By John Quesenberry, published in the Beckley Register-Herald
As a co-president of the Raleigh County Education Association, I feel compelled to respond to the attacks on my organization and the character of my colleagues in recent remarks by my local state senator.
While I applaud and agree wholeheartedly with Senator Rollan Roberts’ comments at the end of his recent letter calling for civility, I find that plea rings rather hollow when the letter describes us as reprehensible, vindictive, retaliatory, hypocritical, embarrassing, angry, radical, out of control, corrupt, mean-spirited, vicious, foul-mouthed, and unruly, hate-filled children. Cast stones at me all you will – I can shoulder it. I will NOT, however, sit silently and allow my colleagues, who give their hearts, talents, time and energy to the children of our state, to be described as neither “reasonable nor rational” and not caring.
I find it amazing that on the eve of Independence Day, my elected representative invoked the Founding Fathers to condemn signing petitions, picketing and boycotting, as if they were somehow unfitting of Americans. I would be glad to open up a seat in my history class to provide education about the Stamp Act Congress, the Olive Branch Petition and Founding Father Patrick Henry who did just that – signed and delivered petitions in building public support and protesting their government’s decisions leading up to the American Revolution; about Sam Adams, the Sons of Liberty, and First Continental Congress, who all arranged boycotts against their British government; about the tea boycotts, Boston Tea Party and the Daughters of Liberty, who said they would do without their tea before they did without their liberty; about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Bus Boycott leaders, who fought to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity – the very things the founders said was a basis of our Constitution.
I would be delighted to educate our leaders about the use of picketing by West Virginia coal miners fighting for a decent living, safe working conditions, healthcare, black lung benefits, pensions and, at the most basic level, for dignity and the right to a shot at the American Dream for themselves and their families.
My civics and government classes are available to visit and learn about the right to petition, freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, which James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, thought was so vital to our republic that it was put in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. These are methods which were used by our founding fathers to secure the rights and liberties that our great nation is based upon. By the way, those rights and liberties being taken away from our ancestors and a desire to have a government which represented the will of the people is why they were fighting for their independence – not opposition to some “status quo mindset.”
In closing, the WVEA and Raleigh County Education Association are not subsidiaries of an out-of-state interest group. We are affiliates – but we do not take marching orders from the NEA or anyone else. We are a member driven association.
As one who personally helped hand-count ballots of local educators before last year’s work stoppage action, I can guarantee the public that we have never asked permission from, nor received direction from any outside group. We sought out and then acted on the will of all our educators, whether they belonged to our union, another union, or no union at all.
I assure you, unlike some bodies, our organization seeks out the opinions of the people we represent. We listen to and act on what the people say, not our own personal preferences or agendas.
— John Quesenberry is a co-president of the Raleigh County Education Association.