Richard A. Fowler
LOS ANGELES—Two civil rights leaders spoke Friday at the American Federation of Teachers' national convention taking place July 11-14 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The Rev. William Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays movement, and 10-year-old student activist Asean Johnson, outlined a vision of how engaging the community, creating new coalitions and fighting for voting rights are essential to reclaiming the promise of public education.
In her keynote speech at the convention on Friday, AFT President Randi Weingarten made it clear that solution-driven unionism can only work when the community is engaged. She said, "When 1 out of 3 Americans was in a labor union, we didn't just speak for the community, we were community. But today, we must create new coalitions and, through them, the groundswell needed to reclaim the promise of America. In some ways, community must be our new density."
Weingarten also stressed the importance of fulfilling the promise of Brown v. Board of Education and continuing the fight for voting rights. She said, "Voting makes a big impact as well, because it paves the way for policies that make a difference."
In his address to convention delegates, Moral Mondays leader Rev. Barber affirmed the power of a united community in the fight for voting rights and equity. He said, "We have seen the power when we mobilize at the state Capitol, the ballot box and the courtroom—that is how we make a fresh promise for America."
AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson, who has been at the forefront of the civil rights movement, also spoke on Friday. She told delegates, "If we truly want to reclaim the promise for our communities and families, then we must find the courage to stand up and fight back against those who seek to privatize our schools."
At the epicenter of the fight forward are the students and families affected by school closures and a lack of equity. Ten-year-old activist Asean Johnson of Chicago laid out a strong case for change. He said, "Now it is time to take that fight to every city in America, where the elected officials think that it is ok to close schools, fire teachers because of test scores, and abandon students like me."
The convention continues through Monday. Press can watch live at http://www.aft.org/convention/live.cfm