Most Influential People2019

Jay O'Neal and Emily Comer

By Dolores Huerta
Teachers Jay O'Neal and Emily Comer
Craig Hudson

One teacher can change a young person’s life, giving them the confidence to pursue their biggest goals. But in the past year, teachers have left an impact well beyond their classrooms, launching a social-justice movement that was impossible to ignore.

Teachers are the foundation of our democracy. They’re the conscience of our society. When teachers stand up for themselves—as Jay O’Neal and Emily Comer did in West Virginia, and as others have since done in Oklahoma, Arizona, California and beyond—it is a message to all of us. If teachers are standing up, you can stand up.

The only way to stop hatred and division in our country is through education, and that requires investing in our teachers. These strikes have been a wake-up call about the lack of education funding and the wage crisis that exists across industries today. It can be hard for teachers to get civically engaged, but if more did, I think we would have an entirely different society.

Huerta is a civil rights activist who co-founded what is now the United Farm Workers of America