Van Roekel, Wisconsin 14 Inspire Delegates
President Dennis Van Roekel Addresses the Representative Assembly, and Honors the “Wisconsin 14”
July 02, 2011
By Will Potter
Educators must stand strong and continue to speak up for students, the teaching profession, and the future of the nation, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said Saturday. Van Roekel addressed nearly 8,000 delegates as he called to order the association’s 90th Representative Assembly.
“We care about every student, we care about public education, we care about this country, and we are closing ranks,” Van Roekel said. “Our country is not for sale to the highest political donor or the wealthiest corporations. It belongs to the people who built Main Street, not the wheeler-dealers on Wall Street. It belongs to our children who expect us to safeguard its promise.”
Educators and collective bargaining have been under attack in Wisconsin, Ohio, and beyond. Van Roekel said that these attacks are about politics, not about closing budget deficits or helping students succeed; now is not the time to retreat, it’s time to organize and to lead.
This year’s Friend of Education Award was given to 14 Democratic Senators from Wisconsin who showed that leadership. They made the bold decision earlier this year to leave the state, rather than vote for a bill to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.
NEA delegates gave them a rousing and emotional welcome. They held “Thank You 14” signs, wore T-shirts bearing the nickname and chanted “We are one!”
“My Senate colleagues did not hesitate when the time came to stand up for working people,” Wisconsin Senator Mark Miller said, speaking for the group, to rousing applause.
Throughout his speech, the thousands of delegates in attendance shouted, “Recall!” referring to the effort taking place right now in Wisconsin to recall the Republican lawmakers who rammed through Walker’s anti-worker bill. There are currently six Republicans facing recall elections in the 33-member state Senate.
Educators have been feeling these attacks across the country, and morale has clearly suffered. But they’re rising to the challenge.
“Organizing is the key to all of this,” said Melissa Spencer, president of the Des Moines Education Association. “We’re organizing members, as well as parents and the community to help talk about how teachers need collective bargaining, a fair evaluation system, and a good public school. And, we’re making phone calls, sending emails and visiting legislators to make sure this happens.”
Other highlights of opening day included an address from Illinois governor Pat Quinn, praising teachers and support staff. And Friendship Night included a live performance of NPR's popular radio show "From The Top."
Delegates also got a surprise musical performance on the RA floor, with the unveiling of the new RA theme song, “NEA Standing Strong.” The song inspired and energized delegates with a message that, after a very tough year, was music to their ears: “Standing strong, standing tall…Standing up for what is right and true, NEA is standing up for me and you!”