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July 18, 2022

VIDEO: Pressley at AFT Convention: Educators are on Front Lines of Struggle to Preserve and Strengthen our Democracy

Pressley Also Reiterates Calls for President Biden to Cancel Student Debt

“What happens within the walls of our schools is indicative of
what happens to our democracy.”

Video (YouTube)

BOSTON – On Saturday, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07)delivered impassioned remarks at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) national convention in which she discussed the critical role that our educators play in defending and strengthening American democracy. Congresswoman Pressley also renewed her calls for President Biden to cancel student debt by executive action. 

A full transcript of the Congresswoman’s remarks is available below, and the full video is available here

Transcript: Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s Remarks at the American Federation of Teachers National Convention
July 16, 2022
Boston, MA

Oh my goodness! A lot to live up to there. 

I’ll never tire of calling you Madam President. Thank you, Randi, so much. 

If a little bit of what Randi just offered there is true, I want to give credit where credit is due. 

Certainly outside of my mother, may she rest in peace and power, and my father. My broader “village” who have been role models. 

I have to credit our nation builders. That’s you. 

It is because of educators, it is because of teachers, that in the moments that I’ve felt small, I was made big. When I felt invisible, that I felt seen. When I felt voiceless, that I was heard. When I felt denied agency, that I was empowered. 

So if any of the very kind and humbling things that Randi said about me are true, it is a testament and a credit to each and every one of you. 

Consider me the product of your sacrifice and your investment. And you have that enduring legacy all around the nation. 

I never had the opportunity to ask President Obama directly why he called our educators nation-builders, but I assume it is because you pour into our babies so they can ultimately go on to build up our world. 

And there could be no more important calling in the world, and so for that I thank you. 

It is good to be home. It is good to be in the Massachusetts 7th. It is good to be in the City of Boston and to be hosting all of you. 

Now, of course, throughout the course of this conference, you have come together to build community, to share your successes and your struggles, and to organize. 

It is my hope today that you’ll leave this hall with that of which you have given to millions of children in your role as nation-builders. 

That you will leave here today with your heart a little fuller and your spirit a bit brighter than when you walked in. 

And sharper clarity about the role that you play in this world. 

It is my hope that you will leave this hall feeling affirmed, valued, respected, and loved. 

The past few years have been deeply painful. 

We have found ourselves bearing the burden and navigating multiple crises. 

 We have had to pick up the pieces of lives disrupted. 

It’s been said the best gift that you can give a child is a stable adult. 

And while the homes of our babies have been destabilized, and their parents and caregivers in turn, collateral damage in the midst of these layered crises, you have been that stabilizing force. 

You have been that continuity. You have been that healer. You have been that counselor. You have picked up the pieces of lives disrupted. 

At times it seems our grief has caught in our throats. And through it all, you have remained dedicated to your profession and holding our communities together. 

Now I’m here to affirm, to celebrate, to recognize your labor. 

But I am also here because I give a damn about your lives. 

You are more than your job title and your labor. And too often, the self-sacrifice that has become such a large part of your role is held up and glorified while your humanity is cast aside. 

So let me state this plainly. What I want for you nation-builders is that for you to know that you deserve to show up fully and live a life defined by your joy and not your trauma. 

That you deserve fair union wages, safety and dignity. And you deserve to thrive, not just to survive. 

Now, I was introduced as the Congresswoman, a title I proudly hold, but the title that truly tells you the most about me is more than anything, I am my mother’s child, may she rest in peace and power. 

My mother was a super-voter, a very engaged community and movement-builder. 

And she told me that there was a difference in life between your job and your Work. 

Your job — and she held down many as a single mom — was how you paid the bills. 

But your Work, our work, with a capital W, is about the upliftment and advancement of community. 

I feel at here at AFT because I know that you share that deep commitment to that Work with a capital W. 

Your job and your work places you on the front lines of every struggle in our society, especially now, as we are fighting for our fundamental human rights. 

Indeed, you are at the intersection of the civil rights struggle. 

Now, I know there are some that will lead you to believe, that the civil rights struggle is one in snapshots of history and what is behind us. 

Black and white images, that Martin marched and John crossed a bridge and Rosa sat. And there was full emancipation and liberation. 

But we are still in the civil rights struggle. And each of you sit at the intersection of that struggle, doing your job and doing that Work, with a capital W, to uplift and advance community. 

What happens within the walls of our schools is indicative of what happens to our democracy. 

Daily, we must decide if we will go in the direction of democracy, truth-seeking and justice, or if we will bear complicit witness to a nation in decline, where bombastic authoritarians consolidate power and undermine the will of the people. 

And while we may grow weary, we will never grow cynical. Not when we think of those who have come before us. 

Not when we think about those who stand in front of us because we don’t have the luxury. 

As you know, because you have stood in the gap time and time again, when institutions and government have failed and fallen short. 

We don’t have the luxury of apathy or cynicism, because people are depending on you. 

So in the face of these layered crises and a decisive moment in the arc of our democracy, you press on. You press on for more and you press on for better, because lives are on the line. 

I promise you this, as you press for what you deserve, I will never minimize your experience. 

I will never offer you unjust, false, binary choices or tell you your issues need to wait. 

I will move with the same urgency, boldness and deep commitment to advance solutions and policies that meet the moment just as you have, time and time again. 

You have not told our babies to wait. You just dug deep and did what needed to be done to show up for our babies. 

And so I can’t in good conscience tell you to wait.  

Far too often, those on the front lines and the most vulnerable have been told that their demands should be put on hold for a more opportune moment. 

But you and I are not fighting for scraps, we are fighting for freedom. 

Because that’s what education affords us: freedom. 

It’s supposed to be the equalizer in this “meritocracy” of a society, unburden you. 

What could be more important than that? 

You are nation-builders. You are liberators. You are healers. 

And it’s just for that reason that I will never relegate the issues you raise to the bottom of a laundry list, or tell you that on top of your daily sacrifices and contributions, that you need to “work harder and vote more.” 

True enough, your vote is sacred and your vote is powerful, but you don’t need me to tell you that. 

You are on the front lines of our struggle to preserve and strengthen our democracy daily. 

And since we are with educators and some of you may be history teachers, let me in this moment make sure that history gets it right and the role that you have played in these unprecedented times is not erased or relegated to a footnote. 

You are in the practice of deep democracy, one lesson plan, one day at a time. 

You have built classrooms where your students are safe to be themselves and safe to ask for help. 

You seek to be guides and not guards.  

You have stared down school boards bent on tearing books out of your classroom that are a salve for your students as they navigate the world. 

Come on, AFT! Do you know who you are? You are nation-builders! 

You are liberators! You are healers! 

You are defenders of this democracy, with every lesson plan, with every day. 

I’m gonna need history to get this one right! 

I’m gonna need for history to get this one right! 

You have fought for the bodily autonomy and human rights of our children. 

You have taken on cruel and hastily-crafted state laws that aim to sow fear and division. 

You have practiced barricading doors and hushing little voices to keep our babies safe in the face of violence that is both unthinkable and commonplace. 

And what do you ask for in return? Not much. 

And that which you do ask for is certainly not seeking to appeal to the benevolence and goodwill of anyone in a position of power. 

You’re simply demanding that which you deserve. 

This is ultimately about reciprocity. Accountability. Justice. 

You simply want laws that keep you safe and build on the promise of an inclusive democracy, where everyone has a right to an education and every person can live and thrive. 

Centering your voices and acting on your demands is not a nice to have, it is a must do. 

And an act of preserving your democracy. 

I’ve always maintained that the people closest to the pain should be the closest to the power, driving and informing the policymaking. 

Who is closer to the pain more than you? 

Who is closer to the pain?  

Your visceral concerns and your pressure for accountability and change are valid. 

And I will never stop fighting for you and alongside you. 

Because you have seen it all and you have done it all. 

Not because your job description required it, but because the moment did. 

And you have done it over and over again. 

AFT, do you know who you are? 

You are nation-builders! You are liberators!  You are healers! 

You are heroes. 

You are defenders of our democracy. You are the reason our nation withstood the systemic attacks on our democracy lobbed by the former occupant of the White House. 

It is you, you are the reason that lives were saved during this pandemic as you fought for common sense public health measures. 

You are the reason, and Randi you I can’t be on this stage and not say this, that we are closer than ever to canceling student debt. 

That’s right. 

 You all are teachers, you know the power of the pen. 

Cancel that student debt, Mr. President, today would be a great day to pick up that pen. 

Canceling student debt would provide long overdue relief to families across our nation. 

Canceling student debt would keep more educators in the classroom. 

Canceling student debt would change lives. 

Canceling student debt — given the whispered conversations I’ve had with educators feeling shame, burdened by this debt, some even contemplating suicide — canceling student debt will save lives. 

As I close, I just. I want you all to walk away from today with one message in your heart, well if there’s only one that you remember. 

You deserve a life free from fear. Where you are defined by potential and possibility. Defined by your joys and not your traumas, where you are able to live and thrive. 

I am deeply grateful for the role that you played in my own life. 

I’m deeply grateful for the role that you play in our community and our democracy. 

And I truly believe that together, we can overcome the challenges we face and work towards shaping a beautiful, compassionate, inclusive future. 

But only if. If we center the voices of those in this room, our best days are yet to come. 

Thank you AFT. We love you.