First Lady Jill Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren speak at teachers’ union convention in Boston

First Lady Jill Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Friday spoke at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) 2022 Convention in Boston where they urged the more than 2,000 union delegates in attendance to organize, canvass, and vote in the upcoming midterm elections.

The two women were joined by Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, and Sen. Ed Markey, as well as event organizers, educators and other union delegates, according to Education Week.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said on Thursday in her keynote speech: “We must vote in November as if our lives depend upon it, because they do. You held our institutions together during the pandemic … Now we need to hold our democracy together.” She added: “I know we are tired. I know we are exhausted. But if we don’t do it, it ain’t gonna happen.”

Jill Biden praised Weingarten as a “powerful leader,” as well as a friend. “Randi, one of the things I love most about you is how you show up for people. When there’s a problem, you find a solution. When someone’s in need, you ask: How can I help? And it’s what makes you such a powerful leader here at AFT. So, thank you for your friendship. Thank you for caring. Thank you for putting this organization first every day,” the First Lady said, according to a White House transcript of her speech.

Biden, who currently teaches English at a community college in northern Virginia, thanked educators for their sacrifice, noting the dangers that teachers have recently faced, such as the mass shooting as Robb Elementary School in which 19 children and two teachers were killed.

“As Randi said yesterday, teaching has become so much harder. But you don’t quit. You show up to work with a granola bar because you know someone may come to class hungry. You keep your voice calm when you explain active shooter drills and how to stay quiet when they hide under desks—even though a part of you breaks into pieces each time,” Biden said.

“You tell your students that change is possible, even though you know that the young women looking up at you with those hopeful eyes have lost rights that they don’t even understand yet,” she added. “You turn down the news on TV telling you about people who want to stop you from doing your job, put your shoulders back, and focus on your students. There is so much weight on all of you—but you carry it. Our schools are where policies become people. And educators are at the center of it all.”

The First Lady called for a ban on AR-15s, which she noted was the weapon used in the Robb Elementary shooting. The firearm, she said, has “no place on our streets.”

She urged everyone, “Teachers. Nurses. Higher education and health care workers, public servants. All of us,” to do more than just vote, which she called “the bare minimum.”

“We have to get involved in the local governments that decide how cities plan their budgets and protect their students. We have to speak up for justice and equity. All of us have a ‘Teacher voice’ for when things go off the rails—and now is the time to use it,” Biden said.

Warren, a former professor, joined Biden in encouraging educators to stay strong, as she acknowledged that teaching can be a difficult job. “Over the past few years, you have confronted historic challenges that have made your jobs even tougher,” she said. “But you have all gone above and beyond as teachers always do.”

Warren dedicated most of her speech to calling for the cancellation of student loan debt, which she has continuously urged President Biden to do. Warren called it a “racial justice issue and a gender justice issue.”

“Millions of teachers are drowning in student loan debt,” Warren said, referring to a statistic from the NEA, which found that 65% of teachers under 35 have taken out loans. “We need student loan debt relief, and we need it now. This is a fight, and teachers are fighters.” Warren said Congress needed to “take some responsibility for all you deal with.”

“Everyone in this room has read the stories. Everyone in this room has had to think through active shooter drills or when to alert the authorities about heightened security risks,” Warren said to a room full of thousands of educators. “These shootings are not completely unforeseen events. They are not isolated acts of evil when Congress is unable to pass laws for universal background checks or to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines.”

She urged lawmakers to pass “common sense gun safety laws,” adding that she would advocate to “get rid of the filibuster” in order to get it done.



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