Above Photo: A Zapatista mural in the town of San Pedro Polhó illustrates ideas about education. Photo by Dario Ribelo on Flickr
One week from today, on Friday, July 8, I will join thousands of activists from around the nation at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, to once again raise our voices for meaningful changes in our schools at a protest organized by the Save Our Schools Coalition. We will hear from Reverend Barber, from Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, Tanaisa Brown, Barbara Madeloni, Jtiu Brown and many more. We will march in the streets with these demands:
- Full, equitable funding for all public schools
- Safe, racially just schools and communities
- Community leadership in public school policies
- Professional, diverse educators for all students
- Child-centered, culturally appropriate curriculum for all
- No high-stakes standardized testing
I was one of those who helped organize the 2011 Save Our Schools march in DC, which raised similar issues in the first national protest against phony education reforms. These events are built by creating a broad coalition that includes activist groups and teacher unions. Right now, thousands of teachers are headed to DC to take part in the NEA’s rep assembly, which will wrap up next Thursday. Many will stay an extra day to join in the SOS Coalition event.
For some reason, a couple of bloggers have decided to attack this event and its organizer, on very flimsy grounds. The thrust of the attack is that since the SOS Coalition is providing funding to pay for buses to bring parents, students and community activists to DC who could not otherwise afford to make the trip, and this costs money, that the project must be getting some heavy subsidy from nefarious teacher unions – and thus the protest will be some sort of pep rally for Hillary Clinton.
For the record, the buses are being provided at the direct request of organizers with the Journey for Justice, which organizes communities of color to support democratic control of public schools. The funds raised for these scholarships have come from individuals, locals and state teacher organizations and the coalition partners like NPE, BATS, SOS as well as fundraising webinars with Jonathan Kozol and Diane Ravitch. I have donated several times myself, because I strongly believe that we need to build solidarity with the people most affected by corporate reform, and one concrete way to do this is to support their active participation in protests and conferences such as this. Funds are still being raised to pay for these buses. If you would like to join me in donating, please go here. These travel funds have not come from the teacher unions.
In 2011, the SOS March was primarily supported by grassroots donations, but did receive some financial support from the AFT and NEA. This support did not prevent us from being able to deliver a strong message of protest against Obama administration policies. This year, the amount of financial support provided by teacher unions has been significantly less, although both the NEA and AFT have helped publicize the events and encouraged members to attend. These are coalition events that require everyone to come together around a shared vision. That is how we brought people together in 2011, and it is how we did it this year as well.
Creating events like this requires us to build alliances and cooperate. I do not agree with everything that NEA or AFT leaders do, and have certainly made that clear over the past few years. But I value the capacity of these organizations to bring together educators, and appreciate the chance to work with them whenever possible.
Criticisms were also leveled at Bob George, as they were a few years ago. I have worked closely with Bob over the past six years, and if he is in pursuit of wealth, he has chosen a very strange path. Bob works hard, and brings people together without making a big deal out of himself. He is the real deal. He cares very deeply about social justice and has worked to make this year’s event much more diverse and representative of those most affected by corporate reform than the one five years ago.
One of the things I appreciate about being in a broad movement is the chance to hear perspectives from diverse points of view. In some gatherings I am among the more radical people in the room. In others, I am more in the center, politically speaking. If we constantly focus on our differences, then we can do very little beyond pontificate from our separate soapboxes about what is wrong about those we differ with. This gets us nowhere. How much more lively and rich it is when we bring together people from different walks of life, with different viewpoints from our own! In this case, the SOS Coalition is bringing together a range of activists and organizations, to rally around a strong stand for public schools. I look forward to seeing lots of friends, and making some new ones as well. I hope you can join us – and if you can’t, pitch in a few bucks so someone else can make the journey.