Do you know how every year you get these emails from JCTA asking you to vote for delegates for the NEA RA? Have you ever wondered what that’s all about? Five years ago I didn’t know what it was or why it should matter to me, then a fellow JCTA member encouraged me to run to go, and I’ve attended for the past four summers. This was the turning point for me that got me more involved. It greatly extended my understanding of our organization at a local, state, and national level and convinced me that I have the power to make a difference.
For those who may not know, NEA RA stands for the National Education Association Representative Assembly. It is the largest democratic meeting in the world. Between 8,000 to 10,000 NEA members are elected from state and local affiliates around the nation to attend. Over the course of a few days in the summer, we vote on our organization’s budget, legislative program, amendments to our organization’s constitution, as well as the actions we want our leadership to take over the course of the year. In between the business, there are inspirational speeches, performances, and recognitions for awards. As a civics teacher, the sight and sound of that many people making decisions together by acclamation or by standing is astounding. I stood in awe of the power that individuals and groups have to sway debate. I never knew that I could have a voice in determining the direction of my organization! It’s an exhilarating thought. One of our own members, Kumar Rashad, had two new business items that were debated and passed and are now a part of what NEA must accomplish during this year. If you ever thought you have no voice in our local, state, or national organization, I assure you that you can.
One of the beautiful things about the Representative Assembly is that you network and make friends with educators all over our state, but also throughout our nation. I sat by another social studies teacher from Virginia on a bus last year and we still send lesson ideas back and forth. Through joining caucuses, you can find people with similar interests and support causes you care about. This past year, one of the most popular items to purchase was a T-shirt that was collaboratively designed by the Hispanic Caucus and LBGT Caucus where all of the proceeds went to protecting LBGTQ+ asylum seekers needing assistance at the border. There are more lighthearted caucuses as well. For example, the Karaoke Caucus and Kentucky’s own Bourbon Caucuses are both taking action to be official next year. You hear stories and get perspectives from all over the country. This year, I also participated in the NEA choir which did a surprise performance of a Hamilton medley with some slightly adjusted words, again just one more way you can connect with educators from other places.
The most exciting prospect at this year’s Representative Assembly, however, was the Strong Public Schools 2020 Presidential Forum. Ten democratic contenders who are in the race for nomination came to answer questions submitted by members of the NEA: Bernie Sanders, Julián Castro, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Jay Inslee, Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, and Kamala Harris. Each of them had a minute to introduce themselves however they wanted and then three minutes for each of their three questions. You can watch the whole thing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xn3AHCPeGZ8. If you want to skip explanations and introductions, the first candidate takes is actually introduced at 7 minutes and 50 seconds.
If you have not yet participated in a Representative Assembly in the past, I would enthusiastically encourage you to run for election next year. It will give you a whole new perspective of this amazing organization to which we belong. You will build relationships with other Kentuckians and members throughout the nation but more importantly, you will know how decisions are made. You will know more about the resources available to you and the power you have. It will absolutely blow you away.