What I Do
IBEW keeps San Francisco's cable cars running.
Thank you, Susan [Sarandon]. Thank you for your kind introduction. I am truly honored. And thank you for your years of activism for working people across the United States, and indeed around the globe. You’ve been a mainstay of Occupy Wall Street, and last year in Madison, Wisconsin, you helped turn a right-wing attack into a showcase of American solidarity and popular protest. In so many ways and in so many places before and since, you have stood with working people, and I thank you for it. Thank you, my sister.
And thank you, Ernie [Logan], for inviting me here to talk to your union. You know first-hand how important educators can be. I read about how your fourth grade teacher, Rose Albert, gave you comfort and guidance when tragedy struck your family. And I know she helped put you on a path toward a wonderful and fulfilling career in education.
And I’d like to extend my congratulations to you as you celebrate 50 years of union activism.
Like most of the school administrators of this union, Ernie taught before he managed, and like all of you he remains a teacher in his heart—even as he became a school leader.
You see, for those of us who intimately know America’s public schools, we see them as so much more than a collection of rising or falling test scores or budget numbers to be trimmed. Schools are about our children’s—and all children’s—futures. Schools are about our country’s future. Schools are a structured learning environment peopled by students and professionals who believe—truly and deeply believe—in the uplifting power of knowledge and the positive impact of education.
As the leader of this union, Ernie has helped New York City’s administrators meet the challenges and expectations of our changing times. He has raised his union’s voice. He makes sure your voice is heard. He makes sure that the views and experience and ideas of academic professionals get some airtime in the political and legislative debates on public education.
And, believe me, that’s not always an easy task in today’s hotly politicized environment.
And so, for your energy and leadership, Ernie, I thank you. I’m proud to call you my friend and my brother.
You give us confidence that together, all of us will find opportunity amidst the current threats to quality public education -- and we will seize those opportunities, and build on them.
United, we will turn the national conversation toward fair and lasting solutions—and away from the knee-jerk impulse to cast aside creativity in favor of cuts, and cuts, and more cuts.
Speaking with one voice, we will push back against those who continually try to pose a false choice between students and teachers—when will they learn?
Let me tell you this: Just as we took apart and discredited last year’s anti-education hit piece masquerading as the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” we’ll dissect and debunk this latest project called Students First New York because it’s just more of the same bunk funded by Wall Street billionaires and aimed at America’s teachers and educators.
The truth is simple. America’s public students don’t need a silver bullet, or a man who can deflect bullets. Yes, we can improve our schools. We can improve education. But we cannot do it without trained professionals and adequate resources. Period.
And it wouldn’t hurt, along the way, for our politicians to respect those who have dedicated their lives and energies to the education of America’s children.
I want to talk to you for a moment about teachable moments.
Last year in an incredible display of solidarity and hope, tens of thousands of people swarmed the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to take away the voice of public employees.
I was there. I saw students and Steelworkers who slept in the capitol for what felt like forever. I saw teachers, and other public workers with their families. I saw people from all walks of life -- people who had no direct personal stake in the Wisconsin fight—students, seniors, all rallying to support good, middle-class jobs, and the rights of Wisconsin's public employees.
Now, let me tell you, I can personally tell you that the AFL-CIO was not directing the action. Nor was the Democratic Party or the Obama Administration. No, what we saw, and what we joined was a true bottom-up, grassroots movement with its own momentum, a spontaneous outcry against our winner-take-all political culture.
For years, we’ve wanted a national debate about collective bargaining. Well, guess what? For more than a year now, America has been talking about collective bargaining, and poll after poll shows the same thing. More than 60 percent of Americans say every worker should have collective bargaining rights.
Then last fall, Occupy Wall Street appeared in New York City and spread to Washington and across the nation to every major city, every state capital and even smaller towns, with a simple message of unity for the 99 percent and the basic idea that collective action can tackle inequality and alter our national debate.
This truly has been a year for amazing teachable moments—and it’s our responsibility to make the most of those moments and keep this movement moving and this spark alive.
It’s our job to take advantage of the opening we’ve been given. It’s our job to explain our vision of America to a public that’s hungry for a road map forward.
New York City’s teachers and administrators are an asset, not a liability.
Investment in public education works. It yields results every year, every time.
America has the resources. What we need is political will.
And that’s where we come in.
You and me -- all of us together -- we can’t allow our politicians to throw billions of dollars on fancy new convention centers and then cry poverty when it comes to public schools.
We can’t stand by while Wall Street politicians demean educators as deadwood, failures and second-raters. And we can’t allow our public schools to be bought off by billionaire ideologues and hedge funders.
Private money in public education is no substitute for public funding—because it gives the reins to rich folks whose personal agenda – no matter what it is -- should never substitute for a thoughtful public agenda for educating our children. We simply cannot put the children of the 99 percent at the mercy of the 1 percent.
Brothers and sisters, you’re bearing the brunt of the broken promises and the double-talk. You’re given mandates but not the autonomy, flexibility or funding you need. You and your fellow members have not had a raise in two years, and for some it’s been longer. And you’re living without the security of a signed contract.
We’re done standing quietly while politicians attack public workers for having retirement security and a voice on the job. We should be asking why other workers do not have a voice at work or a secure retirement—not demonizing those who do.
America’s not poor, sisters and brothers. Our gross domestic product remains the envy of the world! And so it falls to us to make the call, and raise the will to restore balance, and invest in ourselves and our future, and in a quality public education for every single child in America, so each and every child can reach his or her own potential.
We have a vision, my friends, of a nation that honors the dignity and contributions of working people—all working people—whether you teach the class or mop the classroom floor, whether you monitor the lunchroom or manage the monitors.
Sisters and brothers, the right-wing politicians who won big in the 2010 mid-term elections and in state houses across the country promised jobs -- but they never took up the important work of creating jobs.
As we gear up for the elections this year, let’s remember that it’s our job to make sure each and every elected leader—Democrat or Republican—respects the contributions of working people and fights for jobs, or pays a political price. We know how. It’s time for us to get to work.
It’s our responsibility to make sure every elected leader who claims to be a friend of working people actually walks the walk when the time comes.
Working people—union and non-union—make America work. We are the job creators. When we do better, America does better. When we do better, public revenue rises—and suddenly education is affordable again. When we do better, we create demand—and demand fuels economic growth.
It all starts, brothers and sisters, with a commitment we make to America and to rebuild the American Dream, because we believe in the promise of the American Dream—a dream not of endless riches for the 1 percent, but of enough for the 99 percent.
In our vision, those who work hard and study hard and do their part can get ahead, can afford to raise a family if they want one and have health care and look forward to a secure retirement and a future for their children. It’s not too much to ask. It’s the future we can have. It’s the future we must have!
That’s the driving force behind our political program -- Labor 2012—and in the campaigns beyond.
And we need you involved in Labor 2012 heart and soul. We need you to stand with your teachers, your janitors, and the parents and families of your students. We need you to lead by your word and by your example—because those around you follow what you do more than what you say.
We need you because we know that when there’s a choice between a fair shake for the 99 percent and a special break for the 1 percent, President Obama is the one who stands on our side.
We need you because when America was on the brink of a second Great Depression, President Obama persuaded Congress to pass a recovery program that saved or created 3.6 million jobs.
We need you because when 9 million Americans lost their health coverage during George Bush’s recession, President Obama championed comprehensive health insurance reform which may not be perfect but millions of working families can breathe easier when their kids need to see a doctor.
And the American labor movement needs you because after the big banks crashed the economy, President Obama insisted upon Wall Street reform—enacted over the objection of almost every Republican in Congress—to clean up the mess caused by decades of deregulation.
He did this all in spite of unprecedented and irresponsible opponents who are less interested in doing the right thing than in doing the far right thing—and whose only answer to the economic crisis they created is more of the same failed policies that got us into the mess.
President Obama has done this—and more—in the face of unyielding and unthinking opposition. We know progress never comes easy, and the only way we will ever enjoy our historic moment is when we build a historic movement.
And that’s what we plan to do. Sisters and brothers, we are working people building power for working people, and we’re building to last.
We have to be united in public and in purpose.
Together with our 3.5 million-member community affiliate Working America, we are seizing this opportunity to communicate not only with working men and women who benefit from union representation, but with all of the 99 percent who need a greater measure of social justice.
We’ll mobilize as many as 400,000 union member volunteers nationwide to talk to friends and family, neighbors and co-workers about the issues at stake in this election and the records and programs of the competing candidates. We're committed to giving you powerful online tools so your members and your allies can amplify their voices in your communities.
Working people like you and me won’t just knock on union doors. We’ll knock on every door – union and non-union. We’ll hit every street to help our candidates win. We’ll stuff envelopes and hit the phones. And after we Get Out the Vote, we’ll stay engaged. We’ll work just as hard to hold our leaders accountable on the day after Election Day as the day before—day after day, year after year.
Listen, I know you and your members are overworked. I know that many of the so-called oversight duties of the Education Department fall onto your shoulders. I understand that the attacks on public workers have been demoralizing.
But I have good news for you. The tide has begun to turn. Even in this tough economy, our numbers grew last year. We’re finding new energy, a new voice, and new fields to organize—some of them right here in New York City, and at the same time we’re getting re-energized in our traditional industries. Our labor movement is on the move.
Together, we can, and we will rebuild our public education system into the envy of the world.
We can, and we will win the investment of trillions of dollars into our ailing infrastructure, as we so desperately need—in our public schools, our rail yards, our highways, bridges and airports.
We can, and we will develop new sources of energy, and pursue new green technologies and traditional sources of energy, without wrecking our environment. We can do all these things and more.
That’s how we’ll rebuild the American Dream—a dream built of millions of individual stories of success and solidarity -- stories as simple as they are beautiful.
That dream—that we can work hard and have enough for ourselves and our families—is the American Dream. That dream is also our choice and our challenge. It’s the test we face!
That’s a test we’ll pass, sisters and brothers, because United, we cannot be turned aside.
We will work for it, sisters and brothers. We will stand for it. Together. Each of us. To bring out the best in America. To bring out the best in ourselves, and each other.
Because, my friends, we are the 99 percent! We are moving America forward. We’ve come too far to be turned back now. We won’t back down. We won’t back up. And we will not be denied.
Thank you. God bless you, the work you do, and the work you will do!