Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Choose Hope Over Despair: Fighting Gov. Walker's Attack on All Things Public
Remarks by Bob Peterson
at the Save Our Schools Community Strategy Session
MATC • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
February 7, 2015
Why are we here? We are here our children, our grandchildren, and our entire community. We are also here for the people have gone before us, those who fought for the rights that are now being threatened by the know-nothings that run our state government.
We know the public schools needs to improve, as do most social services in our community. That’s why several of our workshops today will examine how to improve our public schools while we fight to defend them.
But we also know that when governors cut budgets, when companies move family sustaining jobs out of our community and when business leaders and politicians ignore the glaring racial and economic inequalities, it’s time to organize and to stand up for what is moral and just.
We did that in 2009 when a Democratic Governor and Mayor proposed that Milwaukee’s democratically elected school board be replaced by one appointed by the mayor. Wendell Harris of the NAACP and I co-chaired the Coalition to Stop the MPS Takeover and together, with many people and other leaders, we stopped that sorry attempt to disenfranchise our community.
But those who oppose democracy and justice do not rest. Backed by the wealth of the Walton’s, Koch brothers, and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce they managed to pass a voter ID law that would have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands had it not been the legal work of the ACLU, the NAACP and others.
In 2013 the MMAC and Republicans talked about a New Orleans style recovery zone for the Milwaukee Public Schools – in which dozens of public schools would be taken over by private operators unaccountable to any elected body. We restarted the Coalition to Stop the MPS Takeover and again, with many others, pushed back. The idea was shelved and anti-public school legislation like SB 286 was blocked.
The coalition to stop the takeover, however, didn’t want to always be viewed as on the defensive and only against things. So we changed our name to Schools and Communities United. Last May 17th over 500 people commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board school desegregation decision. We did so by publishing the booklet “Fulfill the Promise: The Schools and Communities Our Children Deserve” that’s in your pocket folder. It’s main message: our children deserve both high quality public schools and revitalized neighborhoods. You can’t have one without the other.
And notice I said public schools. The Milwaukee Public Schools are the only institution in the city that has the commitment, capacity and legal obligation to serve ALL children.
Schools and Community United continues today – promoting community school model – which you’ll hear more about shortly – and organizing against privately-run charter schools that don’t serve all kids. Currently we’re campaigning to convince the City Council that it should hold the schools it charters more accountable, and we’re having impact – but we need your help, which will be explained later in the program.
But today we face one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime. We have a governor who is set on destroying the public sector to benefit the wealthy few. If it’s public Walker and the 1% want it defunded and turned over to private operators -- whether it’s our public university, our public schools, public radio, public TV, public transportation, public sector unions, or our public natural resources.
Unfortunately many in the state legislature have the same attitude.
A key ingredient in Walker’s success so far has been to play the race card, saying he didn’t want Wisconsin to become like Milwaukee. Too many white working people voted their prejudice instead of their class interests. And because of that we are in one hell of a mess. And it’s a national mess, with Wisconsin and Milwaukee at ground zero.
Some friends throw up their hands and say, but what can we do? The forces of evil are too powerful and too wealthy.
I acknowledge that these are very difficult times and short term, it’s bleak. To those who say it is hopeless and use such pessimism to rationalize their own inaction, I say look at our history. I ask, would confronting Walker and reinvigorating public life in our country take more effort than that exerted by the abolitionist movement as they successfully fought to end the scourge of slavery? Would it take more work than that by the suffrage movement as they successfully fought to win the right for women to vote? Or of the labor movement which won union rights, social security and Medicare. Or of the civil rights movement that won the right to vote and ended de jure segregation?
Yes, I am comparing our current situation to some of the historic challenges that our forefathers and foremothers had to confront. And they fought for justice and succeeded because they had the tenacity and courage to continue in even the darkest of times.
While we are here advocating for educational justice, our struggle will only be successful if we see ourselves as part of a broader social movement including Black Lives Matter, Raise Up 15 for living wage, immigrant rights, the environmental movement and prison.
That’s what we must do now, we must unite in a broad social movement for economic and political democracy and racial and social justice. All those who are under attack – students, women, people of color, parents, undocumented, elderly, the unemployed – must recognize that our future and the future of our children are bound together. Thank you for coming today, continuing our work tomorrow. Let us choose hope over despair and continue to work united for our children and our communities.