On February 9th at Brooklyn Tech High School, more than 2,000 parents, students and teachers voted “No Confidence” in the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), a rubber-stamp for Michael Bloomberg’s undemocratic and racist system of mayoral control over New York City’s public schools. In complete indifference to the will of parents, students, teachers, and the borough appointees on the panel, the mayor’s puppets voted to close 18 schools and truncate 5 more. These closures are devastating to local communities and a testament to the utter failure of a decade of mayoral dictatorship over the public school system.
We should not be surprised by this vote. The PEP is dominated by a majority of unelected puppets of the mayor and the 1%, who have never voted against a school closure, despite endless testimony by those affected. It was for this reason that we attempted to use the “people’s mic” to take control from the PEP and place it in the hands of the people. This tactic was unsuccessful in its objective of creating an alternate structure within the PEP and stopping the vote, but we were proud to stand with students from closing schools who bravely turned their backs on the PEP and attempted a coordinated disruption of their proceedings via this tactic.
Out of fear and contempt for those affected by their disastrous policies, the panel attempted to lock out hundreds of students and teachers from the hearing, in violation of open-meetings laws. While we did not succeed in stopping the vote, we exposed the deeply undemocratic nature the of the PEP, the Chancellor and the Mayor, who are now more isolated than ever. We will learn from this action and return stronger.
Chancellor Walcott would like to believe we are simply “Occupy Wall Street protesters” controlled by the UFT. This distortion of facts shows a desperate wish to see us as outsiders or pawns of the UFT leaders rather than the large school-based grassroots force we’ve become. In fact, February 9th was organized and carried out by a large coalition of individuals and community groups who are rights-holders in the public school system; students, parents and teachers.
Several media reports chose to highlight the so-called “divisions” between Occupy the DOE and the UFT, who attempted to organize a separate “People’s PEP” at an alternate location instead of joining the planned action inside. In the end, however, the UFT leadership joined the masses of people in direct confrontation to the panel inside the Brooklyn Tech auditorium. This display of unity, however late, is welcome. We must continue to build coalitions between parents, students and school workers to mobilize for mass democratic and non-violent action to defend our schools.
Every school closure, every encroachment by charter-school privatizers and profiteers, every attack on teachers’ union rights will meet resistance. We demand REAL reform of our schools. We demand smaller class sizes. We demand an anti-racist curriculum. We demand an end to high-stakes testing. We demand equitable funding. We demand direct, democratic governance by a People’s Board of Education. We will not stand by while our public schools are auctioned off to the profiteers of the 1%. We are the 99%, and we will continue to escalate our campaign of non-violent struggle against mayoral control.