An economic crisis, a public health crisis, and America confronting its racism were on the minds of many during the American Federation of Teachers’ State of the Union gathering on Tuesday, July 28.
AFT President Randi Weingarten told her constituents that safety and education are the two most important issues in the United States. She said that the White House’s (specifically President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) refusal to stop the spread of COVID-19 and its tendency to outright deny its existence has put everyone, especially teachers, in harm’s way. She said the way to challenge this is by speaking through the ballot box.
“Activism and elections build the power necessary to create a better life, a voice at work and a voice in our democracy. Activism changes the narrative, elections change policy, and, together, they change lives,” said Weingarten during her address.
The somberness and seriousness of Weingarten’s speech was demonstrated by other events during the virtual gathering. The union also honored 200 union members who died in the line of duty while protecting, caring for and serving their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weingarten puts the blame solely on President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. However, the AFT president said there are mechanisms in place should the federal government not come through with legislation that would alleviate some of the burden.
“Let’s be clear, just as we have done with our healthcare workers, we will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators,” said Weingarten during her address. “But if the authorities don’t get it right, and they don’t protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve, nothing is off the table—not advocacy or protests, negotiations, grievances or lawsuits, or, if necessary as a last resort, safety strikes.”
Over the recent weeks Trump has reverted back to blaming China for the virus despite evidence to the contrary. With almost 1,000 Americans dying from the coronavirus on Tuesday alone, Trump still held onto the lie that the South and Midwest parts of the country were “corona-free.” He also tweeted multiple videos pushing the idea that hydroxychloroquine cured the coronavirus and eliminated the necessity that Americans wear masks in public.
During a recent White House briefing, the president complained that Dr. Anthony Fauci, an immunologist and the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has told everyone to wear masks, had higher approval ratings than he did. It was also revealed that Trump lied about his plans to throw out the first pitch at a New York Yankees game (to the surprise of his administration and the Yankees’ front office). It was later discovered that the president lied out of jealousy of Dr. Fauci throwing out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game in D.C.
“It came from China. They should’ve never let it escape,” said Trump during the briefing.
Trump has threatened to withhold federal money if schools don’t reopen in full operation. Weingarten feels that there’s another, more cynical reason the administration wants schools to reopen.
“Why would anyone trust President Trump with reopening schools, when he has mishandled everything else about the coronavirus?” said Weingarten. “Why would anyone trust Betsy DeVos, who has zero credibility, about how public schools actually work? Why would anyone try to reopen schools through force and threats, without a plan and without resources, creating chaos? Unless all they wanted was for it to fail?”