In Julia Alvarez’s wonderful novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, the Mirabal sisters of the Dominican Republic come of age in the fight against Trujillo and ultimately are martyrs in that battle. In one scene, a young Minerva Mirabal sees an afraid older man trying to evade questions from a Trujillo official and Minerva helps him avoid trouble. Her mother, somewhat dismissively, tells Minerva that she is trying to fight everyone’s fight. Minerva responds, “It’s all the same fight, mama.”
Barbara Madeloni has transformed the MTA over the past four years into an organization that doesn’t see the struggle for labor rights or good working conditions or strong public schools as separate from any other struggles against oppression and injustice. Our work as a union is deepened and strengthened when we engage fully in all fights for racial, social, environmental justice because it’s all the same fight. Merrie and Max share this vision for the MTA, and we were thoroughly inspired and encouraged by the keynote speakers this weekend that challenged us to push even harder in that direction.
Rocío Inclán, Director of NEA’s Center for Social Justice, urged attendees to “build your courage muscle.” Partner with anyone and everyone you can, grow your strength, and tell your stories. Inclán’s story started in Mexico, and she shared her childhood education experience as a way to illustrate the power and promise of American public education – but also to frame a challenge to us as educators. She later told a story of visiting a student whose family had three framed pictures on the living room wall: the Virgin Mary, John F. Kennedy, and her, his teacher.
As educators, our role is sacred. We have a duty to protect our students and families, and the threat of deportation looms heavy over many students and families right now. She called upon us to fight for the dreamers in our classrooms, and to name xenophobia and white supremacy – not to shy away from the real enemy with euphemisms or platitudes.
“Use your story as a source of power.” – Rocío Inclán
Kent Wong, Director of the UCLA Labor Center delivered an equally impassioned speech that was also a call to action in defense of our vulnerable communities. Like Inclán, Wong implored the room to see itself as the first and most crucial line of defense between students and the forces of hatred and racism that threaten to tear them from their families. He shared the video for Aloe Blacc’s Wake Me Up, leaving most of the audience in tears, which features Dreamer and warrior, Hareth Andrade, and her story of resistance to deportation. He said we must fight through whatever fear we have, as she did, and come out on the other side of it.
Kent Wong tells us that as a union, we “need to promote and sow the seeds of resistance”; we can’t debate how much we should be investing in “other” movements – it’s all the same fight.
He urged us to be at the helm of a new labor movement that sees unions as major forces for broad progressive change. Wong invoked his early experience in labor with Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers. He described the way in which that fight transformed a bunch of grapes from a food on the kitchen table to a symbol of the human beings that brought those grapes to your family. His challenge: “capture the support and enthusiasm of people” the way the Farm Workers did – this is the work the labor movement must do now. It starts with our stories, our willingness to stand in solidarity with one another, and, as Inclán said, with our courage.
We believe that the MTA has that courage, and our members’ stories and the stories of their students and families are the fuel – they remind us that we’re all in this same fight together.