Campaign rally or Representative Assembly? At some points yesterday it was hard to tell. The 8,000 or so delegates of the nation’s largest teachers’ union gathered in Washington for their annual convention heard one message above all others: Vote for Obama in November.
Just outside the assembly hall, attendees traded off Sharpees to write notes to the president on a massive banner entitled “NEA Educators for Obama.” A portrait of Obama and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel hung above the hall entrance.
The RA began in its usual raucous fashion, with blaring pop music (Shania Twain’s “I Feel Like a Woman” was playing as I found my seat—I’m assuming the songs weren’t chosen for their topical relevance) and a flurry of confetti. Nearly everyone was wearing Mardi Gras beads. Green Man wandered the aisles.
As Stephen Sawchuk reported, Van Roekel’s keynote was tame as NEA keynotes go, and overarchingly positive. He spoke of the need to respect educators, to partner with parents and community members, and to “maintain a rich curricula that includes art, music, history, sports, drama. ... " And, at the crux of the speech, he talked about the need to influence education policy through the political process. “We must do everything we can to re-elect President Obama,” he said to the cheering delegates. Van Roekel did not mention Secretary of Education Arne Duncan even once during the speech—no doubt a very purposeful omission given the ire the secretary’s name inspired at last year’s convention.
The audience was perhaps most vocal when speakers brought up the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. “We stand for equity—and when we say equity, we’re not talking about the Bain Capital Private Equity Corporation,” said Van Roekel, to which the audience roared. (For those of you who may not know, Romney once headed Bain, which has been charged with outsourcing jobs overseas.)
It’s notable that while the RA has devoted much time to championing the current president, it is Vice President Joe Biden—and not Obama—who will be speaking at the assembly tomorrow. I’ll try to get some details on whether that was a logistical or tactical decision on NEA’s part, or, more likely, a declined invitation.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.