A digital sit-in and massive call-in on Aug. 10, sponsored by the Poor People’s Campaign, drew thousands of participants who flooded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s offices with phone calls to demand that he stop holding the HEROES Act hostage.
AFT President Randi Weingarten joined the Rev. William Barber, the Rev. Liz Theoharis and other advocates for the Moral Monday Digital March on Mitch McConnell to encourage participants to challenge McConnell’s meanness, mayhem and misery because he is in the drivers’ seat when it comes to passing legislation that would provide funding for state and local governments to reopen public schools safely and to help the unemployed, renters, homeowners and others.
If McConnell wanted to, “in the first three bills, he could have made sure that people have healthcare, sick leave, unemployment, rent forgiveness … not just a moratorium. But he said from the beginning that he wanted the money to go to corporations,” said Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.
As a result, most of the money went to corporations and not to the people who were struggling, said Barber, who considers the Heroes Act, passed by the House of Representatives in May, a compromise. However, McConnell has held up the legislation because he and other Republicans have balked at renewing the $600 a week payment for unemployment relief, among other things.
Barbers said the notion that people will not go to work if they continue to get $600 in unemployment plays off an old racist trope that Black, brown and poor people are lazy. “It’s also ugly, in the midst of a pandemic, to suggest folk are home partying, that people are just holding out,” said Barber. “People don’t want to work because they are not being protected. … Let’s not be fooled. McConnell is at the center of all of this misery, this mayhem,” he said.
“We know that kids need schools right now and in fact, if we had fought the virus the way European countries have fought the virus … we’d have kids in schools right now because we would have tackled the virus in so many different places, we would have had less than1 percent community spread, and then we would have been able to do the kind of testing, and tracing and safeguards that were necessary,” Weingarten said.
“The HEROES Act is not perfect, but it created the kind of unemployment extension, it created the money for schools to pay for PPE like masks and face shields, it created money for ventilation systems because we have so many old buildings—we would have been able to figure this out,” said Weingarten, adding that the AFT released a plan months ago to reopen schools safely.
“There have been thousands of phone calls and letters sent to McConnell and to Republicans talking about what was needed to do all of this,” said Weingarten, referring to reopening schools. “We know, as you have said so often, that the poor never get the equality or opportunity that they should. Schooling is the way of doing it, but schooling should not be about jeopardizing health; schooling should be opportunity. What McConnell has done here is criminal, by not giving the funding that is needed. ... They need to meaningfully negotiate that money so that kids can have a decent education,” she said.
The Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign said, “If we were serious about opening our schools, if we were serious about protecting the lives of our kids, if we were serious about wanting everybody to have opportunity in education, we could have done it. So, we need to show that McConnell does not care about children; he does not care about education. And we have to act, and we have to call and tell him that it’s immoral to be putting our children, teachers and families in harm’s way.”
Participants also heard from people on the frontlines of this crisis like Leslie Jones, a grandmother of three, who is grateful that her grandchildren will not be attending Atlanta public schools in person this fall, attending classes remotely instead. Jones said she stands with the teachers who are asking for the proper safety measures in place to reopen safely.
“Until they figure out how to open schools safely, [my grandchildren] will be home,” said Jones.
Lare Allen, a member of the Osceola County Education Association in Florida, said it’s not true that teachers don’t want to go back to school. “We love our kids, we want the best for our kids, we want our kids to do better than we’ve done, but we want to do that safely,” said Allen. “They are not putting in place the guidelines that we need that [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] originally came up with that would help us be safe and teach our children. One man cannot stand in the gap and hold up the whole government,” he said, adding that this is exactly what McConnell is doing.