What do you get when more than 500 education advocates from across the country convene for a weekend of skills building and collaboration? You get a unified movement for educational justice.
In early October, the Opportunity to Learn Campaign hosted its 2013 Organizing Summit in Los Angeles in conjunction with the American Federation of Teachers' Civil, Human and Women's Rights Conference. Over 200 parents, students, organizers and OTL allies from across the country joined 300 teachers from the AFT and National Education Association for an exciting weekend of trainings and strategy sessions aimed at building a collaborative movement to defend public education.
Kicking off the Town Hall discussion, panelist John H. Jackson, President and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, said that current education reforms like standardized testing and mass school closures haven't created a sustainable "education ecosystem" that provides every student with the supports to succeed in the classroom. Rather than focusing solely on setting standards and holding teachers and school accountable, our nation should focus on building a system of resources and opportunities that helps every student achieve.
The lively discussion that followed focused on what is needed to create sustainable education ecosystems. Panelist Eugene Chasin (Say Yes to Education) said that community ownership is key to changing and improving public institutions. Maisie Chin (CADRE) highlighted how empowering parents helps them use their experiences with structural racism to break down similar barriers for their children. Youth leaders Minkah Smith (Community Rights Campaign) and Carlos "Elmo" Gomez (Sons, Brothers, Selves) both spoke about the necessity of ending harsh school discipline policies that alienate students and push them down the school-to-prison pipeline. Charles Fields (California Endowment) highlighted the link between access to healthcare and educational attainment and challenged philanthropies to play a supporting and connecting role to empower grassroots organizers.
There's no single fix for education. Students need an #EdEcosystem — many policies and supports, in & out of the classroom, working together— Opportunity to Learn (@OTLCampaign) October 2, 2013
Friday featured a full-day training for over 100 parents, students and community organizers. Trainers from the New Organizing Institute (NOI) introduced a powerful narrative structure called the Story of Self, the Story of Us, and the Story of Now. The model was developed by Marshall Ganz and honed over years in the field, and the practice has propelled organizing campaigns from Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers to Barack Obama’s campaigns, the fight for marriage equality, the work of the DREAMers, and many more. The goal was for local organizers to learn how to tell compelling personal stories, connect them to issues facing their community, and make a powerful call to action.
During a brief introduction by NOI trainers Hope Wood and Evan Sutton, participants learned that the key to a successful story that moves people to action is creating a personal narrative that resonates with the audience and presents a credible plan of action for creating change and upholding a common set of values. "Vulnerable leadership," putting your own story out there rather than hiding behind facts and figures, is what inspires others, Wood said. Echoing her, Sutton stressed that while statistics are important, "nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart."
Breaking into small groups, participants crafted and shared their personal stories, drawing on their experiences with education issues like harsh school discipline or insufficient school funding to show how they became advocates for public education.
Gearing up to learn about how telling our stories can lead folks to action for change! #OTL13— GGE NYC (@GGENYC) October 4, 2013
Next they practiced connecting their stories with a common set of values, such as the importance of equity in public education, and presenting a positive, hopeful call to action that empowers the audience by making them feel they can make a difference. NOI trainer Bridget Todd then gave participants a primer in using the Story of Self, Us, and Now in online advocacy.
Watch two participants practicing their stories:
Starting Friday night and continuing through Sunday morning, over 500 teachers, parents, students and community members participated in the AFT's Civil, Human and Women's Right Conference. Hosted in partnership with OTL, AFT, the National Education Association and Communities for Public Education Reform, the weekend's main purpose was to bring together labor and community stakeholders and present a united front in defense of public education. Because dominant, national reforms often pit teachers and community voices against each other, the conference represents a potentially seminal moment in the history of public education.
#EdJustice13 listening to Rev. Barber in Friday night lit a fire in my belly that I hadn't felt in a long time. Moved me to tears & a song.— Ocynthia Williams (@Ocynthiawill) October 6, 2013
So inspired that tchrs,parents, cmnty & students came together to create and begin implementing the principles that unite us. #EdJustice13— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) October 7, 2013
During the conference, the AFT released the "Principles That Unite Us," a document developed collaboratively with community members over the past year following a series of town hall meetings around the country. These principles will serve as the cornerstone of the labor-community movement to end educational injustices and ensure every child has access to a high-quality public education.
Saturday featured morning workshops on the issues addressed in the "Principles That Unite Us." In the afternoon, participants broke out into state and regional groups to strategize around which issues they will tackle in their communities and how they will coordinate with other groups to create a statewide and national movement.
On Saturday night, youth leaders took center stage with a Youth Speak Out session, leading adult participants through exercises to illustrate the organizing power of young people.
The conference closed Sunday morning with a panel session with Jitu Brown, a Chicago community organizer, Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director for the Alliance for Quality Education in New York, and Mary Cathryn Ricker, President of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers in Minnesota. Jitu and Zakiyah are both OTL Campaign Ambassadors and two of the most inspiring grassroots voices in the movement for education justice.
OTL Organizing Summit: