AFT Resolution

THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACY

WHEREAS, the founding slogan of the American Federation of Teachers—Democracy in Education; Education for Democracy—reflects our long-standing dedication to the cause of democracy, and more than a century of battles on its behalf; and

WHEREAS, democratic government is essential if Americans are to guarantee our freedom, our rights and our common good; and

WHEREAS, democracy is necessary for working people and unions to secure our economic livelihoods, to ensure a decent standard of living, to have voice and rights in the workplace, to elect to government representatives who are committed to a fair and just economy and the interests of working people, and to freely advocate for a progressive agenda on behalf of the many, and not just the wealthy few; and

WHEREAS, for the American Federation of Teachers, democracy is not simply a form of government, but also—in the words of our founding member John Dewey—“a way of life” that extends to civil society and the economy, which is why we see a vibrant and robust system of public education as an essential component of democracy and crucial for its survival; and

WHEREAS, authoritarian governments have always sought to suppress unions and other free institutions of civil society as threats to their rule; and

WHEREAS, in recent years, there have been disturbing developments in the American polity and society that have chipped away at the foundation of our democracy: a deluge of unlimited, unaccountable “dark money” of wealthy individuals and corporations into the political process after the Citizens United case; extreme gerrymandering of electoral districts; polarization on the far right; the calculated obstruction of normal governmental processes; voter suppression measures aimed at denying the franchise of poor people, people of color and youth; and union-suppression measures designed to undermine the freedom of association of working people to organize into unions and engage in collective action; and

WHEREAS, the 2016 elections brought a full-fledged “crisis of democracy” to the United States, as an authoritarian populism of the far right personified by Donald Trump took control of all three branches of the federal government, as well as many state governments; and

WHEREAS, under the Trump administration, attacks on the bedrock of democracy—on the rule of law and the Constitution; on First Amendment freedoms of expression, association and the press; on the right to vote in free and fair elections; on unions and other institutions of civil society; and on governmental officials who have refused to transform themselves into handmaidens of these undemocratic attacks—have grown in intensity and now represent a clear and present danger to American democracy; and

WHEREAS, central to Trumpism—as it has been to other authoritarian populist movements of the past and present—is a demagogic appeal to racial and other resentments, targeting our fellow Americans: immigrants and refugees; Muslims, Jews and other minority religions; Latinos, African-Americans and other people of color; women; LGBTQ people; and people with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, these demagogic appeals have led to increased acts of discrimination and of violence against our fellow Americans, such as those undertaken in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., by white supremacists and neo-Nazis; and

WHEREAS, this “crisis of democracy” is not distinct to the U.S., but reflective of an ominous international trend in the growth of authoritarian populist movements of the far right; and

WHEREAS, authoritarian populist regimes of the far right now control governments across the globe, from Hungary, Poland and Turkey to India, the Philippines and Russia, and present real threats throughout much of the rest of Asia, Europe and North America; and

WHEREAS, the pattern in this “crisis of democracy” is not violent usurpation of democratic rule, but the assumption of power through electoral means, followed by the incremental dismantling of the institutions and practices of democracy; and

WHEREAS, there is convincing evidence of political collaboration between Donald Trump and elements of his campaign and administration, on the one hand, and authoritarian populists of the far right internationally—most significantly, the Russian government with its interference in our elections, on the other hand; and

WHEREAS, democracy, in the United States and around the world, now confronts a threat unseen since the rise of totalitarianism in the 1930s:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers affirms the centrality of democracy to our core mission as a union of educators, healthcare professionals, and state and local government workers, and recommits itself to the defense of democracy—in government, civil society and the economy—both in the United States and internationally; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT affirms our opposition to developments that have undermined American democracy in recent years—the presence of unlimited “dark money” in the U.S. political process, extreme gerrymandering, voter suppression and union suppression; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT condemns the attacks on American democracy by Donald Trump, his administration, the Republican majorities in Congress and in politically aligned state governments, as well as their political collaboration with authoritarian regimes of the far right internationally, especially with the government of Russia and its interference in our elections; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT abhors the demagogic appeals of Trumpism to racial and other resentments: Such prejudices have no place in a democratic polity and society, and are a cancer in the American body politic; and

RESOLVED, that to defend American democracy, the defeat of Trumpism, both in federal and state governments, is a strategic imperative to which the AFT is wholeheartedly committed, starting with the 2018 elections; and

RESOLVED, that as a union of educators and other professionals, the AFT is committed to the development and use of a civic education that provides American youth with a full understanding of the importance of democracy, and the skills, knowledge and disposition to be active citizens in a democracy; and

RESOLVED, that to accomplish these objectives, the AFT will join forces wherever possible with other defenders of democracy—in other unions and education organizations; in the movements for civil rights, immigration rights, religious freedom, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and disability rights; and among elected officials.

(2018)

Please note that a newer resolution, or portion of a resolution, may have superseded an earlier resolution on the same subject. As a result, with the exception of resolutions adopted at our most recent AFT convention, resolutions do not necessarily reflect current AFT policies.