Education News

What I will never forget about the State of the Union

By NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

So, yes, I was in the House gallery to hear Donald Trump’s surreal State of the Union address. But no, it was certainly not by his invitation. I was invited by the most powerful woman in the United States of America, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who single-handedly stopped the most powerful man in the United States of America, Donald Trump, from prolonging a cruel and dangerous government shutdown.

I sat in the gallery and watched one side of the room stand and applaud like robots at almost every sentence Donald Trump uttered, no matter how bizarre or self-serving. I waited to hear anything on education, especially with state after state, from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Arizona and North Carolina, and districts like Los Angeles, where educators were massing in the streets along with parents, advocates and community allies to demand that educators be listened to and that our students be valued.

Then it came. His plan for education. With a nod to Betsy DeVos he said, “To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America’s children.”

One side rose on cue to applaud. One side sat silent. He gave one sentence. Nothing on funding. Nothing on protecting students from discrimination. Nothing on support for health or social-emotional learning or the arts or STEM or making it affordable for a teacher to pay off a student loan…

One sentence. And a nod to Betsy DeVos.

After the address, we were invited back to the Speaker’s reception room where she sat with us and spoke with us – educators, unionists, doctors, transgender soldiers, immigrants, victims of gun violence… and she just talked about how what she was seeing was different from any other administration. That what we had just heard about immigrants and women’s health and about how “wasting time” looking into the accusations of corruption within this administration would jeopardize world peace … that a nod to Betsy DeVos, that all this was surreal.

So, what was real? Evelyn. Evelyn Fabito was real. I had an empty glass and I was looking to put it down. One of the servers holding a tray and moving amongst the invited saw me and came up to me with a smile. I put my glass on her tray. She said, “Lily! I’m so happy to meet you!”

I felt bad that I didn’t recognize her. She seemed to know me. She continued, “I’m not going to the Representative Assembly this year, but I really want to go next year.”

Evelyn, the server, is a teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She’s one of our members. She was picking up empty plates and glasses in the Speaker’s reception room late into the night.

I gave her a hug. I said, “So, this is your second job?” She said, “No. This is my third. I have another on weekends.”

I hope I didn’t get her in trouble, but I asked to take her picture. I asked if I could tell her story in my blog. She was happy and said yes.

And she said, “I’ve been in the union since I started teaching. I love our union. And I see the people here. And I see you in this room. And I just have a feeling that something big is happening. Something good.”

I sat in the gallery and listened to a president and felt only despair. I hugged a teacher picking up dirty dishes and was renewed with hope.

We must be the keepers of hope. And Evelyn and millions like her are already smiling that something big is happening.

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