Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Will the real activists please stand up?
By:  NJ Grassroots Activists

Activism is defined as the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. Any grassroots movement is the true foundational base of activism, driven by a community's policies, the creation of the movement and the group supporting it are natural and spontaneous. This highlights the difference between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures.

The issue that comes forth from this is when these power structures take upon the mission of grassroots organizations, co-opts the message, adopts it as their own, and then neglects to recognize the original work of the grassroots organizations and activists that have been dedicated towards bringing about this change. At this point does the power structure become the enemy, for having virtually silenced the grassroots members by now defining what that message needs to be and how it can be carried?

New Jersey has become a prime example of this. The New Jersey Education Association has come to the forefront of state unions as a vehicle organizing to push back against standardized testing, bringing with it the parent group Save our Schools NJ. These two organizations have joined forces to create resources and avenues for parents to join and participate in the statewide test refusal movement.

But if we look back a few years, we can see where the real groundwork was laid, where the real push has come from, where the true advocates are. Members within the NJEA saw the need, three years ago, for a statewide organizing platform as evidence started becoming apparent that there was a corporate agenda for educational dollars. A model was established as a statewide advocacy platform called ReAd: Research and Advocacy. The plan from the developers of these models was to establish this platform locally, with communication venues and the development of strategies to fight for our schools. Once established, this model could have easily been brought to other local organizations, with support from the NJEA to assist with the initial set up until ReAd was running as independent. Instead, these groups were all but ignored, slow to spread to other locals due only to the fact that these grassroots organizers of this model also have their own careers and limited time to commit to establishing these committees in other areas. Think of how much stronger the position of  public education advocates would have been in New Jersey if this had been established by NJEA years ago.

Other grassroots organizations have also laid the groundwork and done the grunt work, only to be neglected in the recognition for their efforts. United Opt Out has worked hard to put a model group that carries the message of test refusal to all states. The facebook group for the NJ chapter was created over a year ago and this is where you see the true work of the grassroots members being done; communicating, planning, sharing ideas and developing strategies.

Of course, we cannot neglect to mention our own NJ BATs, who started a petition in 2013 to let the NJEA know that the members wanted and needed the union to take a stronger stand against the abuses of high stakes testing. It has been the work of the BATs, on a state and national level, that has brought ideas to the NJEA, such as the movie “Standardized” as an organizing tool. 

As institutions take up the fight of grassroots activists against corporate education reform it is important that attention is given so that the voices of the true stakeholders and the true activists are not silenced. For without their efforts, without their dedication as people that do this for a true purpose of belief, not because they receive money or recognition, such movements would not occur. 

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