus several controversial causes.



Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.