We showed up. We voted. Now what?
Those questions were the focus of a December “Many Threads, One Fabric” event, the third in a series of NYSUT and AFT virtual town halls exploring racial justice, diversity and equity issues. In the wake of the November general election, which saw historic voter turnout in communities of color, panelists discussed how to use that political capital to improve the lives of multicultural citizens.
Moderated by Lezli Baskerville, president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, event panelists included Sindy Benavides, CEO, League of United Latin American Citizens; Diana Cournoyer, executive director, National Indian Education Association; Fedrick Ingram, secretary treasurer for the American Federation of Teachers; and Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center and vice president of the California Federation of Teachers.
J. Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary-treasurer, whose office handles social justice issues, welcomed panelists. “We knocked on doors, we phone banked and we made our voices heard,” said Abraham. “The question is how do we as unionists sustain those efforts, to advance the rights of workers and immigrants and to advocate for social justice.”
The COVID-19 pandemic drove voter turnout. “It brought the inequalities in healthcare, economics and education to the fore,” said Baskerville noting that in communities of color, one in four children face food insecurity and unemployment continues to rise.
“We need a stimulus package, not just testing and vaccines, because people are struggling,” said Benavides. A real solution for immigration and diverse cabinet appointments are also important. “We can’t be what we can’t see. We need more leaders who represent our communities.”
Ingram called for harnessing the energy of young activists to keep the pressure on lawmakers, and adopting a national approach to COVID-19, including a blueprint for keeping schools open safely. “The piecemeal strategy isn’t fair to the American people and we can’t have another lost year for students,” he said. “Our young people were out all summer … and those folks voted for change.”
As the smallest ethnic group within the multicultural coalition, Cournoyer asked for continued inclusion for Native Americans. “Invite us to the table, and include Natives in your fight and advocacy,” she said noting that the challenges they face — healthcare and economic and educational equity — mirror those of other minority groups. “It’s exciting to look outside our Native nation — let’s help each other.”
Wong believes the best way to make real change is flipping control of the U.S. Senate. He’s focused on the congressional run-off elections in January. “Georgia is on my mind and it better be on your mind too,” he said of the two races that will determine party control of the U.S. Senate. He encouraged activists to rally support for the Democratic candidates. “Let’s mobilize to secure that victory and carry on the spirit of John Lewis by paving the way for a multiracial democracy.”
- "Exploring Privilege." Featured guest Peggy McIntosh, a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women and a leading voice on unearned privilege and anti-racism is the featured guest for this conversation hosted by NYSUT and the American Federation of Teachers. October 2020.
- "A Conversation with Author Ibram X. Kendi." In this webinar with hundreds of union activists, professor and author Ibram X. Kendi offers insight and promises to help with the creation of a lesson plan about his book “How to be an Anti-Racist” for AFT’s free Share My Lesson site for educators. August 2020.