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Eric Heins with NEA President Lily Eskelsen García on the UTLA picket lines

2019 may still be young, but it’s already looking like another Year of the Empowered Educator, thanks to the growing #RedForEd movement. Across the country, we’ve been standing together to demand what’s best for our students, our schools and our communities. And in California, educators have been putting in the advocacy, and we are seeing historic results.

On Jan. 14, after nearly two years of fruitless negotiations, the 33,000 members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) took a courageous stand for their students, walking out of their classrooms, onto picket lines, and into the worst LA weather I’ve ever witnessed. That didn’t stop our members. In fact, I think it showed us all just how much they are willing to endure to make sure their students get the public education they deserve.

As the rain came down, support poured in from throughout California, across the country, and even around the globe. The world was watching as UTLA educators put it all on the line for their students. For four days they marched, chanted and danced in the rain, showing the beauty of their solidarity. When the rain finally let up on Day 5, 60,000 people rallied to support UTLA in a sea of #RedForEd in downtown LA.

After a marathon bargaining session that lasted most of the holiday weekend, UTLA won a historic contract that included class size reductions, more support services for students, resources for neighborhood public schools, and increased accountability for charter schools. None of this would have been possible if these educators hadn’t stood together. They fought, and they won.

The narrative on public education is changing as a result of the #RedForEd movement. Dinner tables in California and across the country are now buzzing about the importance of smaller class sizes, the need for adequate school funding, and the impacts of charter schools. After UTLA reached its historic agreement, the educators who work at The Accelerated Schools in LA were still embroiled in the first charter school strike in California history. They stood strong, even in the face of some terrible threats by their charter school board, and they won, too.

“When we fight, we win!” was a familiar declaration I heard throughout the UTLA strike. And it’s true. You can’t win sitting on the sidelines. You have to get in the game and fight.

Our colleagues in the Oakland Education Association are gearing up to do just that. They’ve authorized a strike, if necessary, to lower class sizes, increase student supports, and obtain a living wage for Oakland educators. We will be right there with them, wearing #RedForEd, walking picket lines, and showing our solidarity.

I’m proud to be your president during these times. While the country feels more divided than ever, I’ve never been more hopeful for our future. I believe that educators and unions can wake up our country and prompt a renaissance of justice.

Time and again, we show that our unity is unbreakable, our solidarity is invincible, and our collective action is unstoppable when we stand together. When we fight together, we win, so let’s keep fighting together for our students, our profession and the future of public education. Our students are counting on us.

Eric C. Heins