UA Takes Its First Seat at NEA Convention
By Ben Pollock, Local 965 secretary
This report first was published in the July 2022 newsletter of UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965.
Lots of us this summer have had to consider both mass shootings and reproductive rights. I ended up diving headfirst into both over July 4 in Chicago.
When the Local 965 officers asked for volunteers this spring to represent the union at the annual National Education Association convention, I expected serious intensity and not enough free time (as that’s how conferences usually go) but not four 12-hour days of debates and electronic votes among nearly 6,000 colleagues.
Nor did I expect the honor of being the first University of Arkansas representative and the first higher-education delegate for the whole state at the NEA Representative Assembly, the convention’s official name.
Gun violence topped the July 3-6 agenda even before the Fourth of July mass shooting in suburban Highland Park — 30 miles from the gathering. RA delegates were told not to leave the McCormick Place hall in the hours the suspect was at large.
The first resolution, including a budget to fund it, begins:
“The NEA shall issue a National Call to Action to ensure that all students, educators, schools, campuses and communities are safe from gun violence.”
The measure, passed overwhelmingly, authorizes nearly a half-million union dollars to execute the call’s seven points, which are detailed along with the other approved New Business Items in the last issue of its daily convention newsletter RA Today (PDF).
Masking and social distancing were enforced at Chicago’s McCormick Place as well as during state caucuses held in delegates’ hotel meeting rooms before the RA convened daily. Covid-19 was such a concern the NEA staff continuously screened at the entrances everyone attending with a mobile phone app that green-lit completed vaccination records and negative, recent test results.
At the first Arkansas caucus July 2, I was elected its secretary. It was like being jury foreman in that no one knew me yet seemed a reasonable choice. I took minutes starting at 6:30 a.m. for the coordinating committee then the caucus at 7:30. We were bused to McCormick Place around 9 a.m., returning after 7 p.m.
While there was token parliamentary opposition to finding ways to promote and lobby about gun controls, a vocal minority made points about abortion, chiefly why is the public educators’ union stepping there and whether a pro-abortion stand is worth some member resignations.
Yet New Business Item 34’s two votes were 74 percent and 76 percent in favor:
“NEA will publicly stand in defense of abortion and reproductive rights and encourage members to participate in activities including rallies and demonstrations, lobbying and political campaigns, educational events, and other actions to support the right to abortion, contraception, and a person’s decision about their health.” The cost for its promotion beyond the already set NEA budget is just $4,500.
The assembly adopted, with minimal opposition, three measures that variously supported expansion of and opposed restrictions to LGBTQ+ rights.
For me, the 2022 RA with some dozen and a half miked lecterns throughout the audience (the hangar-like McCormick felt like the wings of two 747s wouldn’t touch) provided almost surreal observations of real mass democracy in strict parliamentary practice, noisy and orderly, exhausting but riveting. In queue two-plus hours for Secret Service body and bag searches July 5, when Vice President Kamala Harris spoke, became part of the spectacle.
All was comprehensively reported July 7, 2022, in Education Week at “Abortion, Anti-LGBTQ Bills, and Safe Schools: 5 Things to Know From NEA’s Annual Assembly” by Madeline Will, who noted in apparent response to Fox News comments, “This year Education Week was the only news outlet covering the entirety of the assembly.”
Note: Caption for the two photos: Ben Pollock of UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 takes the minutes July 3, 2022, (left) of the morning Arkansas caucus meeting July 3, 2022, at Chicago’s Drake Hotel. At right, Pollock listens to debate July 4, 2022, at the NEA Representative Assembly at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention complex. Photos by Kyle Leyenberger, AEA communications director.