Report Back: Journey 4 Justice Alliance Conference
On the weekend of May 1-3, Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J) hosted over 250 individuals in Newark, NJ for their first National Organizing Conference: Our Journey, Our Movement, Taking the Lead! J4J is a group of grassroots community, youth and parent-led organizations that come from 22 cities nationwide with the common goal of working to save public education and stop the privatization of schools. This coalition is made up primarily of people of color who are most affected by the systemic privatization, closing and underfunding of public schools.
The conference started with welcoming words from Mayor of Newark, Ras Baraka. Baraka won the mayoral race last year by promising to take back Newark from the “bosses” and used the campaign slogan, “We are the mayor!” Since entering office last year, Baraka has fought for a moratorium on the One Newark Plan, a plan to close and consolidate neighborhood schools. Despite his efforts and the support of the public, the One Newark Plan continues to be pushed through by state appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson. Baraka’s remarks about the push for education privatization were an all too familiar story for conference attendees coming from different parts of the US.
We watched a screening of A Perfect Storm: The Takeover of New Orleans Public Schools This series of short films documents how the nation’s first all charter school district was created and the effect it has on the children, families and communities of New Orleans. After the screening, a panel of youth and parents from New Orleans led a workshop called: Ending Zero Tolerance and the School-to-Prison Pipeline. The youth compared their schools to prisons because they are subjected to metal detectors and full body pat downs. Often they are late to class and get detention because security lines are too long. One student described the detention room as solitary confinement. They are forced to stare at the wall for the entire school day.
The last day of the conference featured International allies from South Africa. Tshepo Motsepe and Yonatan Bass are regional organizers with with Equal Education in South Africa. Motsepe and Bass also showed a short film about the inequality of education among black and white students in South Africa. Although charter schools have not yet taken a hold in South Africa the way they have in other countries, the message is clear - the charter school movement is not just a national movement but an international one.
Back here in Chicago, the 2015-2016 CPS budget shows that traditional neighborhood schools will be seeing $61 million in cuts while charter schools will be increasing their budgets by $30 million. It’s hard to say what is next for public education here in Chicago, since there has been tremendous leadership turn over at CPS. Mayor Emanuel has just appointed the fourth head of CPS in just as many years. Though these and other attacks on education seem to present a dire situation, parents, students and community members are not letting the attack continue without a fight. Many local groups are doing incredible work to hold officials accountable for the sake of every child’s right to a good education. Among the many groups working on education issues here in Chicago are: Raise Your Hand, Parents for Teachers, Blocks Together, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Action Now, and More Than A Score.