AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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AFT Resolutions


[This is an updated version of an earlier resolution passed by the AFT Executive Council in October 2001]

The terrorist attacks of September 11 represent a grave challenge to U.S. civil society, our values and our security. In a few short hours, terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners; destroyed a complete section of the U.S. Pentagon; devastated an entire area of Manhattan; murdered almost 3,000 men, women and children; and brought terror into the lives of all Americans.

Among those killed were many members of the AFT family. We grieve for the members of the New York State Public Employees Federation working in the World Trade Center; for the members of the Washington Teachers Union travelling with three of their best students aboard one of the hijacked planes; and for the spouses, loved ones and family members of many of our members, staff and locals in the New York and Washington metropolitan areas who were killed in the attacks. We offer our deepest condolences to their families, loved ones and colleagues as well as to the loved ones of all those killed in the attacks, including many hundreds of other union members' firefighters, police officers, medical technicians, pilots, flight attendants, communication workers, hotel and restaurant employees, electricians, service employees, painters, carpenters and laborers. We will do all we can to ensure that the children of these union members and all others killed or injured in these acts of terror have the financial and psychological support they need and deserve in the years ahead.

We salute the countless men and women who demonstrated uncommon courage on September 11, including our brothers and sisters among the rescue services in New York and Washington, along with the civilians aboard the airliners who gave their lives to help avert an even greater tragedy. We will never forget their sacrifice and service.

We are grateful and proud of those AFT locals, members and staff who were among the first to offer assistance. Our members moved quickly to evacuate and assist students at the schools directly affected by the attacks, including relocating them to other school buildings and providing them with new books, supplies and other resources necessary for their continued education. Nurses, physicians, psychologists and other members volunteered their skills and service at the attack sites, and the schools and college campuses of many of our members in and around New York were transformed by the tragedy. Members of every division of our union helped to deal with the human toll taken by the terrorist attacks, assisting thousands of traumatized survivors, family members and loved ones. We thank our locals, members and staff for their ongoing commitment to alleviating the needs of the students, workers and families affected by the terrorist attacks.

Not just on behalf of the injured and lost union members and all of the other victims and their families, but also on behalf of the freedom we cherish in America, we want to see justice served. We believe action is necessary to minimize the possibility of future attacks and to defend the world's democracies. The enemy has demonstrated that they are skilled, malevolent and intent on destroying life on an unimaginable scale. They perceive open, democratic societies, in general, and the United States, in particular, as a threat to the kind of rigid, closed societies that they favor. They have no interest in negotiation, compromise or coexistence, but seek to force us to retreat from the world and abandon our way of life.

We support the use of the wide range of powers at the country's disposal to eradicate this threat to our people, our liberty and our children's future. We support the resolve of the United States to hunt down those responsible for the horror of September 11, as well as to eliminate all terrorism and those who breed and support it.

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan is a case in point. Its leaders gave shelter and support to a variety of terrorist organizations, including those responsible for the September 11 attacks. They declared war on women and on education. They purged Afghan universities of women, denied all women the right to work outside their homes, and denied young girls any schooling, including the opportunity to learn how to read and write. Those who dared to object ¾ or even dared to walk outside alone, without a male relative ¾ were subject to being beaten and killed. Young boys were taken from their families and forced to spend long days being indoctrinated with lies and hate. This is what they called education. They tortured and murdered gays. They suppressed any religious views except their own. They prohibited television, photography and the playing of sports. They destroyed the art and the cultural artifacts of more than a thousand years of Afghan civilization. Let there be no mistake, this is the future that the terrorists of September 11 seek to impose on the world’s people.

The AFT has a long and proud tradition of support for international engagement. Our union fought for the reconstruction of Europe after both World Wars I and II, and against the spread of Nazism and communist totalitarianism. We have fought for the rights and dignity of teachers and other workers in every corner of the globe, from South Africa to South Korea, Burma to Bolivia. Today, the forces of terror pose as grave a threat to worker rights and the security of free societies as any totalitarian or authoritarian dictatorship that we have confronted in the past.

We understand that overcoming this threat will entail a long and difficult struggle, requiring military force, diplomacy, moral suasion and economic instruments. At this moment, tens of thousands of American and allied troops continue to be involved in an initial military response to the terrorist attacks of September 11. We support these brave men and women and pray for their success. Having sustained a death toll higher than that of D-Day and Pearl Harbor combined, the United States has a right and a responsibility to defend itself. We have no doubt that military action will be required more that once in the coming years and that the costs may be great.

We are heartened by the broad international support that the United States has received for these actions. Many have heeded the call for an international coalition against terrorism. For the first time in history, the NATO alliance has invoked Article 5 of its charter, indicating that the attack on the United States must be considered an attack on each NATO country. The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning the attacks and requiring every nation to take action against terrorists within their borders. And nations from every part of the world pledged their military, moral and/or intelligence support to the coalition's defense forces. This widespread alliance indicates how many nations recognize the seriousness of the threat before us.

Yet we know that the defeat of terrorism will not be achieved with military force alone. Our responsibility to assist the poor and downtrodden of the world has never been clearer. Hunger, poverty and ignorance have often created a breeding ground for fanaticism. Victory against terror will not be achieved without an expanded international commitment to humanitarian assistance and the spread of democratic values "including human rights, worker rights and freedom of association" into areas of the world where they have yet to flourish. As the richest nation on earth and the cradle of democracy, it is incumbent on the United States to take the lead in these efforts. In this regard, we are heartened by the increase in food and medical aid that the Bush administration has begun to send to the people of Afghanistan.

Every generation of Americans has been forced to make difficult choices in the fight to defend democracy. We have found that we are no different. The best we can do is to try to learn from the victories and mistakes of the past as we seek to navigate the dangerous shoals ahead. This knowledge and these informed judgments are what we mean when we advocate common, public schools that offer "education for democracy" to all citizens, both here and abroad. While reasonable changes may be necessary to enhance the ability of law enforcement to combat terrorism, we need to ensure that actions by our government continue to adhere to the principles of a democratic society and that all decisions are taken in a manner consistent with the Constitution. Specifically, the fundamental civil liberties guaranteed to all citizens must not be weakened or denied. We must also note that respect for differences "racial, religious and ethnic" is one of the key values that the terrorists sought to destroy on September 11. Thus, the recent acts of violence and discrimination against Arab- and Muslim-Americans across the United States are an absolute betrayal of all those who have fought and died to secure and defend our freedom and our values.

As educators, we have a critical responsibility to teach our students about the role of pluralism and tolerance in sustaining our democracy. As citizens and trade unionists, we also have a responsibility to alleviate the economic pain that has been inflicted on working Americans. The initial economic impact of the attacks was monumental, with more than 100,000 jobs lost in New York City alone, the elimination of more than 110,000 jobs in the airline industry, many thousands of small businesses destroyed, and countless families suffering from the loss of income, jobs and benefits. In their continuing efforts to provide economic assistance to the nation, we call on President Bush and the Congress to place priority on the needs of workers, not just the wishes of corporations. This includes streamlining the process for obtaining unemployment insurance and extending the length of benefits, expanding worker-retraining programs, helping the unemployed maintain health insurance for themselves and their families, and expanding essential public health programs.

We are now engaged in a new and difficult chapter of human history, fraught with peril and uncertainty. We can expect hardship and sacrifice. Yet along with dangers, the challenge of terrorism also presents new opportunities to work for the expansion of human rights and democracy. In the months and years ahead, victory against the forces of terror will require patience, self-reflection, courage and determination. We stand ready to meet these challenges. We recommit ourselves to the struggle for freedom and democracy with every ounce of effort at our command. We do so in the name of those lost to us as a result of the horrific acts of Sept. 11, 2001. Their memory will live eternally in our hearts and in our resolve to carry on the tradition of our great union: "Democracy in Education: Education for Democracy."