With less than four weeks left until Election Day, dozens of CEA members, staff, and leaders—joined by NEA Vice President Becky Pringle—came out to Danbury this weekend in a show of support for 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes, who is running for office in Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District.
“Everything is at stake,” Hayes told the crowd, referring to mounting threats to public education and teachers’ rights to bargain for fair wages and working conditions. “I represent a lot of people—the voices of a lot of people—who are saying, ‘No, we will not accept this. No, this is not O.K. This has to change, and we will not be forgotten.’ And there’s so much responsibility in that.”
Pringle, a middle school science teacher with 31 years of classroom experience, captured the current education struggle with the words of W.E.B. Dubois, who said, “The freedom to learn has been bought by bitter sacrifice. So whatever you might think about the curtailment of other civil rights, you must fight to the last ditch to keep open the right to learn.”
‘I am union’
When she first considered running for office, joining scores of other teachers-turned-legislative-contenders around the country, Hayes said some people tried to throw water on her plans by pointing out that she lacked political connections and didn’t know a lot of people.
Smiling, she told the educators gathered in Danbury on Saturday morning, “Don’t tell me I don’t know anyone. I am union. I have brothers and sisters in every part of this state. We are important, and we have a voice. When I brought us to D.C. as Teacher of the Year, all the teachers stood with me. Every teacher in this state owned it. And once again, we’re standing together and fighting for what we’ve already litigated. I just want you all to know that I could never do this by myself.”
She added that as a history teacher, the past struggles of the teachers union “are not lost on me,” and noted, “I know how we got a 40-hour week and paid time off and family and medical leave. I know how we got here, so this idea that someone woke up and decided to be ‘nice’ to us—no. We raised our collective voices. We used the power of the vote. We reminded people how strong we are when we get together.”
Commenting on the current challenges facing teachers unions, she said, “I just think we have to do that one more time. We will not be deterred. We are immovable, we are unstoppable, and we are fierce.”
Education is political
Hayes was joined at Danbury’s meet-and-greet by other pro-education candidates running for state office.
“These are the people who are going to stand up for working families,” said Pringle. “These are the people who understand that unions make us all stronger. These are the people who will fight for us every single day, and you are the people who are going to go out and get those votes. Remind them of Plato’s words: ‘If you think you are too good or too smart to be involved in politics, then you will be ruled by those who are neither good nor smart.’ Every decision in our classrooms, in our worksites, in our lives is a political decision, and so we must stand up, and we must vote. Our children are depending on us to be worthy of them. Thank you, Connecticut, for leading the way.“