Saturday, February 4, 2017

The DeVos Nomination: The Activist's Rosetta Stone by Dr. Michael Flanagan

#DumpDeVos The avalanche of resistance against the nomination of Betsy DeVos’ as Secretary of Education can be used as the Rosetta Stone for activists across the United States. Public education can be the one issue that unites the multitudes of protesters around the country. Win or lose this confirmation vote, the groundswell of organized opposition against DeVos is a positive for all other resistance movements. It is something to build on. It is a way in which we can begin to coalesce, to open up the lines of communication between disparate social and political constituencies. Whether the Republican Senators, many of whom were bought and paid for by DeVos money, confirm her or not, the pushback on her nomination has been crucial. She is the first nominee that every Democrat has declared to vote against. That in and of itself proves my point.  


As of the writing of this piece, the vote was 50 for and 50 against her confirmation. In that case Mike Pence, as President of the Senate, would cast the deciding vote. That has never happened in American history. Only nine cabinet nominees have ever been rejected by the Senate. The reason her nomination is so contentious is that teachers, parents and education activists have mobilized to resist DeVos, forcing an opposition that no nominee has yet faced. A million and a half  phone calls a day to the Capitol. It is unprecedented. From the minute DeVos’ name was mentioned, public school activists have been unrelenting. Through writing, calling, blogging, memes, rallies and marches we have shined constant and unrelenting attention on what a terrible choice she is. The outcry against her has been non-stop and has crossed political party lines. Conservatives, Liberals and Independents all clearly see her disdain for public education. We have not only been loud in our dissent, we have been organized.


In a country so deeply divided, with increasing protests for so many different causes, the DeVos opposition can be the unifying event we have needed. No matter your politics, everyone wants good schools for their children. Research shows that overwhelmingly people want those schools to be their own community public schools. Even those schools that the education privatizers try to label as failing, parents just want those schools supported.


Politicians and Wall Street want to pretend that the protests, boycotts, and calls for nationwide strikes are some media ploy. They do not want to acknowledge the historic amount of phone calls, emails and faxes to our legislators, which shows how motivated people are to fight for their children. There is even a GoFundMe account created to buy Senator Pat Toomey's vote, which as of the writing of this piece had reached $61,120. The goal was $58,800, or the same amount that Toomey received from DeVos herself. There will always be people whose bigotry and racism will never align with social justice causes. They are blinded by mainstream media fueled hatred and scapegoating. We can not move them on those issues, and it is futile to try. But even the people we most disagree with, want good public schools for their children. We need to identify the things that unite us, instead of allowing the billionaires, bankers, corporations and their political pawns to continue exploiting our divisions.


A million and a half phone calls a day in opposition to DeVos’ nomination speaks volumes. The legislators on Capitol Hill hear those phones ringing, just as they see the millions marching in the streets. They see the spontaneous protests, and the organization at the grassroots level, that can fill the block in front of Chuck Schumer, or Dianne Feinstein's houses at the spur of a moment. This is not about the Republican Party, or the Democratic Party. It is about the people filling our streets.


For far too long under the Obama and Bush administrations public school teachers and parents have been ignored by both political parties. Those same political parties have in fact abandoned the entire nation and want the people divided in order to maintain their power and privilege. We are all watching how they vote on these cabinet positions. We will remember who stands up and represent their constituents, and who does not.


Unfortunately, Betsy Devos will likely be confirmed. Most politicians will vote for the money, instead of for the people. I understand that it is political “suicide” to cross party lines, but what we, the people who oppose DeVos, are showing them, is that we do not care about political parties anymore. We want leaders of courage and character. Not pretenders full of rhetoric and alternate facts. It is time for politicians to stop worrying about funding their next election, and start paying attention to the revolution that is literally happening right outside their homes.


Teachers and parents who support public schools have long been on the losing end of the education reform movement. We have years of experience being sold out by our representatives. It is for that very reason we were able to marshal such concerted opposition to DeVos.

Education activists have had all too much practice tilting at windmills. As a teacher and parent of a public school student I know that neither political party has my best interests at heart. They are both anti-teacher and pro-privatization. That has been made perfectly clear. Public school activists have been organizing and waging resistance against terrible education policies for years, except we have been fighting with one hand tied behind our backs. Many of us had voted for Obama, and it was his policies that were destroying public education. It is hard to fight against someone you supported, but who enacted policies that were destroying your public schools and profession. With the nomination of DeVos, the gloves are finally off. Now the organization and determination of education activists is on full display. The love we have for our children is so much more powerful than political party loyalty. It is primal. Every bear will protect its cubs, and millions of parents and teachers are ready to go grizzly on every senator who supports Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Good luck with the confirmation vote on Monday senators, you are going to need it. #AGrizzlyAteMyHomework

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