'One Beautiful Nation' Comes Together in Washington, D.C.

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Tens of thousands of AFT members gathered in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2 to add their voices to the One Nation Working Together march at the Lincoln Memorial. Arriving by bus, car, train and plane, AFTers came from cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Toledo, Ohio, as well as from throughout the states of New Jersey and New York. Members also traveled from as far away as New Mexico and Washington state to attend the event.

With more than 100,000 people in attendance, the march focused on the theme of jobs, justice and education. The gathering was backed by a broad cross section of progressive groups, including civil rights organizations, unions and environmentalists.

 AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka may have said it best when, looking out at the massive crowd, he proclaimed: "You look like one nation, one beautiful nation. This is one nation, and we signify that nation."

In her remarks to the rally participants, AFT president Randi Weingarten said, "Today is about one nation standing together—and a good education is the foundation for everything else we seek today." She also noted that "we must do what we do in our best schools for all of our schools, for all of our children."

Teachers work hard every day to make a difference in young people's lives, Weingarten told the crowd. "But teachers can't do it alone," she added; they need the support of parents, faith leaders, community activists and others in the community.

Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, echoed Weingarten's sentiments. "The test will be whether we do the right thing and bring the entire community together to educate children."

"Demonizing teachers," Henderson added, "is not the answer. You don't reform public education without them."

Bringing people together

AFT secretary-treasurer Antonia Cortese, who attended the event with her daughter, Christina, had this to say as she watched the march unfold: "The spirit of unity in the country is important and is what we need to remember at a time when so many forces are pulling us apart. So I hope this is bringing us together."

One Nation march The largest contingent of AFT members attending the One Nation celebration hailed from New York. It's been very difficult for many of the participants from New York state "with teachers being under attack," said NYSUT president and AFT vice president Richard Iannuzzi as he mingled with his state's delegation. "This march is an opportunity for us to say we've had enough. Our message today counters the message of anger and hate."

AFT Washington president Sandra Schroeder, as well as several members of her affiliate, came from the West Coast to support the event. "The theme of this march was one that I thought was especially important," said Schroeder, who is also an AFT vice president. "There's a great mix of people here, yet we're all focused on working together. I hope that an event like this opens up a different, more positive dialogue in this country."

People came to the march with different issues and concerns, but they left united, AFT executive vice president Lorretta Johnson said. "With all of the problems we're having— especially with the economy and jobs—there was a sense that we can overcome those problems if we stay united," she said.

One of the messages that resounded throughout the day was the importance of getting people to the polls in November. NAACP president Ben Jealous, one of the leading organizers of the One Nation march, underscored that point: "We've got to go home and ask our friends and neighbors to vote. We've got to ask them to get off the sidelines and back onto the battlefield." [Roger Glass and Annette Licitra/video by Matthew Jones and Brett Sherman/photo by Michael Campbell]

October 4, 2010