I remember occasions in my childhood, more than I can count, of being awoken in the early morning hours of a Philadelphia Saturday, an hour or two before sunrise, riding to a bus in the back seat of my parents’ car as the sky lightened, and then riding down to Washington, DC, with a group of people brought together in support of a cause. At this point I really can’t recall any specific reason for the protests; surely each one regarded pushing for economic and social justice for all in the USA. What stands out in my memory decades later (holy cow, I’m old enough for my memory to have a “decades later”!) is the importance that I felt of being included in what I took to be significant moments in our nation’s history. I revere this collage of memory.
January 21st, 2017, matches those memories, and in some ways eclipses them.
It could be that now, as an adult, I am aware enough of the world to fully understand the importance of engagement and collective action of citizens. I have spent several years working together with education colleagues from throughout the state toward the goal of great public schools for all children in Massachusetts. It gratified me to share the Women’s March for America with many of these friends in person in Boston, and via Facebook in Washington, DC.
It could be that, since I am now several years into my teaching career, I see how my students are impacted by decisions made by adults in their individual and collective worlds. I have experienced nearly a decade of political and policy decisions that have directly influenced my students and my ability to successfully serve them, educate them, and love them. I realize how important it is for me to use my voice to advocate for what my students need, through my union, by writing letters to elected officials and appointed decision makers, and by gathering with thousands of other Americans in protest when the moment demands.
I am certain that my developing memory of January 21st is so significant largely because of the moment.
Inklings of it began in the days leading up as email updates from march organizers increased expected attendance counts by tens of thousands on a daily basis. Empowerment developed after an early arrival, walking past an already-developing crowd across Boston Common an hour and a half ahead of start time, and passing throngs of sign-carriers and hat-wearers headed in that direction through the Public Garden. Emotions welled as I snaked my way through the thick crowd, across the Common and then back in another direction until finally I found the Massachusetts Teachers Association contingent. Some of this positivity was challenged as it took over an hour to move off the Common and into the march itself because the crowd was so large, but this was tempered by collective spirit and good humor.
It seems safe to assume that all of us who educate in public schools in Massachusetts, indeed throughout the country, have experienced feelings of fear, apprehension, even foreboding following November 8th. I tried my best to hope that predictions expressed by others that the rhetoric of the campaign would not carry through the transition and into the new administration would hold true. However it seemed that nearly every day that hope was dampened by a new Tweet, cabinet appointment, or other transition decision; swift actions taken by a new Congress further added to my sense of pessimism.
And yet, January 21st renewed my hope, multiplied it, perhaps even cubed it; the action of the Women’s March for America reinvigorated, encouraged, energized so many of us who wish to see the United States continue to move forward toward progress for us all regardless of color, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual identity, class, or immigration status. But that march is not simply the exclamation point at the end of a sentence; it is an emphatic opening paragraph to begin a chapter of activism that must be carried through the next two years to the 2018 mid-term elections and then on for two more years to 2020 and the next presidential election, and even beyond that.
For those reading this who have never considered themselves political or activists, it can seem a daunting challenge to move out of one’s personal bubble and into the world of public activism. But there are numerous ways to make one’s entry into this realm, many different options for different styles of involvement. Check out the list below to find ideas for how to get involved and find what works best for you; I simply ask that you do something – contribute your voice to the positive prospects of the future, for it is that future into which we will send the students we educate.
- Google “getting involved post election” to find a wealth of articles and resources for how you can do something
- Research Massachusetts education issues at the “Issues and Action” tab of the MTA website: http://www.massteacher.org/issues_and_action.aspx
- Use the Massachusetts State Legislature’s page to find contact information for your Senator and Representative, both in the town where you live and where you work: https://malegislature.gov/
- Research national education-related issues in the “Issues and Action” tab of the NEA website: http://www.nea.org/home/IssuesAndAction.html
- Take a look at the NEA Legislative Action Center to find current campaigns to contact your legislators on national issues: http://edadvocacy.nea.org/
- Check out the “First 100 Days” follow-up activities suggested by the organizers of the Women’s March for America (including some printable cards!) https://www.womensmarch.com/100?source=facebook&
- If you are more comfortable in your activism, consider running for a local office:
- Go back to Google and research organizations that would interest you by searching issues and topics you find important
- Engage with people in your own communities – eye contact and in-person conversation can go a long way toward a collective sense of purpose and progress
- Get active in your local union
- Check out MTA’s New Member Program at Summer Conference, hosted by MTA’s New Member Committee (specific details will be updated for 2017 once they are available)
- Keep an eye out for the next rally or march, bring along some friends, and join in!
Post written by Laura Vago, New Member Committee Chair and 7th grade Science teacher in Malden, MA.
Follow Laura on Twitter: @LRVago
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