I’m changing planes in Tokyo on the way home from a week of jet-lagged meetings in Bangkok, Thailand where more than 1,000 educators – teachers, professors and education support professionals – spent five days debating key issues for Education International to prioritize in the coming years.
The E.I. World Congress meets every four years. The NEA delegation immersed itself in the global issues brought by Latin America, Asia, Europe, Africa and our own North American/Caribbean region. The resolutions brought had a profound effect on all of us as we talked with our colleagues across the globe.
In Africa, they are fighting corporate privatization of their public schools where governments are contracting out to for-profit companies the responsibility of educating all children. Those governments have decided that it’s just too much to expect all children to receive an education, and so they allow “low-cost” private academies endorsed by the government to advertise to families to pay what appears to be a small fee for the education of their children. But what appears to be a small fee to us, is a substantial sum for the poorest families who must often choose which of their children they can afford to send to school. Usually the oldest boys; seldom any of the girls. Africa came to the World Congress appealing for the world’s educators to stand with them in demanding that governments not sub-contract the essential public good of education to companies who have profits and not students as their priorities.
Asia appealed for help with simply allowing journalists and educators and advocates for democracy to be able to speak out against their presidents’ policies without being jailed or even killed. South American countries spoke out for solidarity against the austerity measures of their governments who cut programs in education and health care; they appealed to us to send messages in defense of education as a civil right. In Europe, the privatization battles continue, and educators are leading on making schools places where immigrant students are welcome and discrimination in all its forms is not.
And from our region, we brought resolution denouncing Donald Trump for telling four Congresswomen of color to, “go back where they came from” and that they were, “viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.”
As the daughter of an immigrant mother, I spoke from my heart in support of this motion. That a president of the country I love could tell someone like me to ‘go back where I came from’ because my mother was born in another country is unthinkable; it’s un-American. In one sentence he thought to put women in their inferior place; people of color in their inferior place; immigrants in their inferior place. He bizarrely said that duly elected members of Congress had no right to speak out on how “our” government is to be run – thus declaring it is not their government.
But the world sees the truth. In that congress of educators, especially those who themselves have experienced leaders who try to hide their own agenda to privilege and enrich their friends and families by fomenting fear and hate of perceived outsiders within a community, no one was fooled. They stand with us and we stand with them. It is the essence of solidarity.
In this age where democracy and justice and care for those in need have been turned upside down and inside out, it is a powerful thing to listen to our colleagues across the globe and the courage they show in taking on those who have every advantage; the ability to jail them or even kill them. They stood up in this place and told their own simple truth about what it means to serve their students and the responsibility we have as caring professionals to lead.
This E.I. World Congress was a light in the darkness. We found that we are not alone in the injustices we face, and it can be discouraging to learn how widespread our challenges are. But we found that we are not alone in the courage and commitment we must have to win. We have each other. And that is everything.
Solidarity is indeed forever.