By DEVIN HEILMAN
HAYDEN LAKE — America is on the brink of revolution.
When that revolution comes, National Education Association executive director John Stocks wants North Idaho to be ready.
“We have tremendous opportunity," Stocks said Thursday evening. "I actually believe that because of what we are seeing with regards to the levels of civic engagement that are going on across the country, that are emerging organically in places all around this country, including here in North Idaho... We’re going to see a tremendous resurgence of people who are going to take back their country.
"I couldn’t be more optimistic that it’s going to happen," he continued. "You can feel it. You can feel people who are anxious about what’s going on in North Korea, they’re anxious about what’s going on in Congress with the (Affordable Care Act), they’re anxious about what’s going on with regard to voting rights, workers’ rights, with regard to every civil right that’s in jeopardy across this country.
"I assure you, in a relatively short period of time, there will be an uprising. (It) will in fact fuel a more progressive future. That’s what’s going to happen. When it happens, we need to have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of it."
Stocks, a former Idaho senator, was the keynote speaker during the second Scott Reed Conservation Lecture and Dinner at the Hayden Lake Country Club, where nearly 100 guests gathered in the dining room to enjoy a meal, conversation and Stocks' presentation.
Stocks' lecture, titled “Our Path Together — Moving Forward in Idaho and Beyond,” highlighted the history of the NEA and its parallels to the challenges facing the country today.
The NEA is the largest union in the nation, representing 3 million teachers. Stocks said it was not the plan for the organization to become a social justice leader, but its members understood early on that it held a unique role in society with the power to spur positive change. It has a long history with social justice, beginning with advocating education for newly emancipated slaves. It has fought for women's rights and fought against child labor as well as segregation in schools, long before those issues were at the forefront.
"These are people, leaders, who saw large challenges not unlike the challenges we’re facing today,” Stocks said. "Those were tough, tough times, and I want to say to all of you that we are going through a similar era. I suspect many in this room have tremendous privilege. I know I do, as a white male heterosexual, tremendous privilege, coming from a family that was upper-middle class.”
He urged those in attendance to use their privilege to continue these fights. He said the most important thing that can be done with that privilege is to stand for justice, whether it’s environmental, social and racial or justice for those who are discriminated against based on their gender.
“That’s what we’re called to do,” he said. “All of us in this room, with as much privilege as we collectively have, in our commitment to enduring that the environment is at least maintained and hopefully advanced, need to take advantage of that and go to work and double down."
The evening also served as a time to honor and remember the contributions the late Scott Reed and wife Mary Lou have made to the betterment of North Idaho. The Idaho Conservation League, a nonprofit committed to preserving Idaho's environment, created the Scott Reed Conservation Lecture and Dinner in recognition of the environmental lawyer's tireless efforts throughout his lifetime. Scott died in May 2015 at the age of 87.
"Early on they must have struck a deal: He took care of the courts and left the legislating to Mary Lou," Stocks said. "Mary Lou’s legislative accomplishments in the environment are equally amazing."
ICL executive director Rick Johnson said he hoped attendees took away a feeling of optimism when they departed that evening.
"We have a very strong across-the-state presence, and a lot of that is because of the vision of Scott and Mary Lou back in the early days," he said. "They helped create the DNA of what ICL is today, and frankly, we’re really proud of that connection and we wanted to pay it back a little bit by bringing the community together."