Long after the last bus pulled away from the historic One Nation Working Together march on Washington, D.C., the true goal, organizers and participants said, is keeping the momentum going and making a difference exactly one month from the date of the rally — Election Day, Nov. 2.
"We have to take the energy here and put it into the next elections," said former Troy Teachers Association President Seth Cohen. "Good things are happening and we have to keep it going. We can't just let it slide."
Mike Huttner, president of the Starpoint TA in Niagara County, got that message and more. "I want to get people energized so (we) don't lose what we've gained. We need to move forward," Huttner said. "We're on the right track. It's a big boat and it's going to take a long time to turn around."
It is estimated that 175,000 people converged on the mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial to hear the call for a better economy, jobs and a quality education for all. The One Nation March was, by many accounts, the largest pro-labor rally in decades. Speakers such as Harry Belafonte and Jesse Jackson joined human rights and labor leaders, including AFT President Randi Weingarten and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, environmental and peace activists and students in calling attention to the diversity and strength that makes us One Nation.
Even NYSUT members back in New York were part of the massive gathering. NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi shared greetings from the Mall with members at the SRP and Utica Leadership conferences.
"We will carry this spirit of unity forward, to Election Day and beyond," said Iannuzzi.
Awash in a sea of blue-clad AFT members, Elizabeth Stegmayre drew strength from the Oct. 2 march.
That drive to keep moving forward was exactly what the laid-off elementary school librarian needed.
"I need to see this support and know something is happening," said Stegmayre, of the Saugerties TA. "As a parent, it's unacceptable that my school cut music, art and library. I needed to see this movement at this large level so I can go back to Saugerties and let them know it's not acceptable to any of these people, either."
NYSUT underwrote the full cost of attending the rally for laid-off and retrenched members and those higher education members whose contracts were not renewed.
Key to the march's message of unity — "putting America back to work and pulling America back together" — is jobs, many said.
"What our nation needs is for people to be working," said Sarah Arbitrio, president of the Ossining TA, who attended the rally with about a dozen OTA members. "That's really the answer to some of the concerns in our community about taxes."
Arbitrio said the vicious attacks on public workers would not be taking place, "if people weren't hurting so badly themselves."
This would have been Naomi Saddlemire's tenure year teaching high school English in Wappingers.
She was laid off in June but has since been recalled to fill a leave replacement. "I'm doing the same work I did before, but I'm getting paid as a sub," said Saddlemire, a member of the Wappingers Congress of Teachers. "I'm glad I'm working. It's tough not knowing what I would do."
Saddlemire joined a large contingent of educators from the Dutchess County local at the march where the topic of education — from keeping teachers teaching to making higher education more affordable — also took center stage.
"We're at a crossroads and we have an opportunity to raise up public education for the kids of America," said Bill Spreter, a retiree from the Hannibal Faculty Association. "In every crisis there must be opportunity. This is the opportunity to reform good public schools and there are great ones out there that have not been showcased. I'm here to turn this around in my own little way."
Debbie Bambino, an AFT member from Philadelphia, agreed.
"Unemployment is through the roof and attacks on education are really disturbing," she said. "I don't see how you can have an equitable society without quality public schools."
Several students from western New York made the trip with members of United University Professions. "Only a very small minority of Americans are protesting unions," said Buffalo State grad student Ian Mirsky. "With all the cutbacks, they need our presence." Mirsky urged union members — and other voters — to stay strong.
Virginline Woodall, a teaching assistant from the Syracuse TA, repeated that message to her daughter, Charisse Glass, a single mom who has been unable to find a permanent job since January 2009.
"This has made me encouraged to make sure that I get everyone around me to get out and vote," Glass said.