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A ‘Nation’ comes together
Thousands of UFTers join massive rally in D.C. for jobs, health care and education
by Dorothy Callaci, Michael Hirsch and Micah Landau | October 14, 2010 New York Teacher issue
Jobs. Justice. Education. These were the rallying cries in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2, as hundreds of thousands of Americans descended on the National Mall for the historic One Nation Working Together march and rally.
The event, which featured passionate speeches from civil rights, labor and other progressive leaders, took place in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial where 47 years earlier Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March for Jobs and Freedom. In many ways, the One Nation rally echoed the earlier rally’s theme, focusing on the needs of working families and the poor.
For the thousands and thousands of UFT members who traveled to the event by bus, train or car, it was a day to stand united with fellow Americans from all walks of life.
“This event represents the true America, multicultural and diverse,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who traveled to Washington with hundreds of UFTers, community members and elected officials including Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Comptroller John Liu, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer on a specially chartered Amtrak train.
“One Nation is a movement that’s about bringing people together, not pulling them apart,” Mulgrew said. “We are here to say enough is enough. The middle class is under attack, services for the poor are under attack, unions are under attack and our school communities are under attack. And all the while, the disparity of income has grown to record levels.”
Luz Minaya, a teacher in Washington Heights who spoke on stage, told the crowd, “I believe that the American dream begins in our classrooms. Educators are a big part of the solution and it is wrong to paint us as the problem.”
Liz Gray, a teacher at the Hungerford School on Staten Island, was among the UFT members who participated in the historic rally.
“This rally is about Americans, it’s about supporting unions and it’s about stopping the destruction of the middle class,” Gray said.
The day began before dawn with UFT members, parents and community members boarding more than 100 union-chartered buses at dozens of locations around the city. The UFTers formed a sea of blue in the crowd in their AFT “One Nation” T-shirts.
Addressing the rally on behalf of the educators present from school districts nationwide, AFT President Randi Weingarten spoke about the need for all children to receive a first-class education.
“Access to an excellent education is a basic civil right, but it is a right too many children are denied,” Weingarten said. “This must change.
“No more will we speak of other people’s kids as ‘their kids,’” Weingarten continued. “Their kids are our kids.”
Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, was among the parade of prominent speakers to address the rally.
“Children only have one childhood,” she said. “They need first-rate schools and first-rate teachers now. They need quality early education. Stand up and fight for our children — all of them.”
Referring to Glenn Beck’s Aug. 28 “Restoring Honor” rally in the same spot, Edelman said, “We need to turn back those who hijacked Dr. King’s words, but subverted his intent.”
The One Nation event was conceived in the spring, with major partners such as the UFT, NYSUT, the AFT, the NAACP and 1199 SEIU working over the summer to organize and mobilize people from across the country. Ultimately, more than 300 groups signed on and sent people.
Demetrius Daniel, a teacher at IS 143 in Manhattan, said he was hopeful that the outpouring of people for the One Nation rally would “generate enough energy to get some things done in D.C.”
The experience put him in the fighting spirit for the battles back home as well.
“The mayor is talking about taking away tenure and our pensions are at risk,” Daniel said. “We have to educate members about the history of labor and we need to step up and fight back.”
Brian Gavin, a teacher at Grover Cleveland HS, felt similarly. “It’s hopefully a start of a pushback against the constant attacks on us,” he said.
Robert Welch, from the union’s home instruction chapter, gathered with hundreds of other union members and leaders at Penn Station before departing for Washington on the UFT’s Amtrak train.
“As teachers, we can develop a new nation,” Welch said, explaining his reason for participating in the historic rally. “Teachers mold the nation. That’s the point. We’re definitely going to take a stand and fight.”
Also on the train, Phyllis Murray, a literacy and social studies teacher at PS 75 in the Bronx, where she is also chapter leader, said she felt she had to attend the rally because “I’ve never seen things this bad.”
For Murray, a veteran of the civil rights movement who first marched on Washington in 1958, One Nation is about inclusion.
“This should be America for everyone,” she said. “Everyone should have a voice.”
Jeanne Rivas, a speech teacher at PS 207 and PS 386 in the Bronx, was in D.C. to support union efforts to improve conditions for teachers.
“Punishing schools for low test scores is not the way to go,” she said.
Retiree Steve Harris, a former Grover Cleveland HS chapter leader, said he sees a threat to retiree and worker benefits from the rise of a new radical right. “The Tea Party’s attitude is ‘I’ve got mine, I’ve got my share,’” he said. “They don’t think in terms of a common good, about social programs or the infrastructure.”
UFT retiree Marcia Aronson said, “It’s very important to show the president and the Congress our grassroots support of public education, libraries, creating jobs and democracy.”
James Losey of PS 197, Manhattan, said, “It’s time everybody came together because it’s a time when so few have so much and so many have so little.”
Clarence Reynolds, who teaches criminology at Law and Government HS in Queens, said he was glad the rally organizers supported Rep. George Miller’s jobs bill, which would put 750,000 Americans to work in the public and private sectors.
“Even my students understand the need for jobs,” he said. “Talking about the root causes of crime, almost every hand went up when I asked if unemployment was a factor and if they knew anybody who was out of a job.”
The long day ended with buses pulling back into New York City after 10 p.m.
“It was a beautiful day,” said Mulgrew. “Now, we turn our sights on Election Day — Nov. 2 — and getting out the vote for strong candidates who will support our communities and address our needs.”
To see more photos, the One Nation photo gallery.