Tens of thousands of activists, including hundreds of NEA-member teachers and education support professionals, gathered Saturday at the One Nation Working Together Rally to call on Washington for justice, jobs and education.
One of these advocates was Rita Darragh-Connors, who traveled over 150 miles from Allentown, Pa., to march for her middle school students.
“It’s my responsibility and privilege to give them a voice, long after I am gone,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “That’s who I am here for. Yes, I care about my job, but I am here for them.”
Darragh-Connors, toting her “Proud Urban Educator” sign, joined hundreds of fellow NEA members from across the country at the four-hour-long event, which filled the National Mall with music, poetry and resounding calls for strengthened education.
Wearing bright T-shirts and signs, individuals from over four hundred progressive organizations, including the NAACP, the Urban League and labor unions including the AFL-CIO and SEIU, gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the historic site of Martin Luther King’s 1963 march for jobs and freedom.
The principles of One Nation Working Together – working collaboratively for good jobs, equal justice and quality public schools – align with the mission of NEA, and many members were proud to be a part of the march.
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“It was an amazing rally. It was awesome to see labor organizations and civil rights organizations come together,” said Jolene Tripp, an Education Support Professional from Redlands, Calif. She appreciated the peaceful, positive energy of the rally, and left with the hope that lawmakers “start listening to educators.”
Tripp’s call for teachers have their voices heard was echoed by NEA members at the rally. Many expressed frustration about the proliferation of Tea Party politics and “teacher bashing,” and they attended One Nation to speak up for their peers, schools and students.
“We want to show that there’s a need to support workers – and teachers – in America,” said Claire Merced, a high school Spanish teacher from San Francisco, who wished more people would visit schools and talk to teachers. “I’d like to see people shadow us to see just how much we do.”
Darragh-Connors agreed. “I’m tired of the policymakers being so far from the frontline,” she said.
The One Nation Working Together movement aims to change that. Education resonated as the major thread tying social and economic issues together, and every speaker, from Rev. Jesse Jackson to Harry Belafonte to NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, emphasized it in his or her presentation.
(Check out the pictures taken by NEA members)
“Our country can’t create jobs or achieve justice without great education,” said Van Roekel, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
He stressed the NEA’s commitment to its Priority Schools Campaign, which aims to transform low-performing schools and raise achievement. At the event, NEA board members urged fellow marchers to take the Priority Schools Pledge and volunteer in a local school. Nearly 1,000 did.
Diane Lillard, a second grade teacher from Cleveland, Tenn., was amazed to hear how education was the cornerstone of each speech. “People young and old realize the importance of education. Without teachers, there would be no other careers!” she said.
Other NEA members felt this solidarity at the end of the rally, too. Jody Dosher, a special education teacher who traveled to the event from Colorado, spotted a group of group of World War II veterans at the event who had all donned “If You Can Read This, Thank a Teacher” T-shirts to show their support for education. He appreciated that people of “every age, every race, and every ethnicity” were represented at the event.
The speakers at the march urged this varied assemblage of participants to keep Saturday’s energy alive by voting in November’s mid-term elections for candidates that will champion education and social justice, and Van Roekel made this appeal to the crowd: “Let us leave here committed to each child’s education.”
For NEA members like Rita Darragh-Connors, who came so far to take a stand at One Nation for her students, this is all in a day’s work.