I made the following remarks at the Women’s March in Cleveland, Ohio, on January 20th, 2018. I was honored to be part of an amazing series of speakers.
A video link to the speech is available on youtube thanks to Toni Jones.
Before I begin, I’d like to take a moment to honor the Erie Indians who lived on this land long before any of us arrived. They were an Iroquoian tribe of the northeastern woodlands, who spoke an Iroquoian language similar to Huron and Seneca. As we continue to confront those who oppress, may we never forget those who have been embroiled in a struggle to exist for centuries.
I am honored to have this time here with you today, and honored to be representing Ohio’s Badass Teachers Association (BATs), and thousands of educators who are fighting for the public schools ALL our children deserve.
When government officials and the business community attack teachers and the public schools that over 90% of school-age children attend, you can believe that it is an attack on women, who make up over 75% of the teaching profession. It is an attack on our children. It is an attack on our democracy.
As a mother, as an educator and as a woman, I recognize that it is this alliance among women and our friends that is the worst fear of those holding power in (what I like to refer to as) our system of “electile” dysfunction.
And how can those in power who oppress and disenfranchise maintain their power?
Part of their plan includes an attack on and the starvation of the foundation of our democracy: our public schools.
They defund education and steal tax dollars to promote a for-profit education system, particularly in the urban neighborhoods of our most vulnerable citizens.
Those governing Ohio are still out of compliance with a twenty-year-old state supreme court decision mandating that they fix the way we fund our public schools.
We must hold public officials accountable. Budget bills must equitably and fully fund education – not mass incarceration or deportation.
As we gather here today, there are young people whose civil rights are being violated right now at our county jail, not too far from here. These young people have been identified as individuals with learning disabilities. And even though federal law demands that these young people be offered services for their specific educational needs, the county and city that detains them continues to violate federal law by not offering these already disadvantaged young people access to education.
Perhaps those in power restrict access to education because education is essential to human liberation. An uneducated or poorly educated populace is much easier to manipulate and control.
In the spirit of liberation, we must all continue to fight to dismantle oppressive practices like high stakes standardized testing in schools; practices placed upon us by legislators and corporate interests without any regard for what is best for our children.
Ohio is one of only 14 states in the country that still requires students to pass tests not created by their classroom teachers in order to graduate or be promoted.
We must continue to fight for curriculums and classroom practices that are culturally relevant to every child.
We must support local democratically elected school boards. Because if you can vote to have your taxes raised to support a school district, then you should be able to vote for the board controlling the money used in those schools.
We call for an end to harsh zero tolerance policies and the policing of our children, and instead call for the implementation of restorative practices that do not disproportionately put children of color on a school-to-prison pipeline.
You can’t say you’re a pro-lifer and then refuse to fight for every living human being to have an equitable opportunity to enjoy safe quality schools, safe communities, safe water, safe housing, safe neighborhoods, and to have police forces who protect and serve.
When I became pregnant with my eldest son at the age of 17, it was education that helped remove me from a life otherwise destined for dependence on public assistance. There probably isn’t anyone who understands and relates to my passion for justice and equity in education more than my sons. Thus, it is with tremendous pride that I am able to share with all of you that my oldest son here today, Cassimir Svigelj, is running for the 16th district house seat in the Ohio legislature, which includes Bay Village, Rocky River, Fairview Park, North Olmsted & Westlake, with my full support.
Not only do education activists take their power to the polls, but sometimes their kids are inspired to actually get their names on the ballot.
Before I go, I plead with all of you to remain vigilant and diligent in the fight for our public schools. Liberty and justice for all depend upon it. Thank you.