**Originally published in the New York Amsterdam News***
Throughout the past few months, communities across the nation have mobilized, marched and elevated their voices to speak about the issues they care for in the wake of this new administration. On Saturday March 4th, parents, educators and students of New York City joined this wave of activism- and raised their concerns about the long time government neglect of the public education system and the new challenges that President Trump and recently confirmed Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos are posing to an already crippled system.
The People's March for Education Justice was a coordinated movement across New York State with marches occurring simultaneously in Buffalo, Kingston, Rochester, Schenectady, Syracuse, Wyandanch and New York City. While the March was spearheaded by the Alliance for Quality Education, over 70 local and statewide organizations endorsed the effort as well as its cohesive list of demands, which included calls to eliminate the school to prison pipeline and proposals to make SUNY and CUNY affordable for all students.
The New York City March began at Central Park West directly across from the Trump International Hotel, a clearly intentional decision given President Trump’s rhetoric surrounding the increased privatization of public schools and his recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. As a fierce advocate of school choice and funneling of funds towards private charter schools and away from public schools, DeVos’ appointment presents a clear threat to what many at the March noted is “one of the most important public institutions in American democracy”.
Playing a very vocal role throughout the march was Robert Jackson, former NYC council member and education activist who cofounded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in 1993, a non profit advocacy organization that sued the State of New York for failing to adequately fund its public schools. However, despite winning their suit in 2006, which included an allocation of $5.5 billion in operating aid, New York public schools have yet to receive nearly $3.9 billion of this aid.
The presence of Jackson, as well as other activists who have been working on behalf of these issues for decades, served as a reminder that despite the current political climate, these struggles around public education are not new. As Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director at the Alliance for Quality Education, explained the road to progress is “not a sprint but a marathon” and yet she was confident in her assertion that “justice will be had before we leave the budget season this year.”
As additional activists, teachers and students gathered, the march began to move, traveling from Columbus Circle, through Times Square and Bryant Park. This tour of midtown New York, an area of the city that is most fueled and defined by capitalism and egregious wealth posed an uneasy juxtaposition against the current, underfunded state of the city's public schools.
Signs with slogans such as “Educate or Subjugate”, “Education Justice is Racial Justice” and “Build Schools, Not Jails!” peppered the crowd, highlighting the myriad of issues embedded within the organizers platform and yet speaking to what underscores it all-- the need to do better by New York school children, particularly students of color from low income neighborhoods.
Speeches resumed at 3rd Avenue and 41st Street directly across from the office of Governor Cuomo, as organizers purposefully drew both a physical and ideological bridge between Trump’s rhetoric and the policies proposed and enacted by the Governor. Both Trump and Cuomo, for example, have characterized public schools as monopolies that need to be broken and have agreed that public education should be defunded in favor of privately run charter schools and private school vouchers.
To speak on the dangers of these policies, the event introduced the crowd to a younger generation of thought leaders and activists such as political organizer Charles Khan and Raise the Age advocate Angelo Pinto. These speakers touched upon issues related to both equitable funding as well as the ways in which the education system has worked in tandem with other state institutions that are also in need of reform.
Pinto, Senior Attorney for the Advancement Project's Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track Campaign, explained that he was compelled to get involved in the march due to the link between the prison system and current methods of student discipline in schools across New York State. “Youth usually enter the [criminal justice] system because the education system has failed” Pinto noted, “this failure often occurs through school push out in the form of suspensions and expulsions...in schools where there has been an investment in punishment and law enforcement as opposed to education, health and wellness”.
Current New York City public school students also took the stage and gave voice to their experiences through speeches and spoken word-- lending an intimate lens into the lives of those who are impacted most deeply by every issue that was elevated throughout the day. As the event rounded to a close, Ansari encouraged attendees to continue this advocacy work and to exit the March with concrete plans for direct action such as calling the office of local senators as well as Governor Cuomo himself.
To learn more about the Alliance for Quality Education and read a detailed summary of their platform, please visit: http://www.aqeny.org/march/
Pieces written for online & print publications and non-profit organizations.