Our Union Helps Us Be Incredible

As always, my summer is filled with plans to do more than I ever could. Even though I am busy with summer school, planning, house work, yard work, etc., I have made it a priority to make some memories with my family this summer. More specifically, with my three-year-old niece.

We have been planning on checking out the drive-in movie theatre, and have been waiting for The Incredibles to start playing. When my sister asked my niece if she wanted to see the movie, instead of an enthusiastic yes, we got, “No, let’s be the Incredibles!”

Her response resonated with me in a lot of ways. As I watch the news, read articles, shuffle through Facebook, and talk with my friends, I have felt weighed down. When life can already be exhausting, how can you join every fight, stand up for those who need it, be everything you want to be and take care of yourself?

“Let’s be the Incredibles!” Exactly. We aren’t meant to do it alone. We are a team. And our union is there to help us as we strive to be the superheroes of our own world.

And our world needs superheroes.

We continue to struggle across the country for living wages and healthy working conditions. We have been there to support our brothers and sisters in state after state as they stand against unfair contracts, unsafe working environments and inadequate school funding. We are in the midst of a challenge to make sure our schools are safe from gun violence.

Our dreamers, our students who come to us from other countries, are very much on our minds this summer, and we want to stand up for them. As we watch children ripped away from their parents, and policies that try to take away rights, we are there to stand up for our children, and our families that have worked hard to provide a safe life for their children.

The Supreme Court just struck down a law that requires crisis pregnancy centers, staffed by anti-abortion activists masquerading as legitimate health care providers, to provide woman with truthful and medically accurate information about their reproductive health care choices.

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos have us fearing for the very existence of public education. Scott Walker and the current Wisconsin Legislature stake their reputations on coming up with ways to make teachers’ lives more difficult and less rewarding, regardless of what is best for students or our state’s future.

Flint still doesn’t have clean water, and Puerto Rico is still a mess.

As a lone individual, I sometimes feel overwhelmed. The issues are so big, and the forces allied against us are so strong.

I don’t always know what to do, but I know I can count on my union; my team of Incredibles.

Every member is part of a local union that makes decisions that impact the school district and the community. My local, the Beloit Education Association, donates books to newborns, sponsors clothing drives and food drives, and helped launch a scholarship program that helps local minority students become Beloit teachers. We also get involved in school board elections and referendum initiatives.

Region 6 has gotten involved in the immigration struggle by connecting members and their students’ families to local organizations staffed to help them. NEA president Lily Eskelson made an impassioned plea to all members to get involved, and has gone to the Mexican border to join protests against Trump’s immigration policies. Lily’s activism is backed up by the volumes of resources NEA has created for immigrant families and those of us who want to advocate for them.

NEA and WEAC provide avenues for contacting the media and our elected officials at the state and federal level on a host of issues, and send us election alerts so we have all of the critical information when it matters.

While we may not see them out in the open, NEA employs a team of top-notch lobbyists who advocate for us and the issues we care in Congress about while we are in the classroom. I feel better just knowing they are there.

And that’s what the union is: It’s an extension of ourselves, working for what matters to all of us. We can’t be everywhere at once, but we can pool our resources and make collaborative decisions about what to advocate for and how. We elect colleagues to union leadership positions and those colleagues make decisions about policy, budgets, and staff that continue to advocate for all these matters.

It would be great if we could everywhere at once, but not even superheroes can do that. The union is the next best thing.

In Solidarity,
Kirah Zeilinger
President of WEAC Region 6