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Eric C. Heins | CTA State Council Speech | March 25, 2017

Good morning Council. You’re looking good out there. I hope you are ready to roll up your sleeves and get started on all the work we have before us this weekend and in the months ahead. We have a lot to talk about this morning.

And while it would be easy to focus on all the “fake news” and “alternative facts,” we know those are just distractions for what is really going on in our country. There is so much happening that we need to be aware of as we advocate for the public education all California students deserve.

Like many of you I started this month with Read Across America. I read in the same school where I started my teaching career, Highlands Elementary in Pittsburg, CA. I love reading, and we had some great California Reads books to choose from this year. It was especially poignant for me to read in the same school where I created my first production as an elementary music teacher. It was the same classroom where I taught my first class of second graders. The symbolism of circling back to where I started in education brought home the significance and importance of what we do.

Inspiring lifelong learning through reading is one of the most important things we teach students, and it opens many doors that would otherwise remain closed. So, as I thought about how I was going to put everything that’s been going on in context this morning, I kept coming back to one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors.

Now this is going to sound very familiar, but it was written nearly 150 years ago ... just six years after CTA was founded ... not that those two events are related. 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ... it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity ... it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness ... it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair ... we had everything before us.”

In his classic Tale of Two Cities opening, Dickens was drawing a comparison between the struggles of the French peasantry who had been demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the Revolution and the many unflattering social parallels happening in London during the same period.

It was a cautionary tale then and it is a cautionary tale now. But this reality of the haves wanting more, and leaving the have-nots with even less, wasn’t born during the French revolution and didn’t die there.

In fact, it’s a tale as old as time. This country, while built on the ideals of freedom, equality and democracy ... we also have a history of one group of people oppressing, taking advantage of, and profiting off another group of people ... like slavery, Jim Crow laws, or the exploitation of women and workers.

We’ve made many strides forward, but if we sit idly by, this ugly part of our history will reassert itself. We can’t get discouraged by this fact though. We must act! Together! In union with those who share our values!

Cesar Chavez, whose birthday we celebrate next week, knew the power of collective action. He said, “From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.”

Educators have always worked together to achieve amazing things and overcome obstacles on behalf of our students, our communities and our profession. And that’s not going to stop, no matter who the president is … OR who the governor is ... OR when the corporations come for our schools ... OR when the billionaires try to destroy our union. So, let's talk about what the President and the corporate billionaires advising him have been up to since the inauguration.

We just don’t have time to go back any further and talk about Russia. It’s been 74 days since inauguration, and the Trump has wasted no time in fulfilling his horrific campaign promises.

*He’s signed orders to close our borders to those traveling from seven predominately Muslim countries. 

*He’s revoked guidelines that protected the rights of transgender students by allowing them access to the restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. Fortunately, we have our own law in California. 

*He’s claimed, with no proof mind you, that 3 million undocumented people voted in this past presidential election.

*He’s accused President Obama, again with no proof, of wiretapping Trump Tower during the campaign.

*He's nominated the most bizarre Cabinet, including a Secretary of Education with no education experience, a surgeon to head up Housing, a global warming skeptic to head up the Environmental Protection Agency, and to head up our Justice department … someone who thinks the Voting Rights Act is “intrusive.” 

*He’s introduced an illness plan that takes health insurance away from 24 million people, raises out-of-pocket premium costs for seniors by $12,000 … while also providing a $20 billion tax cut for millionaires. Thank god, we, the resistance won that one! Trumpcare is dead - for now.

*He’s proposed an education budget that cuts more than $9 billion from schools and colleges.

*And he’s threatened to withhold federal dollars from any city providing sanctuary to immigrants.

You know that impacts a lot of cities, communities and schools in California. This is one of the reasons I’m so proud to be from a state where we just do things differently. I tell people my new safe word is California. Seriously, when I want to make myself feel better, I say California. We decide what’s right for our students and we don’t let anything get in our way.

That’s why CTA filed a friend of the court brief this week supporting a Santa Clara County lawsuit challenging Trump’s executive order against Sanctuary cities. This order threatens to transform schools from inclusive, safe spaces to places of fear and uncertainty. We will not be bullied or threatened for standing up for our students, their families and the values that guide the work we do every day. Now these are just a few of the lowlights.

While it’s important to follow what is said, I’ve always believed it’s our actions that define us. While much of the media is chasing the stories of Russian collusion and evidence of wiretapping and voter fraud, the Trump administration proposed its first budget, and it’s a disaster for 99 percent of Americans.

The cover sheet should have been a sympathy card. As I said, his initial budget proposal slashes funding for the Department of Education by $9 billion. That’s a 13.5% cut, which would roll back federal education funding to levels we haven’t seen in 15 years, despite having 8.6 million more students in our classrooms. The budget is the opening salvo in the Trump/DeVos school privatization agenda. While short on details, it is long on ways to undermine public education.

*It adds $1.4 billion for so-called "school choice" programs, with plans to ramp up to $20 billion over time.

*It includes $250 million for a new private school voucher program; and a $168 million increase for corporate charter schools.

*Meanwhile, the budget calls for eliminating $2.3 billion for professional development, teacher training and class size reduction.

*It eliminates $1.2 billion from after-school programs, and slashes grant aid for low-income students to attend higher education.

This budget will not help students, especially those living in our most at-risk neighborhoods. In line with the lifelong goals of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, this budget is designed to siphon money away from neighborhood public schools ... and give it to unregulated, corporate charters and private schools. 

The budget shows zero regard for working Americans and threatens to destroy programs that help anyone who isn't a millionaire. In addition to the cut to public schools and colleges, funding for PBS, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Meals on Wheels has been eliminated. Where's the moral compass that allows things like this to happen? It’s unapologetically one-sided and specifically designed to ensure inequality continues to grow. Unchecked, we know how this story goes. But it’s not going to go unchecked. 

CTA is not going to stand by and watch our students be targeted, our schools be defunded, and our progress be threatened. We are engaging our members. We are organizing with our communities. And we are building relationships, awareness and unwavering support with those that share our values and believe that all students deserve a quality education.

Many of us have participated in marches and rallies since the inauguration. We need to capture that same energy and direct it to our neighborhood public schools — standing together with parents and community members to build a wall of support and protection from federal attacks. And we are planning to do just that.

During our last State Council you approved an NBI calling for a Statewide Day of Action to bring awareness to the issues that face public schools and colleges, as well as those facing immigrant students and their families. After talking with other unions and many coalition partners, CTA selected May 1st as our statewide Day of Action. May 1st is International Worker’s Day and has recently served as a national day of action to raise awareness about immigration rights and the need to keep families together as they fight for a better life.

It also provides plenty of time for all of us to plan successful events that engage members, students, parents and the community … and time to gather thousands more signatures in support of our resolution. This is a day of resistance to the dismantling of public education and for standing up for students and the idea that free public education is a basic civil right.

We are asking chapters and members to organize “walk-ins” at their school sites that bring together students, parents, teachers and community members to show a united front against hatred, ICE raids, privatization and any actions other policies that have been harming your students.  

*We will demand safe and nurturing schools where all children can learn without being frightened or harassed. 

*We will work for policies and practices that strengthen our public schools, not dismantle them.

*And, we will not tolerate the hateful rhetoric and bullying of DREAMers, LGBTQ+ students, Muslims and others.

Some of you have participated in walk-ins before, and you know you can decide the best action for your school site. We have put together a toolkit to help you plan May 1. And we are holding a forum today from 4-5:30 right here in the California Ballroom where you can pick up your planning toolkit. Those of you that attend will get first dibs on the CTA social justice posters. We have some translated to Spanish and 2 new posters for transgender awareness.

At this forum we’ll join in a conversation and brainstorm session about organizing our members and communities for this action. Come to share your ideas, get some ideas and leave energized, ready to engage your members, and with some new cool posters before they run out.

In the coming week, we will be adding materials to the online toolkit that will help you promote our Day of Action. The planning toolkit is already available at cta.org/May1. As you go about planning for May 1, please ask your members to sign the pledge we passed unanimously at last Council.

Use the next 5 weeks to talk to as many people as possible and ask them to join us in pledging their support for a strong, inclusive, safe and innovative public education system that ensures all students can succeed, regardless of their ZIP code. Bring it up at your book club or with friends over dinner. Talk to your Sunday School class or with parents after school. CTA.org/ForAllStudents is where everyone can sign the resolution, which is also available in Spanish. You can do it on your phone.

What we’ve talked about this morning is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what this administration has planned for our democracy. But that is the fact we must remember and they must understand. This is a democracy. A country by and for the people. Not just the rich people. Not just the white people. ALL THE PEOPLE. And we, All THE PEOPLE, have to remain tethered together by the belief in a different reality for our country. Together, we must correct the current trajectory. It will take consistent action, constant organizing, and a commitment to advocacy. It will take educators leading the way in our schools and back home in our communities. 

César Chávez said, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community ... our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”

In California, we know this to be true and CTA celebrates the inclusion and diversity of our state. We will not be silent while the Trump administration or any president ... or any governor ... any legislature or any school board ... seeks to divert billions of public dollars to private vouchers and corporate charter schools.

We will not be silent as minorities are told they aren’t welcome in this country, as students are forced into a restroom that denies their personal truth, as parents are stolen from their children and as profits become more important than people.

We will hold our values firm and let them guide us in the days and months ahead. CTA has seen 28 U.S. presidents come and go. I've seen 26 years of public education, and I know we're going to do what we've always done. We are going to stand up for our values ... and we're going to do it the California Way. 

They are trying to make it the worst of times. We are going to make it the best of times. They are trying to make it the age of foolishness. We are going to make it the age of wisdom. They are trying to make it the season of darkness. We are going to make it the season of light. They are trying to make it the winter of despair. We are going to make it the spring of hope! 

We have everything before us. So stand up CTA...!

Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

© 1999- California Teachers Association