Our hero and champion, Hillary Clinton

Every two years, the AFT presents the Women’s Rights Award to a woman whose vision and courage have raised the game for other women. This year’s recipient, Hillary Clinton, is a role model for women in politics, in the workplace and in society as she strives to make our democracy equitable for all people, especially women and girls.

Randi Weingarten and Hillary Clinton

AFT President Randi Weingarten gave that award today to the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. “Hillary Clinton has worked not only to make democracy a more equal place for all people,” Weingarten said, “but she has worked so that when the roll call of history is taken, there is no doubt that she will stand tall.”

Clinton accepted the award with warmth and graciousness. “Receiving this award is not only an honor but imposes a continuing obligation,” she said. “Advancing the rights of women and girls is the great unfinished business of the 21st century. The pressures and forces against progress are stronger than ever.”

She thanked AFT members, for the first of many times, not only for their support in 2016 but even more for their continued support into the coming election season. She noted that the most important test of a nation is how we treat the most vulnerable, and she didn’t need to go into detail for AFT members on the cruelty of the current administration in Washington, which is busy reducing people’s health coverage; funneling billions in tax breaks to corporations and the ultra-rich; gutting funds for public education; and separating children from their parents at the border.

“I find this beyond politics,” Clinton said, “the inhumanity of it, the indecency of it. They are trying to rip out the heart of America.”

She takes hope, however, from an unprecedented outpouring of grass-roots activism that can bring us victory in the midterm elections this fall. Our work has gotten tougher, she said, but so have we. And despite last month’s Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, teachers unions are not going anywhere.

“Keep going. Keep protesting. Keep speaking out for public education. Keep speaking out against gun violence,” she exhorted the crowd to rounds of cheers and more than a few tears. “In this era of alternative facts, keep speaking up for the truth, for evidence, for reason. Keep educating our next generation of citizens. And yes, keep running for office at every level. Most of all, keep standing up for an America in which every child has a world-class education, where they are given the chance to be everything they can be.”

Crowd clapping at AFT convention

Clinton spoke among friends who know her well. Practical and no-nonsense, she has been a lifelong advocate for social justice and women’s rights. She achieved many firsts in her roles as first lady of the United States, a U.S. senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate. “My mother and my grandmothers could never have lived my life; my father and my grandfathers could never have imagined it,” she wrote in her memoir, Living History. “But they bestowed on me the promise of America, which made my life and my choices possible.”

As a youngster, Clinton learned from her parents the values of thrift, hard work and service to others. Her mother gave her a deep respect for learning and coached the youngster to fight back against bullies: “You have to stand up for yourself,” she told her daughter. “There’s no room in this house for cowards.”

At the AFT, there’s no room in our house for cowards, either. As Weingarten put it, Hillary Clinton “keeps fighting back, not just for those of us who love her but for everyone whose voices may not otherwise be heard.”

[Annette Licitra/photos by Pam Wolfe and Elliot Cramer]