The 2016 AFT National Convention in Minneapolis, MN was one for the ages. Not only was it the 100th anniversary of the union, but there were a number of high profile elected officials and social justice activists that addressed the convention. The members even took to the streets themselves to put the rhetoric into action. The AFT-Maryland delegation was not only well represented but they also had a strong impact on the presentations and displays during the convention.
The convention kicked off with President Randi Weingarten’s state of the union address. Included in her remarks were a number of issues important to the union as a whole including the Friedrichs Supreme Court case and the issue of fair-share, as well as speaking on matters of social justice. She also addressed the need to fight back politically against the states who institute "Right to Work" legislation. On the question of social justice, it was important- particularly for the people of Baltimore as on the opening day of the convention Lt. Brian Rice was found not guilty of all charges- to hear President Weingarten speak so clearly and persuasively about the need for justice and fairness for all citizens. Her proclamation of “Black Lives Matter” found a rousing applause in the hall.
The highlight of the opening day however, was the speech by Secretary Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton opened her remarks by passionately discussing social justice and mentioning Twin Cities native, Philando Castille, a black man who was shot and killed by a Falcon Heights, MN police officer during a traffic stop. She called on the need for racial justice in policing and for a call to calm tensions across the nation in the wake of gun violence against police and against civilian citizens. The secretary also addressed the need for a clear, comprehensive plan for public education. She highlighted her commitment to children from her time at The Children’s Defense Fund and as First Lady of Arkansas. She says she runs public education by the test of would she want her child to attend. The audience for the most part warmly accepted the Secretary and gave her standing ovations before her remarks and after.
The convention continued with a focus on human and civil rights. Important national figures such as Rashard Robinson from Color of Change and Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin both addressed the convention. They spoke about the need for justice and calming of violence from police against citizens as well as retaliatory attacks on police. They were well received and members were eager to hear from them, particularly Fulton, given the resilient strength she’s shown in the very public murder of her son.
The action on human and civil rights didn’t end there, as there was a candlelight vigil for all victims of gun violence. Local activists took to the stage to express a call for change in gun laws. One of the most compelling lines of the morning was when one speaker asked why it is illegal to hunt animals with assault rifles but legal in some states to use them on people. That line drew a rousing applause from the entire hall.
Congressman Keith Ellison also spoke to the crowd. He expressed the nuance that is often lacking around conversations of race. He lauded AFT’s history of racial inclusiveness over its 100 years. He also expressed how Black Lives Matter isn’t an indictment of any other group or discounting of anyone else but rather an affirmation of the value of black Americans.
In that spirit one of the highlights of the day was a protest organized Minneapolis Federation of Teachers as well as the St. Paul Federation of Teachers. This was an action in support of teachers for Black Lives that called on better and community controlled policing to ensure the safety and welfare of all citizens with a specific focus on the welfare of black citizens. This action was large and was largely supported by members across the nation standing in solidarity with the Minnesota educators.
A familiar partner for AFT-Maryland, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, addressed the convention to discuss the national walk-in. That will look very different in Baltimore but the message is still echoed and supported in Baltimore and beyond for all of AFT.
Delegates did approve a per capita increase on day two. Under an amendment adopted by delegates, effective Sept. 1, 2016, each local will pay a per capita of $19.03 per month (an increase of 80 cents over the current per capita), of which $1 will be dedicated to a special AFT response fund to engage members and assist locals in crisis. Effective Sept. 1, 2017, locals will pay a per capita of $19.28 per month, of which $1.10 will be dedicated to this special response fund.
Throughout the convention, one of the most exciting events for the AFT-Maryland delegation were the morning breakfasts organized by the Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU). International visitors from Israel, Zimbabwe and St. Lucia. The teachers encouraged the BTU to continue the union fight and let local members they stood in solidarity from across oceans. President Weingarten also addressed the breakfast on the third day of the convention. She called out AFT Secretary-Treasurer Dr. Lorretta Johnson (former BTU and AFT-Maryland President) and current BTU and AFT-Maryland President Marietta English praising them for their leadership in Baltimore and beyond. Weingarten told how the innovative and progressive teachers’ contract in Baltimore was something the unions across the country were trying to emulate. She also praised President English’s leadership on community schools. Final acknowledgement went to the way AFT-Maryland incorporates the public employee locals into the fabric of the larger state federation.
The Progressive Caucus was re-elected and President Weingarten will remain at the head of the American Federation of Teachers. The re-election means that AFT-Maryland will still play a large role in the direction of the Federation. Dr. Lorretta Johnson will remain as Secretary-Treasurer and Marietta English will continue to serve as a Vice-President.