Participants at NYSUT's first-ever conference on women's priorities left the two-day event last month clearly revved up and ready to go.
As a closing activity, NYSUT President Karen E. Magee asked them to take a sticky note and write down their "key takeaway" and "next step" to turn insights into action.
The responses were telling:
"We need to stay angry and constantly fight for what is just and right," wrote one.
"I have the tools and the support," wrote another. "Now I need to put on my roller skates!"
And in perhaps the most concise response, three simple words: "Resist. Rest. Repeat."
Magee said she was struck by the number of young participants at NYSUT's "Speak Up, Stand Up, Step Up!" conference and how honest and action-oriented conversations can be a true catalyst for change.
The conference, held at NYSUT headquarters in Latham and planned by the union's Ad Hoc Women's Steering Committee, proved to be a perfect extension of the many women's marches held around the country the day after President Trump was inaugurated. "It was an inspiring day and reminded me yet again why it's so important to be sure women's voices are heard," said Magee, who attended a march held in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the suffragette movement.
The conference addressed a wide range of important issues, including domestic violence, retirement security, communications, political engagement and more. As participants heard firsthand testimony from survivors of domestic violence, a horrific tragedy was unfolding just miles away. Elizabeth Gonzalez, a teacher aide and member of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers, died after being set on fire. Her husband has been charged with her murder.
During a lively open space "un-conference" session, attendees selected topics, ranging from how to help fearful immigrant students to "The Trump Effect in the Classroom," for small group followup discussions.
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, the keynote speaker, said she has never seen the kind of "grassroots, genuine action" that continues to rise up and counter the spewing hatred that is boiling up across the country. She urged participants to speak out on behalf of immigrants, refugees and other marginalized people.
"There is solace in solidarity for all of us," Miner said. "There are thousands, if not millions, who feel the way we do."
NYSUT's Board of Directors voted to bring a resolution to the union's Representative Assembly in April to make the Ad Hoc Women's Steering Committee a permanent standing committee. "After all, more than 70 percent of our members are women," Magee said.
Magee recently announced she would not seek re-election as NYSUT president in order to work closely with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and the New York State AFL-CIO on a new initiative to advance economic opportunities for women. "I embrace the opportunity to carry forward at the national level the causes near and dear to my heart," Magee said. "And I look forward to continuing these conversations with all of you."
Resources & more
For complete coverage of the "Speak Up, Stand Up, Step Up!" conference, go to www.nysut.org/womenspriorities. You'll find resources, including posters and hotline numbers regarding domestic violence, a downloadable "Be the Union" inspirational coloring book, and PowerPoint presentations on retirement security and media bias.