12/07/2020

Continuing the fight for equity after the election

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Keep your foot on the gas. Don’t let up.

This message, from AFT Secretary-Treasurer Fedrick Ingram, characterized the determination displayed during the most recent “Many Threads, One Fabric” event Dec. 3, where five justice warriors discussed postelection steps for activists and strategies to hold elected officials accountable. The virtual event, available for viewing here, was the third in a series of explorations of equity issues organized by New York State United Teachers and the AFT.

many threads one fabric

After going all out knocking on doors, making phone calls and rallying the vote for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, speakers were eager to bring that same energy to this time of transition, as the new administration gears up to take office in January. Among their priorities—not just for Biden and Harris but for Congress and advocates pressing for change in all quarters—are a stimulus package for pandemic relief, electing Democratic senators in Georgia, appointing more Latinx leaders to Biden’s Cabinet and staff, re-establishing crucial relationships between Native nations and the U.S. government, and more broadly advocating for racial equity for Black people, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Latinx people, Indigenous people and other people of color. They also identified supporting public schools and healthcare as highly valued goals.

“This election was a multiracial effort that together scored a decisive victory for the Biden-Harris ticket with the largest turnout in U.S. history,” said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center and a vice president of the California Federation of Teachers. “We need to celebrate this victory, but we also need to build on what this means in terms of moving toward a more multiracial democracy.” To that end, he said, “We need to do everything we can to ensure a Democratic victory in the state of Georgia and the U.S. Senate,” referring to the runoff election that will determine whether the Senate majority will be Democratic or Republican.

Wong and others also stressed the importance of a pandemic relief package from Congress. “People are hurting,” said Ingram. “This country is in dire straits, not on Wall Street but on Main Street, and on your street. We have to call out Mitch McConnell and the Republican senators to get them to agree to a stimulus package.”

Ingram also pressed for national protocols to slow the spread of the virus, and a focus on safely returning children to schools—an issue addressed in the AFT’s most recent blueprint for reopening schools.

Staying connected to the Biden-Harris transition team is key, said Diana Cournoyer, executive director of the National Indian Education Association. Presenting a concise list of needs for the first 100 days could keep inclusion issues at the top of the agenda. Besides addressing the devastation COVID-19 has brought to Native American people, Cournoyer’s community priorities are infrastructure, improved communication between the Native American nations and the U.S. governments—which for four years abandoned their annual leader talks—and returning the civil rights department to the Department of Education. Just as the Navajo Nation came out in droves to vote—even riding horses to the polls—now, says Cournoyer, “It’s time we take our voices to this transition team, and that’s what we plan to do.”

Sindy Benavides, chief executive officer of the League of United Latin American Citizens, is also focused on the transition: LULAC is pushing for 20 percent of the president’s Cabinet to be of Latinx origin and listing the issues that are most important to Latinx Americans. Disappointed that her community was not given more attention during the campaign, she said she is determined to be heard on issues like immigration, COVID-19 relief and funding public schools. “We are not silent, we are blowing the horn, raising our arms, putting in the media that we want to see ourselves represented at all levels,” she said.

“We need to envision a multiracial democracy that can unite the people of this country around values that honor and cherish the worth and dignity of every human being,” said Lezli Baskerville, president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, who moderated the discussion. “We need to ground a multiracial democracy based on economic and racial justice, a national mobilization to address COVID, equitable economic recovery that affirms the fundamental role of communities of color and working class people.”

“Get ready to empower your voice, rewrite your history, decolonize and reconcile your nations,” said Cournoyer.

[Virginia Myers]