by NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer
In my first month on the job, I’ve had more than a few members ask me, “Why are you so focused on this election?”
I understand the question, especially with all the other challenges we face: chronic underfunding, a new evaluation system, and constant attacks on public education and public school employees. But the answer is simple: all of those problems got worse after the 2009 election. We can better respond to these challenges if we do our job this time. So as uncomfortable as some of us are engaging in politics, the climate we live in now leaves us no choice.
Just ask your colleagues in states where the attacks have been even worse. I was in Wisconsin back in the winter of 2011, when Gov. Scott Walker launched his sneak attack on unions and public education. I marched in the freezing cold with my union brothers and sisters as they fought for their rights. It was inspiring, because even against impossible odds, they didn’t give up or back down. But guess what? Inspiring didn’t win the day. Ultimately, they lost that fight and saw many of their rights stripped away.
And I know if they had the chance to roll back the clock, they wouldn’t have chosen to spend all those hours marching, trying to stop a bad governor and a bad legislature from passing bad laws. Instead, they would have spent their time making sure that a bad governor and a bad legislature had never got elected in the first place!
Now that fight has come to New Jersey, so we have to decide: are we going to start fighting now, when we have the chance to achieve something good and secure a better future? Or are we going to wait until our only option is to fight an uphill battle to stop the destruction of our union, our profession and our public schools?
For me, it’s not even a question. I’m all in for this election, because this is our fight and this is our time. So I choose to step up now, when we can make the difference. I choose to vote now to elect a governor who will stand for us and with us, rather than fight later against a governor who wants to tear us down. I choose to volunteer now to help elect a pro-education legislature, instead of waiting to fight against a hostile one next year. I choose to work now for our students, our families, our careers, and our dignity.
And I’m asking you to work with me. Please join the fight, and help us build a brighter tomorrow for public education in New Jersey.