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Proposes Suite of Solutions to Strengthen Schools as Extremist Politicians Ramp up Attacks, Launches ‘Freedom to Teach’ Hotline
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has issued a clarion call to defend public education, transform learning and support children as the institution comes under existential threat from extremist, culture-war peddling politicians.
In an address to the National Press Club, the leader of the 1.7 million-member union urged civil society to fight for the future of public schools and help kids learn in the face of relentless attacks from the far-right intent on dismantling the schools that 90 percent of kids attend.
"Attacks on public education are not new. The difference today is that the attacks are intended to destroy it. To make it a battlefield, a political cudgel," Weingarten said.
"But we also must do better to address the learning loss and disconnection we are seeing in our young people. We can make every public school a school where parents want to send their kids, educators want to work and all students thrive."
Weingarten outlined a four-part plan to help kids' recovery and reclaim the purpose and promise of public education: 25,000 community schools, experiential learning for all kids including career and technical education, the revival and restoration of the teaching profession, and deepened partnerships with parents and the community.
From book bans and censorship of honest history to the removal and rejection of Black, LGBTQIA+ and minority students' existence and experiences, MAGA lawmakers have used culture wars to divide communities and other schemes that drain resources from public education.
"The Betsy DeVos wing of the school privatization movement is methodically working its plan: Starve public schools of the funds they need to succeed. Criticize them for their shortcomings. Erode trust in public schools by stoking fear and division, including attempting to pit parents against teachers. Replace them with private, religious, online and home schools.
"All toward their end goal of destroying public education as we know it, atomizing and balkanizing education in America, bullying the most vulnerable among us and leaving the students with the greatest needs with the most meager resources."
Weingarten began with a moment of silence in honor of the children and adults killed in Nashville and renewed her call for an assault weapons ban and commonsense gun safety measures.
She launched a Freedom to Teach and Learn hotline for parents, in conjunction with the Campaign for Our Shared Future, for educators and the public to report instances of political interference and censorship. Poll after poll has shown that parents and voters don't want politicized culture wars, they want schools and administrators to focus on what kids and communities need.
The hotline—888-873-7227—will serve as a clearinghouse for reports of political interference. If Americans see something, they should say something.
"It's a place to call if you've been told to remove a book from the curriculum or from the library, if you've been told that there are topics that can't be discussed in your classes or that you cannot teach honestly and appropriately, or if politicians in your district or state are targeting vulnerable student groups to score political points."
Rejecting the far-right's fearmongering, Weingarten outlined four essential strategies to promote greater investment and family and community engagement as an antidote to the tarring of schools with the politics of division and hate.
Expanding community schools, scaling experiential learning, addressing staff shortages, and deepening the partnership between families and educators "can help us create safe and welcoming environments and bring joy back to learning."
Community schools wrap academic counseling services, nutrition services, primary health and dental care, and much more around traditional schools to transform them into hubs that connect families and students with supports to learn and live. Weingarten called for 25,000 more community schools by 2025, noting that California just approved an investment of $45 million for community schools and that President Joe Biden has doubled federal community schools funding.
Experiential learning is based on the idea that students learn—and become engaged with the world, new ideas and each other—by doing. In one application, career and technical education, students use their minds and their hands to learn everything from welding and auto repair to nursing, IT, graphic design, plumbing, culinary skills and hospitality.
"Experiential learning embeds the things that make kids want to be in school. The excitement of learning that is deeply engaging, and the joy of being together, especially after the isolation of the last few years. The camaraderie and responsibility of working together on a team. And in the age of AI and chatGPT, this type of learning is critical to being able to think and write, solve problems, apply knowledge and discern fact from fiction."
The formula of starting by high school and identifying school-to-career pathways, including community colleges, partnering with employers, and ensuring the opportunities are paid, can be replicated everywhere.
The AFT is working closely on CTE and robust workforce strategy with the AFL-CIO, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and the Bloomberg Foundation and is reaching out to other business groups large and small.
Weingarten would also renew and revive the teaching profession "by treating educators as the professionals they are, with appropriate pay; time to plan and prepare for classes, to collaborate with colleagues, and to participate in meaningful professional development; and the power to make day-to-day classroom decisions."
To achieve this, the entire community must be involved and engaged at every juncture. Weingarten called for a deepening of the connection between parents, educators, employers and the community.
The AFT has ramped up its Powerful Partnerships Institute, distributing 27 grants to locals totaling more than $1.5 million. For example, Montana is engaging thousands of public education-supporting families and educators across the state around a shared agenda. And New Haven is working with educators, families and students on equitable school funding across Connecticut.
Weingarten ended by underlining the tipping point facing the nation on public schools with a rallying cry for allies to join her and the AFT in the fight ahead.
"This is our agenda. But this can't just be the work of our union or of school staff and schools alone. This is the work of a great nation—to ensure that our children's basic human needs are met so they are ready to learn to their full potential.
"Our public schools shouldn't be pawns for politicians' ambitions. Or defunded and destroyed by ideologues. We are at a crossroads: Fear and division, or hope and opportunity. A great nation does not fear people being educated. A great nation does not fear pluralism. A great nation chooses freedom, democracy, equality and opportunity.
"All of that starts in our public schools."
Weingarten's full speech can be read here.
The American Federation of Teachers is a union of professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work our members do. The American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, was founded in 1916 and today represents 1.6 million members in more than 3,000 local affiliates nationwide.
Will the Democrat from West Virginia go to bat for the billionaire-backed No Labels?
Sen. Joe Manchin—the West Virginia lawmaker reviled by progressives for his climate-killing policies and many Democrats over his repeated sabotage of his own party's agenda—said Sunday he has still not decided about whether he might make a third-party run for president in 2024.
Asked by "Fox News Sunday" host Shannon Bream if he's decided on a possible run with the billionaire-backed "No Labels" or otherwise, Manchin applauded the group "pushing very hard to the centrist middle" and "making commonsense decisions," but dodged a direct answer to the question.
"If Plan A shows that we're going to the far reaches of both sides, the far left and the far right, and the people don't want to go to the far left and the far right, they want to be governed from the middle," Manchin said. "I think there is… you better have that Plan B available and ready to go."
When pressed by Bream on his consideration of a presidential run, Manchin replied, "Not ruling anything in, not ruling anything out."
\u201cSen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) hits extremism on the left and right but does not give a straight answer to Fox's Shannon Bream when she asks whether he'll run as a third-party candidate on a No Labels ticket.\u201d— The Recount (@The Recount) 1685886740
Last month, as Common Dreamsreported, journalists with More Perfect Union dove into the secretive funding of No Labels—which offers itself as a harmless, more middle-of-the-road option to the two major political parties in the U.S.—and found that much of the money behind the group comes from "a whole of billionaires with a history of opposing democracy."
\u201cA group calling themselves "No Labels" has suddenly emerged as a huge financial backer of Kyrsten Sinema.\n\nThey're also floating the idea of running Joe Manchin for President.\n\nWe dug into them, and found a whole lot of billionaires with a history of opposing democracy.\u201d— More Perfect Union (@More Perfect Union) 1684768082
In a 2018 column, financial industry watchdogs Porter McConnell and Rion Dennis identified No Labels as part of a cabal of so-called "centrists" who are really just "wolves of Wall Street in sheep's clothing," hiding behind their harmless-sounding name to mask very insidious intent.
"For years, the group No Labels and its close partner, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, have quietly promoted policies that are wrapped in the mantle of bipartisanship and pitched as "non-ideological," while being in the pay of corporate interests," McConnell and Dennis explained. "They produce reports, sponsor events, and weigh in on policy on behalf of unnamed corporate donors."
Critics of a No Labels' candidate in 2024 say it's strikingly obvious that the true motive for such a move would be to slice off enough gullible voters to create a path for Donald Trump's reelection.
Manchin is up for reelection this year to defend his U.S. Senate seat, but according to a poll released last week he is currently trailing the top Republican challenger, Gov. Jim Justice, by 22 points in a hypothetical general election contest.
Big-money special interests "want to divide us up," said the indepedent senator at a living wage rally in South Carolina, "and we are determined to bring working people together."
As President Joe Biden signed into law an agreement Saturday that would shield wealthy tax cheats from stronger IRS enforcement while at the same time enacting cuts to key anti-poverty programs, Senator Bernie Sanders and other progressive allies were busy denouncing the immoral, low-wage economic system in the United States in which just a small handful of mega-billionaires have accumulated more wealth than tens of millions of hard-working but low-paid workers and their families.
At a "Rally to Raise the Wage" in Charleston, South Carolina on Saturday, the independent politician and two-time presidential candidate railed against the inequality that remains so pervasive in the country and the political forces that seek to divide the working class.
"The reason we are here today is not complicated," Sanders said. "In the richest country in the world, we demand an economy that works for all, not just the few."
"In every age, moral people have had to rise up and decide to make the moral case that things have to change and injustice has to move." —Bishop William J. Barber II
"It is not moral that three people on top own more wealth than the bottom half of American society, 165 million Americans," Sanders declared during his speech. "That's not moral. That's not right. That's not what should exist in a democratic society."
\u201c"It is not moral that 3 people on top own more wealth than the bottom half of American society, 165 million Americans. \n\nThat's not moral.\n\nThat's not right.\n\nThat's not what should exist in a democratic society."\n\n@BernieSanders in South Carolina rallying to #RaiseTheWage\u201d— Union of Southern Service Workers (@Union of Southern Service Workers) 1685827759
Sanders was joined on the tour through the south—which also included stops in Durham, North Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee—by Bishop William J. Barber II, founding director of the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy at Yale Divinity School, who said Sanders had asked him to attend specifically to discuss the moral case for combating poverty and raising wages.
"When Jesus started his ministry," said Barber, surrounded by members of the audience he had called up to gather around him on stage, "he said I'm coming to preach good news to the poor[...] meaning those who had been made poor by the economic exploitation of Rome."
Barber told the crowd that "there are over 2,000 scriptures in the Bible" detailing the worth of the poor and the value of laborers.
"So what our movement is about, is precisely the opposite of what the big-money interests want. They want to divide us up and we are determined to bring working people together." —Sen. Bernie Sanders
"The Bible does not talk about taking a women's right from her body," Barber said. "The Bible does not talk about hating people because of their sexuality. The Bible does not talk about prayer in the school. The Bible does not talk about putting up the Ten Commandments. But more than 2,000 times—more than any other subject other than self-worship idolatry—the Bible says the way to please God is how we treat the least of these and those in the margins."
"In every age," he continued, "moral people have had to rise up and decide to make the moral case that things have to change and injustice has to move."
In contrast to a living wage of $17 an hour at the heart of the rally, Bishop Barber said the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 should be seen as a "death wage," given the rate at which poverty kills in the country.
\u201c"Poverty is the 4th leading cause of death in America. It's higher than homicide. $7.25 is a poverty wage which means $7.25 is a death wage. \n\nWe've got to fight against people dying." @RevDrBarber with @BernieSanders in South Carolina rallying to #RaiseTheWage\u201d— Union of Southern Service Workers (@Union of Southern Service Workers) 1685827249
Barber told the diverse South Carolina audience in attendance—including those standing beside him who were older people and younger people of different racial, religious, and sexual identities—that their unity and solidarity in the face of economic inequality and social injustice remains their greatest asset.
The people in power, said Barber, "They are afraid of this room."
Invoking Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Barber explained how in 1965, Dr. King stood on the steps of the Alabama state house "and said that the greatest fear of the southern aristocracy and the oligarchy was for the masses of poor Negroes and poor white folk to get together and form a powerful new voting bloc that would shift the economic architecture of the nation."
"If they are cynical enough to be together, we oughta be smart enough to come together around the moral agenda."
"And I want to suggest," he continued, "if that's what they're afraid of: Let's build it! Let's built it and maybe in the process some of them will even be redeemed and stop hurting people. Who gets up in the morning and all you can think about is how you can take somebody's healthcare? Who gets up in the morning and asks, 'How I can use my power to hurt somebody?'"
He made a final point about those in power and how the forces at work denying freedom and dignity to certain people in society are also the same forces attacking democracy and economic equality.
"The same people who are attacking gay people, are attacking our voting rights," Barber said. "The same people who are attacking trans people, are attacking our healthcare. The same people trying to take away a woman's right are also against living wages. If they are cynical enough to be together, we oughta be smart enough to come together around the moral agenda."
Barber said the southern states are "key" and must not be ignored by federal politicians, arguing that the Carolinas, Tennessee, and others are not necessarily red states, but just states that have been "intentionally divided" and where workers have been disempowered.
"We need a living wage and we need it now," Barber declared. "It's time for change and justice has got to move. You've got to make them hear you. You've got to make them see you. You've got to make them feel your power."
He added: "This is a moral fight. We can't allow corporate greed to sell out and tear the souls and substance of this nation apart. This is a nation-saving fight."
Prior to Barber, local hairdresser Lydia Stewart spoke about working conditions at the salon business that employs her, Great Clips, and the organizing effort she and her colleagues have undertaken with the Union of Southern Service Workers to increase workplace safety and win higher wages.
\u201c"At my job we're organizing [with @RaiseUpTheSouth] because change has to be brought. My store is mostly Black women and they have no respect for us, they treat us like a pair of hands." @GreatClips worker Lydia Steward with @BernieSanders and @RevDrBarber #RaiseTheWage\u201d— Union of Southern Service Workers (@Union of Southern Service Workers) 1685824077
During the rally, State Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-111) also spoke and talked about the need for a true living wage in the state that should be no less than $17 an hour.
"We have come a long way," Gilliard said during his remarks, "fighting for the rights of 'We the People.' This is not about party, it's always been about the people. Charlestonians work hard and deserve more for what they do to keep this region running. They deserve more than a minimum wage—they deserve a living wage!"
"With rising costs of living," Gilliard continued, "more and more of our neighbors, our friends, and our family members will slip into poverty unless they see an increase... $17 an hour is a living wage. It will help poverty from swallowing up more victims and help increase the standard of living here in Charleston."
\u201cLIVE from CHARLESTON: No one in America should be forced to work for starvation wages. Join us as we rally in South Carolina for an increase in the minimum wage. https://t.co/5aQjgGGlnw\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1685823586
In closing his speech for the rally, Gilliard said the event with Sanders and Barber could not simply be a moment in time, but must signify the existence of a movement ready to fight for the long haul.
"It cannot be a moment in time," the state lawmaker said. "It has to be a movement that will live until we get it done."
In his headliner address, Sanders echoed what Bishop Barber argued, that the ruling elite and monied oligarchy "wins" when they divide up the working class and those living in poverty.
"In every way that you can think," said Sanders, "there are really smart people—out there polling today—saying: How do I get you to vote against your own self-interest? How do I get black and white and Latino and Native American, Asian American, gay, and straight against each other so that the big-money interest laugh all the way to the bank."
"So what our movement is about, is precisely the opposite of what the big-money interests want," he continued. "They want to divide us up and we are determined to bring working people together—black and white and Latino—all of us together around an agenda that works for us not just the billionaire class!"
Abortion bans in 14 U.S. states since the 2022 Dobbs decision "have made abortion services largely inaccessible and denied women and girls their fundamental human rights to comprehensive healthcare including sexual and reproductive health."
High-level experts with the United Nations have issued a joint statement condemning the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that reversed decades of legal precedent protecting abortion rights for women.
"The regressive position taken by the US Supreme Court in June 2022, by essentially dismantling 50 years of precedent protecting the right to abortion in the country, puts millions of women and girls at serious risk," said the 13 experts, all appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, on Friday.
According to a statement issued by the UN's Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR):
Abortion bans in 14 States have made abortion services largely inaccessible and denied women and girls their fundamental human rights to comprehensive healthcare including sexual and reproductive health. The experts said the bans could lead to violations of women's rights to privacy, bodily integrity and autonomy, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, equality and non-discrimination, and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and gender-based violence.
Such state-level bans on abortion and other restrictions to reproductive care, say the experts, are having far-reaching and negative impacts. In addition, they are a violation of international human rights law.
"Women and girls in disadvantaged situations are disproportionately affected by these bans," the experts said, referring to those in marginalized communities, living on low incomes, in abusive relationships, or in rural regions with little access to care or support services.
\u201c#UnitedStates:Since Jan abortion has been banned in 14 States & consequences of the Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion reverberate through the legal & policy system, putting millions of women & girls at risk: UN experts https://t.co/9BoUO3bPyo\u201d— UN Special Procedures (@UN Special Procedures) 1685706432
Last month, the U.S.-based National Abortion Federation (NAF) released a new report showing that "violence and disruption" against abortion providers and clinics rose sharply since the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women's Health Organization by the Court in the June of 2022 that overturned protections in Roe v. Wade.
NAF has been tracking such attacks since 1977, but Melissa Fowler, the group's chief program officer, said in May that the new statistics since last year prove "anti-abortion extremists have been emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the cascade of abortion bans" passed by Republican-controlled legislatures nationwide.
"As clinics closed in states with bans, extremists have simply shifted their focus to the states where abortion remains legal and protected, where our members have reported major increases in assaults, stalking, and burglaries," said Fowler.
In Friday's statement, the UN experts said they were "particularly alarmed by the increasing reports of threats to the lives of abortion service providers across the country" as well as by a new pattern of surveillance—including electronic tracking—being used against people seeking abortion care.
The joint statement urged both federal and state governments in the U.S. "to take action to reverse the regressive rhetoric seeping through the legislative system and enact positive measures to ensure access to safe and legal abortion."
The experts who issued the statement were: Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (chair), Ivana Radačić (vice-chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Meskerem Geset Techane and Melissa Upreti, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Nazila Ghanea, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Ana Brian Nougrères, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy; Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Ashwini K.P., Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.