Our Role in Repairing the Damage Done to Democracy

Our Role in Repairing the Damage Done to Democracy

Merrie Najimy

Merrie Najimy, President


The shock of what happened in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday will linger — and it should. The storming of the Capitol by a violent mob spurred on by President Donald Trump is the disastrous climax of an orchestrated effort to dismantle democracy via denigrating public institutions, undermining the common good, and stoking the most despicable white supremacist flames of racism and hate.

What unfolded in the waning days of the Trump administration had nothing to do with differing political points of view. Instead, we saw an assault on our democracy by extremists who do not share the values we aspire to instill in our students. The emboldened rioters and the tepid response by the Capitol Police once again exposed the grip that systemic racism has on our society.

I can think of no other event in recent history that has made so clear the importance and value of our work in public schools and on college campuses. Every day, educators underscore the need to dismantle systemic racism and lift up the kind of civic pride that inspires people to participate in our national discourse in productive, meaningful and peaceful ways. They are leaders in communicating and modeling democratic ideals — the very opposite of the disgraceful behavior that was so vividly on display on Capitol Hill this week.

The seditious actions of the mob have undoubtedly sparked new conversations with students. In doing so, they have given us the opportunity to address the countless ways that what happened in Washington does not align with the practices of those who truly believe in a public good that must be nurtured and supported by public institutions and meaningful public participation. And as we have been doing whenever we see the injustices caused by systemic racism, we must seize on this moment to continue engaging in the hard work that Ibram X. Kendi instructs us to do — move from the notion of being “not racist” to being antiracist.

The NEA and others have provided resources that can help us frame the ways we talk about these urgent issues with our students.

Your work as dedicated educators and unionists is indescribably important to reversing the course that Trump and his enablers — including far too many elected officials — have set the country on. Earlier in the week, I sent members an email focusing on the fights ahead for our preK-12 members. Today, I want to acknowledge the work and challenges of the MTA’s higher education members.

If we hope to eradicate the lies and hate that have overtaken legitimate political and civic discourse, we must not only teach and mentor our students, but also fight hard for well-resourced, debt-free public colleges and universities. For these are the public institutions that further develop our common humanity and continue to prepare people to protect our democracy, which is in a fragile state at this moment.

Through their unrelenting activism, the MTA’s higher ed members were instrumental in getting the Legislature to pass level funding for community colleges, state universities and UMass and then override Governor Charlie Baker’s vetoes. And together we won a major federal stimulus bill that will bring tens of millions of dollars to our public campuses.

Despite all of these victories, higher ed members continue to fight the unfair layoffs, furloughs and program cuts that have taken place on several campuses since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It is time to stop the cuts and Bring Staff Back before the start of the new semester. Take a moment to take action.

Our public colleges and universities are essential institutions in the Commonwealth and will be vital in helping to repair and rebuild the state’s economy as the coronavirus is brought under control.

Taking part in the fight for adequate staff and resources to support students who deserve the opportunity to earn a degree is exactly the kind of challenging civic engagement that we support — and that stands in stark contrast to the emotions and conspiracy theories that led to the rampage we witnessed in Washington.

With our high expectations of the incoming Biden administration, the abrupt (but so welcome) departure of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and the historic Senate victories in Georgia, we have reason to be hopeful that our country will begin to move forward on an agenda that promotes justice and equity while repairing the damage done by four years of Donald Trump’s campaign to divide us and dismantle the institutions that serve to bring us together. But the greater hope comes through collective action. Let’s all join together in the effort to create a better society so that we never see another spectacle such as the one that scarred our nation this week.

In solidarity,