Tens of thousands of AFT members gathered in Washington, D.C., on October 2 to add their voices to the One Nation Working Together march at the Lincoln Memorial. Arriving by bus, car, train, and plane, AFTers came from coast to coast to attend. Here’s an account of the day’s events, based on a recap by AFT’s communications department.
With more than 100,000 people in attendance, the march focused on the theme of jobs, justice, and education. The gathering was backed by a broad cross-section of progressive groups, including civil rights organizations, unions, and environmentalists.
In her remarks to the rally participants, AFT President Randi Weingarten said, “Today is about one nation standing together–and a good education is the foundation for everything else we seek today.” She said access to a good education should rightly be considered a civil right.
Teachers work hard every day to make a difference in young people’s lives, Weingarten told the crowd. “But teachers can’t do it alone,” she added; they need the support of parents, faith leaders, community activists, and others in the community.
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, echoed Weingarten’s sentiments. “The test will be whether we do the right thing and bring the entire community together to educate children.”
“Demonizing teachers,” Henderson added, “is not the answer. You don’t reform public education without them.”
Teachers across the country are fed up with sustained attacks from political operatives, propagandists, and self-styled educational entrepreneurs out to discredit public education. As the president of AFT’s New York State United Teachers, Richard Iannuzzi, put it, “This march is an opportunity for us to say we’ve had enough. Our message today counters the message of anger and hate.”
AFT Secretary-Treasurer Antonia Cortese, who also attended the event, had this to say as she watched the march unfold: “The spirit of unity in the country is important and is what we need to remember at a time when so many forces are pulling us apart. So I hope this is bringing us together.”
In a similar vein, AFT Executive Vice President Lorretta Johnson said, “With all of the problems we’re having–especially with the economy and jobs–there was a sense that we can overcome those problems if we stay united,” she said.
One of the messages that resounded throughout the day was the importance of getting people to the polls in November. NAACP President Ben Jealous, a leading organizer of the One Nation march, underscored that point: “We’ve got to go home and ask our friends and neighbors to vote. We’ve got to ask them to get off the sidelines and back onto the battlefield.”
Upcoming Hotline reports on the high stakes in the November 2 election here in Texas will bear out the urgency of that message.