First published on Robert D. Skeels for School Board on November 27, 2012.
"Gay people have been slandered nationwide. We've been tarred and we've been brushed with the picture of pornography." — Harvey Milk
The current crop of teacher-bashing political opportunists including Michelle Rhee, Ben Austin, Peter C. Cook, Gloria Romero, and Andy Smarick, are nothing new. While it's always been in vogue to attack the female dominated profession, teachers have really been in the crosshairs of reactionaries ever since they won the modicum of protections that unions provide.
San Francisco's Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated 34 years ago today. Milk, who had been a teacher early in his career, was a man who always spoke truth to power. When right-wing extremist John Briggs coined Proposition 6, he relied on the same bigoted thinking that we've seen in recent times with Proposition 32, and other anti-teacher, anti-student, anti-worker initiatives. While the defeat of the Briggs Initiative was clearly a watershed victory for the Gay Rights Movement, it was also victory for labor and public employees, especially school employees.
Milk was no stranger to supporting and partnering with organized labor. His successful partnership with the Teamsters was an excellent example of what today's activists need to be emulating. Milk was savvy to realize that oppressed groups need to work together in order to overcome their oppressions. The fight for gay rights, women's rights, workers' rights, immigrant rights, and all our struggles are one in the same. The other side counts on us being divided.
The corporate and neoliberal forces pushing education reform rely on divide and conquer strategies. They pit parents against educators, students against other students via standardized tests, "lucky" lottery winners against families with special needs children, and we can increase this list ad infinitum. Using deceptive language about "choice," they've begun to destroy one of the great things in our country—universal public education. We need to call out the reformers' false dichotomies for what they are. We need to strengthen the natural alliances between students, educators, parents, and community. We need to tell the privatizers that the only "choices" we want are those that assure equity for all students!
We get there by emulating Harvey Milk's coalition building. We get there by exposing billionaire funded astroturf 501c3s for having the narrow interests of their funders, not our communities. We get there by pushing all unions—especially those in our schools—into social justice unionism. We get there by electing school board members who will be activists and advocates on behalf of their communities.
The struggle continues.