Lorretta Johnson says unions and communities united can take on the right

AFT Secretary Treasurer Lorretta Johnson pledged to join the CFT in resisting. Except for one thing. 

“I went to jail once in a teachers’ strike,” she said. “My husband heard I was in jail and he didn’t come get me — I vowed I’d never go back.”

In 1966, Johnson started off as a teacher’s aide in Baltimore, making $2.25 an hour without benefits, Paula Phillips, then president of the Council of Classified Employees, said in her introduction. Johnson went on to organize paraprofessionals and became a political force.

Johnson called the members of the CFT “first responders” to the new administration and its policies. 

“I don’t even want to call them policies — this man is crazy,” she said about the current president. “When he pushes for more deportations, we are the ones who comfort the students.”

Johnson encouraged attendees to make their focus local — on governors and legislators. She also said young people are necessary to the fight, but to give them room.

“My daddy used to tell me about walking to school in the snow and every time he told it, the snow got deeper,” she said. “I tell young people, ‘You don’t have to do it the way I did — just get it done.’” 

People have been told if they work hard, they can get a shot at the American dream, Johnson said, adding she was part of that dream. Her father died when she was 14, and her mother raised her and her eight older siblings on her father’s pension. Now Johnson has a degree in education, and the Maryland Democratic Party named her a Labor Leader of the Year.

“The union movement collectively made Lorretta Johnson,” she said. 

“I never thought America wasn’t great,” she added, referring to the 45th president’s declaration that he will make America great again. “Everything could be made a little better. I could stand to lose a little weight. I could change my hair around. But that doesn’t mean I’m not great.”

Johnson urged delegates to fight against Trump’s agenda, saying if unions work with communities, they can take on the right wing. “If you put your hand up, they can break your fingers, but when you turn that into a fist, they have hell to pay,” Johnson said, demonstrating with a raised fist. She ended with another declaration of strength. 

“If you see Lorretta Johnson in a fight with a bear, help the bear.”