By most accounts, Americans of all political stripes were surprised to wake up on Nov. 9 to the phrase “President-elect Donald Trump.” Here in New Jersey, as we look forward to the last year of the Christie administration, there is disbelief among most NJEA members that the tone and rhetoric we have endured under our current governor will now have a place in the White House.
“It would be too easy to allow ourselves to give in to that despair, fear, and anger—to assume that losing an election means we give up,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García wrote the day after the election. “But that is not our way. We are educators. Instead, we must realize that today is not the end but the beginning of what we do to keep our country strong for our children. Don’t mourn. Organize.”
There will not be a presidential election for the next four years, but that does not mean there is nothing that can be done to make a difference until 2020. Every member—regardless of whether or not he or she supported Secretary Hillary Clinton—has a role to play at all levels: locally, statewide, nationally and personally.
Broaden your worldview
“By most accounts,” are the first three words of this editorial. But what qualifies as “most accounts” depends on where you get your information. Not everyone was surprised at the results.
Broadening your worldview doesn’t mean flipping between MSNBC and FOX. It means listening with intention to a wide range of people—including those members who may have voted differently in this election. It’s a delicate balance between talking less but refusing to be silenced. It’s figuring out the best way to listen and the best way to be heard.
Strengthen your local, county, state and national association
While we should expect a lot from our association leaders, it’s also important to help them succeed. That means being involved. There is plenty of work to do in your association—and at all levels. Local leaders are always looking for members to serve on committees, to chair those committees, and to take on leadership roles.
Get involved in local politics
Page 13 of this edition of the NJEA Review lists candidates for town councils, school boards, freeholder boards, sheriff’s offices and other local and county positions. Each of these candidates had NJEA members working on his or her behalf, and many of the candidates were NJEA members themselves.
Your first step doesn’t have to include running for office, or even supporting a particular candidate. It can be as simple as putting town council and school board meetings on your calendar and showing up.
Focus on civics education
Regardless of your feelings about the outcome of the presidential election, this campaign revealed the need for Americans to know more about how their government functions.
At the November State Board of Education meeting in Trenton, East Orange Education Association Vice President Brian Rock testified that New Jersey’s social studies standards do not require a civics course—that topics such as civics, economics and geography are supposed to be incorporated into the required history courses. But the standards are so content-heavy, Rock says, that there is little time to adequately cover civics. Rock calls for at least a semester-long course in civics and a more thematic approach to social studies that makes the infusion of civics into social studies more realistic.
Stand up for students, especially the most vulnerable
In his plenary session at the NJEA Convention, teacher Mark Weber said that he hoped that he was wrong about Donald Trump and that the president-elect would grow into his position. But Weber also cautioned that Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign had unleased forces of intolerance within our democracy.
At the NJEA Convention, members reported that their Latino and Latina students were being taunted about being deported, that Muslim students were fearful of being put on watch lists, and that students who identify as LGBT* were anxious about what the future holds for them.
It’s not enough to take a stand against bullying. We must redouble our efforts to create positive school climates so that all children feel welcome and safe in the school community.
Vote with your wallet
You are probably already supporting the organizations and establishments that stand up for your values. As a dues-paying member, you’re helping NJEA remain one of the most powerful voices in the state, fighting with you and for your professional and economic interests. And if you make voluntary contributions to NJEA PAC, you’re helping NJEA stand up for your political interests as well.
It’s likely that public-employee unions, such as NJEA and NEA, will come under attack during the Trump administration. We’ve already had more than a taste of that here in New Jersey. Now, as always, it’s important to support your union brothers and sisters. Make sure to buy union-made products and to patronize business establishments that make the world a better place for children, families, workers and our nation’s most vulnerable residents.
It's always the right time for that kind of action.