One of us is a mother of three Black men, who got her start as a teacher’s aide in Baltimore making $2.25 an hour. The other is a former Crown Heights, Brooklyn, high school teacher and lawyer, who is White, Jewish and gay. We both were local union leaders—one in Baltimore, the other in New York City. We decided to run together and were elected together as officers of our national union in 2008. Today, we represent 1.6 million teachers, school support staff, nurses and public service workers. Personally and professionally, we understand how high the stakes are in this upcoming election.
Our public schools are being starved. In Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and across the country, right-wing governors have taken an axe to public school funding. Research shows at least 30 states are funding education at a lower level than before the Great Recession. Too often, the kids who need the most and have the least are the ones hardest hit by these cuts. Here’s why that matters: For many of our children, public education is the last remaining highway of opportunity. One in five children in the United States are poor, and public education can provide a counterweight to poverty. We need leaders who will restore funding to our kids’ classrooms. We need leaders who will make sure high-poverty schools get the most resources.
Our children are suffering. From Baltimore to Ferguson, young Black men who should be in the classroom are in the courtroom. Young Black women who should be breaking glass ceilings are being rendered invisible. Children whose first language isn’t English have a hard time getting by. We need leaders who will get serious about the systemic inequities that perpetuate racism and economic inequality, and will put into place policies that create ladders of opportunity for all children to climb.
Workers and women are being squeezed. A worker, much less her family, cannot live on the minimum wage. Families have to choose between putting food on the table and keeping the electricity on. Many seniors are living off a meager pension and minimal savings, and it’s getting worse. Women’s access to healthcare—especially reproductive healthcare—has been limited by ideological politicians. College is becoming less and less affordable. We need leaders who will support women, who will raise the minimum wage, who will protect retirement security. We need leaders who will stand up for working people.
The sad truth is that too many politicians put corporate interests ahead of community needs. So, they cut corporate taxes or widen loopholes, while decimating public education, healthcare and public services. We need leaders who will build economies that work for all, not just for the wealthy few.
If you work hard and play by the rules, you should get a fair shot, earn a decent wage, and be able to take care of your family. That is the promise of America. When we go to the polls, we should vote for a vision for our nation as we wish to see it. A vision of America that says government has an essential role in protecting our families in times of crisis, that public schools are a foundation of our democracy, that access to affordable healthcare is a human right, and that every citizen should be able to retire with dignity after a lifetime of hard work.
We may come from different walks of life. We may not fall neatly down political lines. Yet voting is the ultimate act of solidarity. No matter what your race, no matter where you work or where you come from, your vote matters. So, please, on November 4th, be sure to vote.
Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers
Lorretta Johnson, secretary-treasurer, American Federation of Teachers
The AFT represents 1.6 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.