NEA RA: Overwhelming, Inspiring, Standing for What You Believe


8/29/2013

By NEA Director Ryan Anderson and Park City Education Association member Heidi Matthews

Throughout my three and a half decades of personal Association experience, I have heard innumerable negatively charged references to our national, state and local associations, as though they are some amorphous disembodied entity disassociated from our membership (i.e.: “the NEA…” or “the UEA…”).

In reality, by nature of our Associations’ structure, the business of our elected representatives and the positions we take at the UEA House of Delegates and the NEA Representative Assembly (RA) can be no more liberal, moderate or conservative than our membership because elected delegates represent their local associations each time we vote.

I’ve watched over the years as delegates to the NEA RA have experienced the overwhelming reality of true democracy in action. As an example, I share the following excerpts from a blog posted by first-time RA attendee and Park City Education Association member Heidi Matthews (edited with her permission):

June 30: “I can't tell you how excited I am to be attending the NEA RA for the first time this year! I have been a member of the teacher's association almost my entire career, but until recently did not have any knowledge that this RA even existed.”

July 1: “This is all so new to me that I had no idea our colleagues across the state have been attending the RA for years. There is something about it that seems to draw people in and once they attend, they are hooked. People keep telling me that there is nothing like walking into the RA for the first time and seeing and feeling the unity of having 10,000 educators in the same place. Apparently, the NEA RA is the largest democratic assembly in the world. I am curious how the logistics of one person/one vote will work with a group this size.”

July 2: “This morning started early again with a 7 a.m. caucus (remember, that's 5 am Utah time!) to discuss the New Business Items to be presented. Following Roberts Rules of Order, our UEA President would read the NBIs and invite a motion to support/oppose/no position upon which interested people would speak to the motion and debate.”

July 3: “I experienced something today that I will never forget! …as soon as I entered the RA for the first time the whole thing just took my breath away…To walk into a room with over 10,000 educators felt like walking into the Superbowl for teachers.

“The opening address from our NEA President Dennis Van Roekel was over-the-top inspiring. I truly wish I had words to express the pride I feel in our profession, but also a deep sense of urgency and purpose to live up to the urgings of our NEA (leaders) to TAKE THE LEAD in our profession.

“The actual assembly is…truly a work of art in how smoothly and effectively it is organized. With about 30 microphones throughout the assembly hall, delegates call in and request to speak for/against, propose amendments, ask for clarification, etc. In my life, I have never seen democracy in action so clearly.”

July 4: “This was a very different Independence Day for me. No parades or picnics this year, but it was pretty amazing to experience our country's hard-fought democracy in action. Again, I am terribly impressed with the efficiency of this process.

“Sometimes the debates on the issues are really interesting; other times, just downright unnecessary. Given the importance of the process, I have accepted that being occasionally tedious is a by-product.”

July 5: “I am tired…Not feeling like a spring chicken at all. A number of the items on which we voted dealt with highly charged topics. From debates about supporting abortion legislation (NEA DOES NOT), to health benefit equality for all legally married people, to genetically modified food, to a big debate on adding an A (arts) to STEM to make it STEAM, there were some pretty contentious statements made.

“What I have observed is that so often positions are presented that have really good intentions, but that if adopted wouldn't exactly be feasible or help.

“Whew. This has been a week I will not forget. I am grateful!”

In subsequent discussions with Heidi, she shared some of the emotion she felt as we participated in ‘standing votes,’ where participants literally stand up to show their support for an issue. “I was truly ‘standing up for something,’” she said. “At times that felt uncomfortable and important at the same time.” It’s true. Each of us feels conflicting emotions when we "take that stand" for what we believe is right.

(View Matthews’ complete blog)

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