Chanting “Labor is your neighbor,” dozens of union members—including fellow educators—gathered on the Meriden town green Saturday to show their support for teacher-turned-Congressional-candidate Jahana Hayes. Hayes is vying for the House seat in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District.
A former Waterbury educator and Connecticut Teacher of the Year, Hayes was named National Teacher of the Year in 2016 and spent the following year traveling across the country, advocating on behalf of public education, and listening to educators, administrators, community leaders, and others about issues that impact students, families, and communities.
“Jahana is a strong champion and advocate for Connecticut students and teachers,” said CEA President Jeff Leake. “She has overcome numerous challenges and has taken every opportunity to improve her own life and the lives of others. She is exactly the type of person we need fighting for all of us in Congress.”
Hayes, whose mother struggled with drug addiction, was raised by her grandmother in a Waterbury housing project. Hayes herself became a mother at 17, but with encouragement from teachers, she not only raised her daughter but also pursued her dream of earning a master’s degree and becoming a teacher. She taught for ten years at Waterbury’s John F. Kennedy High School.
“It took that experience for her to realize that by running for office, she could have an even greater impact on students, public education, and our communities,” Leake said.
Hayes promises to ‘show up’ for teachers, students
“I am an educator. I was born to be an educator,” Hayes said at the rally, adding that she knows what it feels like to have a dream and be in an environment where you’re not expected to thrive. Teachers, she has often said, can make all the difference, because they are not visitors in the lives of their students but have an enduring presence and make a lasting impact.
At the rally, she mused, “Some wondered if the rain would stop people from showing up today. I said, ‘These are teachers! Of course they’ll show up!’” She similarly promised to “show up” for teachers and students if elected to Congress. “Your vote is your important right. You can trust me with your vote. You can trust me with your voice. Who will speak up for students? I will. Who will speak up for union workers? I will. My job is not just to improve the lives of my students and the future of those students but to elevate my profession. This is a profession. Everyone talks about how wonderful teachers are, but when we advocate for ourselves, our profession, and funding for public education,” she suggested, we need to take note of who stands with us and who doesn’t.
Waterbury teacher George Flaherty recalls, “Having taught with Jahana at Kennedy High School, I know that she can bring her approach of reaching out to everyone to be involved. She inspired students to become better and to keep working toward improving the world in which they live. She is someone who knows education issues and the value of public education and our union. She will bring those values with her to Congress.”
Hayes joins a growing number of educators who have decided to hit the campaign trail and run for public office in response to decreased funding for public education. At least 70 public school teachers are on the ballot in states where teachers’ strikes have been held, including Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.
Hayes has the endorsement of the National Education Association (NEA) Fund for Children and Public Education, CEA, and AFT.
Speaking at the rally, AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker expressed her excitement at “the prospect of a teacher in D.C. representing all of us. Every day in the classroom, she was meeting the needs of her students not only academically but in ways that stitched together the community, which is exactly the attitude she will take as a congresswoman in D.C.”
She added, “Like Jahana showed up for her students, we show up as a union for candidates who support our values.” Ricker also challenged wealthy corporate interests working to take down unions, noting that backers in the Janus case “are no match for our collective voice. They are learning that there is power in our unions, and we are here for good!”
Also speaking at the event were Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Connecticut Working Families Party; Meriden Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona; ACT-Connecticut President Jan Hochadel; State Senator Gary Winfield; and Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, candidate for lieutenant governor. Following the rally was a labor walk and door-knocking campaign to urge community members to vote for education-friendly candidates.