Is Friday's rally the beginning of a new movement?
Video from Nuala Cabral, independent filmmaker and educator
Last Friday’s demonstration, which brought over 500 people to District headquarters on the heels of student walkouts at three city high schools and an outpouring of community opposition at an Audenreid community meeting, signals the emergence of a new level of opposition to the District’s school reform process.
The common thread in these actions is that Philadelphia’s parents, students, and teachers don’t want reform done to them. They want it done with them. They want a voice in shaping efforts to improve our schools. While the administration talks of inclusion their practice is ruthlessly top down and those who raise questions are shunted aside or exiled.
The rally at 440 demonstrates that teachers have discovered their voices and are using them in spite of the veiled and actual threats that have been employed to silence them. The largest demonstration by Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' members in years shows that the rank and file will rally to a call to stand up for themselves and their students.
The rally also marks a new level of unity between students, community advocates, and teachers. While many differences undoubtedly exist, the recognition that we must find common ground and work together is an important development in what has not always been a good relationship.
Teacher Action Group, in the course of organizing this action, morphed from a small group of activists to what portends to be a much broader formation with new reach in the city’s schools. Also important is a new relationship with the PFT leadership, which supported the action after constructive conversations with TAG leaders.
Meanwhile, schools will receive their budgets in March and, with a looming $500 million deficit, communities are bracing for layoffs, cutbacks in services, and increased class sizes.
This will mean that the intensifying attack on teachers and other public workers will come home. In Wisconsin, public workers face the destruction of collective bargaining on top of dramatic increases in the cost of health care and pension contributions. In Providence, Rhode Island, the whole teacher corps has been terminated with the administration planning to rehire selectively. This is an attack on seniority and teacher unionism. In Detroit, half the city’s schools have been closed and class size is expected to reach 60.
We don’t know the details of what will happen in Philly, but we do know we are not immune from these attacks. We must follow the example of our union brothers and sisters in Wisconsin and organize a broad and militant resistance.
We must stand with the rest of city’s labor movement, with the city’s poor and working class communities that will see draconian cuts in services, with our students who face a bleak future in schools that are already under funded and under staffed, and with a commonwealth that has an economy where prisons are the only sure fire growth industry.
How will we do this?
It won’t be easy because while we must unite with the administration in opposing the cuts we also must continue to press for alternatives to a school reform plan that takes the power out of the hands of stakeholders, subordinates learning to test preparation, and privatizes more and more schools.
Teacher Action Group is reaching out to parent, youth, and community groups to try to organize a forum on responses to the budget crisis. PFT is also planning a major initiative around the budget cuts next month. We need to build on the momentum of the last few weeks.
TAG is planning a meeting, tentatively scheduled for March 9 at the Youth United for Change office to talk about continuing the struggle around gaining a voice for teachers, students and parents, and opposing the stifling of dissent, the budget and other issues. The strong showing at the rally, and the outpouring of protest on the Notebook blog now must be translated into the hard work of winning a broader hearing for our cause and winning new adherents.