A top union official, National Education Association Vice President Becky Pringle, is challenging the nation’s progressives to hit the streets for democracy.
Pringle opened her address to Common Cause’s Blueprint for a Great Democracy conference by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the importance of the cause. The Nov. 7 confab discussed what’s wrong with U.S. democracy – including problems that predate the election of Donald Trump to the Oval Office exactly a year ago.
Prime among them: A campaign finance system that gives too much clout to the rich and corporations and pervasive cynicism and distrust of institutions, politicians and government, abetted by a president who sows hate and a fractured mass media which allow people to create news silos that tell them only what they want to hear.
The auditorium-roomful of delegates at the NEA discussed those problems, and kicked around potential solutions. At least several speakers said they were encouraged by the mass outpourings in the streets since Trump’s inauguration, and the impact they have had already in stopping his agenda, notably the Trump-GOP scheme to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to replace it with virtually nothing at all.
But the basic problem is a disease afflicting democracy itself, Pringle said. That disease is a combination of apathy and bitterness, other speakers explained. The antidote, Pringle proclaimed, is to get out in the streets and show that mass action makes a difference.
“If we do not act, we will surely be dragged down the long, dark, shameful corridor of time, reserved by those with power, but without compassion,” she said. “Stand up when the very foundation of democracy is threatened and when the very powerful use their power to oppress, suppress and destroy.”
Several speakers said developments in the year since Trump won the electoral vote, and particularly since his Jan. 20 inauguration, give them hope the U.S. people have woken up to defend democracy. Developments include:
• The massive women’s rights march – including union women – which dwarfed Trump’s inauguration crowd.
• The jump in membership of civic organizations such as Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union. Common Cause has seen donations quadruple in number since January 20.
• First-time candidates coming out from everywhere to seek political offices, emphasizing workers’ rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, anti-discrimination campaigns and the right to reproductive choice.
• The successful campaigns to protect the Affordable Care Act. Several speakers said they hope to repeat the success in the current fight against the Trump-GOP tax cut plan. Independent analysts report 80 percent of tax cut’s benefits would go to the top 1 percent.
• Other large campaigns for environmental causes and for keeping the 800,000 Dreamers in the U.S.
All that must be combined into a comprehensive campaign for democracy’s preservation not just for themselves but for their kids, said Pringle, a middle school physical science teacher from Harrisburg, Pa.
“We need to stand in that gap” between democracy’s values and the present attacks “when our children’s resources are diminished” through cuts in education dollars, she said.
Though Pringle did not mention her by name, that includes Trump administration plans, pushed by Education Secretary Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos, to yank millions of federal education dollars from public schools and send them along with the kids to private, often religious, schools.
And the work to defend democracy would not be easy, said Pringle. Campaigners “have to face the reality that a man who openly embodies hate, xenophobia and racism has given license to have it take hold” nationwide, she warned, again meaning Trump.
“You will lift us up and help us create a collective voice that truly reflects this country’s hopes, dreams and possibilities” if you get out and actively promote not just the individual causes but democracy itself, she challenged the group.
“But just like” famed labor crusader Mary Harris “’Mother’ Jones, I will tell the truth where I please,” Pringle vowed. “Let’s tell the truth wherever we please. In Congress and the state legislatures, let’s tell the truth wherever we please,” she challenged the crowd.
“To the greedy billionaires who are rigging our economy, let’s tell the truth wherever we please. And to those” politicians who cater to the rich “trying to win every race from the school board to the governor’s mansion, let’s tell the truth, wherever we please.
“And when they try to stifle our voices by stifling our union rights and our right to vote, we will tell them, ‘There is no turning back.’”