This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Teachers, counselors, nurses, and other education advocates gathered on Nov. 8 at the Caucus of Working Educators’ first annual convention. The event, which drew more than 125 people from Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, was held at the Old First Reformed United Church of Christ at 4th and Race Streets.
Kristin Luebbert, a teacher and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers member who is communication chair of the caucus, said that the group was formed in March as a social justice caucus within the PFT to “invigorate the union” and help it “work from the ground up to re-engage” its membership.
Education activists from across the region were invited to the convention, Luebbert said, to unify their struggles.
“It’s a get-together, it’s a rally, it’s an informational setting,” she said. “It’s all those things to help expand the work we need to do for our children right now.”
Amy Roat, a teacher and founding caucus member who currently serves on the steering committee, said, “I also think it was a time for people to look at the big picture, putting it in historical perspective.”
Keynote speaker Yohuru Williams, a professor of history at Fairfield University and member of the Badass Teachers Association, talked about the role of teacher unions in the civil rights movement. Attendees then divided into workshops discussing corporate interest in public education, the Chicago Teachers Union and its organizing strategy, and community involvement in schools.
Attendees also listened to presentations from Labor Notes, a media and organizing project of union advocates, and the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), the social justice caucus of the New York City teachers’ union. The convention ended with training sessions on organizing and a closing plenary on the future agenda of the union.
“We’re bracing ourselves for the long fight,” said teacher Kelley Collings, co-chair of the caucus steering committee. “This is not about health care benefits. This is about the corporatizing of public education across the country.”
Luebbert said the caucus plans to hold Gov.-elect Tom Wolf to the education agenda he campaigned on, but the Democratic primary and the city’s mayoral races are on their radar too.
“The era of just saying, ‘Oh, Democratic voting’ — that’s over,” said Luebbert. “Now candidates are going to have to tell us what they think of education, and what they’re going to do about education.”
“If we do get local control [in place of the School Reform Commission], we need a supportive mayor and City Council,” added Roat. “We need to make sure all these people are on the right side of the issue.”