Successful Hunger Strike Is Leading To National Movement For Better Education
Above Photo: Dimitry B.
Jitu Brown, champion of public schools and racial justice, pushes hard against privatizers and big-city Democrats who neglect impoverished schools.
Jitu Brown helped lead one of the most striking protests in America in 2015, a weeks-long hunger strike to stop Chicago from closing a community high school. He’s part of a coalition of community groups that have exposed and fought the institutional racism in K-12 education, from GOP-led privatization to Democratic neglect in blue cities. He spoke with AlterNet as his group, Journey for Justice Alliance, launches a new national coalition for equitable public schools.
Steven Rosenfeld: Today [Feb. 14], President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had a White House event championing school choice. They didn’t use the word “privatization.” Let’s begin with you telling us about Journey for Justice Alliance and what you’ve seen in communities that privatize schools.
Jitu Brown: The Journey for Justice Alliance is a national network of grassroots communities and organizations in 24 cities. We also have a member in Johannesburg, South Africa. These are primarily black- and brown-led organizations with a constituency of low-income families, the people who are actually targeted for school privatization or what they call school choice.
Building unity with the Journey for Justice Alliance was actually pretty easy because we all had the same pain. When the press conference ends, when local politicians finish their spin, what they leave in their wake are parents and communities who are suffering. Not only with schools but who have been failed as taxpayers. Parents and communities who have been ignored, who lost their voting rights and have suffered through a system that is gleefully inequitable.
So when people talk about school choice, if you as a parent [are asked], Would you like a great neighborhood school? I challenge folks to find a parent who would say no. The school choice movement is an illusion. As schools go, it is a shell game. It’s three-card monte. It’s parents who have lived through the sabotage of public education in their communities find[ing] somewhere to send their babies. So when charter school operators come and the school is shiny and every child gets a laptop, of course, a parent who has been denied their basic right will go for that.
I want to make this point. We are not at odds with charter school families. We have all been underserved. What we are saying is we want equity and not the illusion of choice. See, these schools boards and these elected officials who go around saying what black and brown children want, they never address the fact that often in those same cities, white children have a completely different reality at their neighborhood schools. See, that’s acceptable to them. And as our communities have suffered from violent retaliation as we become organized, many of our communities are unorganized. So the people have not been able to mobilize around what they would like to see because we are in survival mode. So, as communities have been made more vulnerable, the privatization movement has swooped in like a hawk and snatched up our most precious resource.
But the sabotage of public education in black and brown communities is very real. That’s not propaganda. That’s not me trying to be dramatic. It’s very real, and if we take the time to follow it, we can see it.
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