On the first day of the National Education Association’s representative assembly, activist David Hogg urged thousands of teachers to make sure their students were registered to vote.
NEA President Lily Eskelsen García yielded much of her own speech time to Hogg, a survivor of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
From the stage, Hogg called on the nearly 8,000 educators in attendance to get involved in civic action. The first protest he ever went to, he said, was an NEA protest over low teacher pay at age 3—Hogg’s mother has been a teacher for over two decades.
“There is nothing more powerful in America than a pissed-off teacher,” Hogg said to giant applause.
During his speech, Hogg, who graduated from high school this spring, called for universal background checks, bans on bump stocks, and other gun control measures. He also said it is critical to register high school students to vote in this year’s election. After the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, in which 17 people died, Hogg and other student survivors have become some of the faces of a national movement against gun violence.
“We’re young, and that means we don’t have to accept the status quo—and we never will,” he said. “We intend to close the gap between the world as it is and what it should be.”
During his speech, Hogg recognized the three educators who died during the Stoneman Douglas shooting: football coach and security guard Aaron Feis, geography teacher Scott Beigel, and athletic director Chris Hixon.
Hogg dismissed proposals by politicians like President Donald Trump to arm teachers with weapons to prevent school shootings: “We want our educators like you to be armed—armed with books, papers, pencils, computers, and the supplies and resources you need to help us soar and thrive in this world,” he said.
When introducing Hogg, Eskelsen García referenced the teacher walkouts, protests, and demonstrations that took place this spring in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.
“You spoke the powerful truth that we are fierce fighters who will stand up for ourselves and for our students, and we will be heard,” she said, before tearing up. “There are stars that shine in this dark night. But I’m not sure that any shine brighter than our own fearless students.”
In his speech, Hogg said education—and teachers—will be the key to “disarm[ing] hate” and fighting against gun violence.
“We need your Red for Ed energy, because education is our greatest weapon to win this battle,” he said, referencing the phrase that became a call-to-action for teachers during the recent strikes.
As the teachers gave Hogg a standing ovation at the end of his speech, he jumped up to say one more thing: “Don’t just clap. Vote.”
After Hogg’s speech, Eskelsen García called for an end to the division that she said has swept the country, including the education community.
“I feel like we’re in danger of all being sucked into an agenda that feeds off fear and hate,” she said. “I feel like we’re in danger of losing something. ... I don’t want to use fear and hate to win.”
Then, she pulled out a guitar and sang “All You Need Is Love,” as Hogg sat beside her.
Image of Hogg and Eskelsen García by Scott Iskowitz/NEA. Courtesy of the National Education Association. All rights reserved.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.