Trumka Accepts Youth Champion Award From Mikva Challenge

Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Jack [Marco], for your introduction and for this award. You, Robyn [Lingo] and Brian [Brady] are doing unparalleled work engaging students with our democracy.

And above all, thank you, Shelina [Warren], for what you do every day. We honor the hard work and sacrifice of every educator and public school worker tasked with raising the next generation of Americans. You’re shaping our future, in too many ways to count.

We’re living in a profound moment of change. And lately, it’s teachers who’ve captured our country’s imagination. We’ve seen uprisings in unexpected places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona. These patriotic Americans are standing, marching and fighting for the dignity that they’ve earned.

They’re demanding something that’s been wrongly denied them for years and in many cases, decades. Working people from ALL industries and communities want a fair return on our work.

It’s a tough fight against some very powerful, well-funded interests. For too long, the economic rules have been deliberately written to keep corporations strong and working people at bay.  

When our economy is rigged against those who make it work, it is only natural that cynicism starts to take hold.

Listen to this.

A Harvard University study found that only 30 percent of millennials believe it’s essential to live in a democracy...30 percent. Can you believe that?

So this battle over teacher pay and public education is in fact something much bigger.

It’s a fight for the future of our democracy.

The American idea that anything is possible if you work hard and play by the rules is simply not true for those coming of age today.

Young people have seen their democracy produce a society that is unequal and, too often, wholly unfair. So they’re doing their part to change that.

It’s always been the next generation pushing us forward—asking the hard questions and challenging the status quo. The further they push and the more they achieve, the greater their confidence will grow in our system of government. And that's good for everyone.

I experienced it firsthand. When I was 19, I headed into the coal mines for the first time. And I soon discovered that union leaders were stifling the voices of union members. At that time, you couldn’t see your own contract. If you thought you had an issue, you’d be told, “No. You’ll have an issue when I tell you you have an issue.”

It was a recipe for corruption, and all the ills that go along with it.

So I joined a movement called Miners for Democracy. It was us—the teenagers and 20-somethings—demanding change. We made the union our own again—democratic and member-driven. We stood up and won the future we deserved.

Today’s generation of young leaders is doing exactly that. There’s been marches here in Washington and around the world.

A wave of millenials are standing up for their own economic rights and forming unions.

Students are demanding safe schools and freedom from debt. Young workers are speaking out for good jobs, fair wages, universal health care and paid time off.

Collective action is on the rise in America. And it’s the best thing to happen to our democracy in a very long time.

So here’s my one ask: keep it up.

Keep demanding better.

Keep leading the way.

Keep standing up.

Keep speaking out.

Keep raising your hand.

Keep raising your voice.

Keep up the fight.

And no matter what: Keep on keepin' on!

The labor movement will be here to support you every step of the way.

Thank you.