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Press Release

Remarks as prepared for delivery by Becky Pringle, President, National Education Association, to the 102nd Representative Assembly

Pringle addressed more than 6,000 NEA delegates meeting in Orlando July 3–6, 2023.
NEA President Becky Pringle delivering her keynote address at the 2023 RA
Published: July 3, 2023

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

Born in 1903 in Virginia, Ella Baker grew up in North Carolina hearing stories from her grandmother, Josephine Ross, about what it was like to be enslaved. 

Armed with her grandmother’s stories of bravery, courage and resistance, Ella Baker used her life to fight for racial and social justice, rising through the ranks of the NAACP, and helping Dr. King create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 

In 1960, when college students from North Carolina A&T were denied service at a Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter, Ella seized an opportunity to create space for, train, and center young activists, leading to the founding of SNCC—the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—a group of college students, including a young John Lewis, who, as you know, protested segregation throughout the South. My cousin, Roberta was one of those student leaders, too.

She, like John and like Ella, believed that the fight for freedom can never stop. Roberta also taught me that when you grow weary or overwhelmed by the responsibility to fight for justice, always remember: “Our ancestors surround us like a cushion—one we can lean back on when we need to call on that power.”

NEA, we gather today almost 7,000 educators strong, the highest governing body of the National Education Association; the largest democratic, deliberative delegation in the world. Holding the legacy of leaders who came before us; building on what they’ve done, we, the NEA, are taking up the mantle to fight for freedom every day, all day.

And although we can fall back on that cushion when we must, our collective fight for education, democracy, and freedom? That must be unrelenting.

With 3 million members in households all across this nation, it is our duty to lead in the magnificent and complex constellation that is public education.

In the coming days, we will learn as we lean into what’s possible. We will deliberate as we make the decisions that will guide our work ahead. We will leave this space inspired by new ideas and insights; diverse experiences and newfound expertise. 

NEA, our struggle for freedom will never rest. 

We have come here to Florida—our nation’s Ground Zero for shameful, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic rhetoric and dangerous actions. We have come here because our children are here. We have come here because our colleagues are here. We have come here because educators, students, and their communities are being attacked by laws that threaten their safety, question their humanity, and block their access to every basic right that defines the word FREEDOM! We stand ready to lift up and protect our colleagues and their students. Right here in Florida, we will preserve and strengthen a democracy that was steeped in the power of “We the People!” 

In this moment—in this state—where the LGBTQ+ community—especially those who are transgender—face relentless attacks, we will fight for the right of every student and every educator to stand completely in the authenticity of who they know themselves to be; to embrace the gender expression that reflects who they are.

In this moment when voting rights hang in the balance, and reproductive rights remain at risk we are required to fight for fair and free elections and a woman’s right to control her own body. 

NEA, this is that moment with the residue of the pandemic lingering, with our psyches still fragile we must try to make sense of all we have lost, and all that we have learned.

NEA, this is that moment when your professional responsibility and your academic freedom to teach the truth of our nation’s history—and its impact to this day—can cost you your license, your job, your life. I will always remember the tearful yet defiant Florida educator who expressed the concerns of far too many, telling me: “I can’t teach like this. I refuse to.” 

NEA, this is that moment when an extremist, out-of-touch Supreme Court slammed shut the doors of access and opportunity for millions of Americans by outlawing affirmative action; refusing to acknowledge the way student loan debt puts higher education out of reach for too many and keeps millions of Americans from experiencing financial freedom in their lifetimes.

During one 24-hour period this radical court struck yet another blow against our LGBTQ+ community, with a decision that—for the first time ever—licenses discrimination under the First Amendment against a protected class. 

NEA, it is in this moment that we cannot rest, because as educators we know Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson told the truth when she wrote in her dissenting opinion: “Every moment these gaps persist is a moment [where] this great country falls short of actualizing one of its foundational principles—the “self-evident” truth that all of us are created equal.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the truth when she wrote: “Despite the Court’s unjustifiedexercise of power, the opinion today will serve only to highlight the Court’s own impotence in the face of an America whose cries for equality resound.”

Both ended their blistering rebukes with these powerful words: I dissent.

NEA, we ALL dissent!

So this is that moment that requires us to remind the nation that compounded inequities continue to affect far too many students and educators; far too many families and communities because inequity is baked into every social system in this country.

We must call out every politician and every pundit who refuses to address gun violence; who seeks to erase the beautiful stories of Indigenous people; of our Latino and API communities; who refuse to acknowledge the right of our trans students to live their true identities.

We must raise our voices and say: No! You will not arm teachers. No! You will not shrink our students’ curriculum. No, you will not leave them unprepared to lead a just society. 

NEA, in this unthinkable moment, make no mistake. These are not culture wars raging across this nation. These are wars on our freedoms. At their very core, these wars are an assault on our rights as humans; our right to have and participate in a civil society; our right to live and learn and be.

But what I know to be true, is that in places all over this country, you, NEA, are fearlessly demanding your rights as citizens of this nation; of our world; you are courageously embracing your responsibility as education professionals standing up for education,democracy, and freedom. With pride and persistence, you embrace the magnitude of what you’ve been called to do. Deliberate and unafraid, you continue to demand that every student is seen and supported; that every educator is respected as the professional they are. Unbowed and unbroken, and with a resolve that is unwavering, NEA, you are leading the work to promote, to protect, and to strengthen public education!

Since becoming NEA president, I have visited you in your schools, met your brilliant and beautiful students, and seen for myself all of the ways you are using your role as professionals and our strength as a union to transform the promise of this nation into the practice of this nation. 

In Minnesota, the hard work of educators led to control of the Minnesota House, Senate, and governor’s office. Today, our colleagues are using that power to hold leaders accountable to deliver for Minnesota’s students, educators, and families; to win “common good” contracts that will make historic improvements for students and for our professions. 

Educators in Colorado and New Mexico have strengthened their gun laws to help create safe spaces for our students to learn and to live.

Massachusetts won a huge tax fairness victory that will have the wealthy pay their share – raising billions for their public schools!

In Illinois, IEA members used their considerable might to keep voucher funding out of the state budget and keep their public schools strong.

In Mississippi, thousands of educators raised their voices and the state’s legislature approved a historic additional $100 million dollars to fund schools.

In Vermont, educators won a permanent universal meals law for all students, and are addressing the educator shortage through a coaching and training program to help with certification.

California! Your hard work to get community schools funded in your state budget, paved the way for the huge wins in Los Angeles and Oakland getting community schools in their contracts!

And Michigan – all the things! Proving that elections matter, they won back rights for their union and with a focus on their retired members, rolled back state taxes on pension income.

And I could not be more proud of the aspiring educators in my own home state of Pennsylvania. Their hard work convinced a bi-partisan group of lawmakers to introduce legislation that creates a stipend for student teachers. 

And our students--our students!--are organizing and speaking up for themselves! 

With the support of the Maryland State Education Association, students in the Minority Scholars Program are using their own voices to demand access to the tools they need for an equitable education.

In states nationwide, our students are marching to end gun violence. Our students are returning banned books to the shelves of their libraries. Our students are calling on adults in positions of power to make decisions that will center their humanity and invest in their futures.

NEA, let us find inspiration as we deliberate and discuss the work we will do together. Let us find pride in our successes, and lessons in our losses. Let us share our hopes, our dreams, and our biggest ideas. Most of all, let us give to each other gratitude, respect, and compassion. They nurture the hope that will fuel our resistance. 

NEA, I need you to fully embrace this reality: we are the ancestors of future generations, so we must—and we will—leave this state and this Representative Assembly ready to take bold, tenacious, continuous, fearless action. 

We cannot wait for the stars of this nation to align. We must—and we will—reach up and realign them in a way that will serve students, support educators, and invest in communities for generations to come. For as long as it takes, we must—and we will—continue to promote protect, and strengthen public education. 

We must—and we will—consistently improve our professional rights and strengthen our practice in ways that center education justice.

We will set our gaze on the North Star of our shared vision: to “unite not just our members, but this entire nation to reclaim public education as a common good, as the foundation of our democracy, and then transform it into something it was never designed to be—a racially and socially just and equitable system that prepares every student, every one, to succeed in this diverse and interdependent world.”

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” Dr. King’s words describe the reality of our world. Through the darkness, I see you, NEA. 

I see you turning your capacity for resilience into impenetrable resistance. With your collective might and your palpable power, you alchemize challenge into change; you transform obstacles into opportunity; you shape hardship into hope.

I can hear Chief Seattle urging us to remember: When you know who you are; when your mission is clear and you burn with the inner fire of unbreakable will; no cold can touch your heart; no deluge can dampen your purpose. 

NEA, you are those stars in the darkness.  Your light will never be dimmed. Your purpose will drive you in our righteous fight for freedom. Because you know who you are. You are the NEA! Our mission is clear: we will advocate for the rights of education professionals and change the world for our students. With that inner fire burning, we will never bend; we will NOT be broken!

Because we are the NEA, and we will always do what we must to be worthy of our students!

NEA, thank you for all you do—every day—for our students and for our families; for educators and for our communities; for this country.

Onward, NEA. Onward! 

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The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, students preparing to become teachers, healthcare workers, and public employees. Learn more at


National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.