On March 16, Boston Public School teachers, students, parents and supporters gathered at the Boiling Building in Dudley Square to attend the last hearing on the austerity measure budget cuts to Boston Public Schools. There Liberation News interviewed an educator who was unable to finish his speech when addressing superintendent Tommy Chang and others. Here is Clay Brown’s testimony. He is an educator with Boston Public Schools.
Good evening, I am Mr. Brown and I work at the Young Achievers School. I was born on March 16, 1991 and today is my birthday. There is no other place I would want to be, with this multinational, multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multi-religious group behind me. Although I am happy to be here, it saddens me that we have to fight over what is OUR money.
Last month, we organized ourselves, and I mean we the people. We staged a “walk in” to give the mayor a petition, which is growing, and a list of demands to address the neoliberal austerity measure budget cuts to our public schools. Last Monday both Middle and High school students autonomously organized themselves and staged a historic walk out of 3,650 students against the budget cuts as well. The mayor said that he believes outsiders are using students. This is insulting to the intelligence of our brave and conscious youth who have the power and knowledge to act on their own and recognize their own collective interests. They recognized that they too must take action because the cuts to their already cash strapped schools, some with dilapidated infrastructure, ultimately does not serve their education.
Often times these politicians speak of a “calculated risks” in this process of budget cuts. This is not some math equation; these are people’s lives. As a young man of color entering into the public school system, I am not enthused about the budget cuts that make the conditions of my success as an educator less possible. It is often said that it is necessary to “speak truth to power,” well; I am glad that the everyday people behind me are here because they are the power that I am speaking to. It is the people who have the power and this is their money that you control.
What is an “equitable cut,” really, in an already unequal anti-egalitarian society, in a city that is more segregated than Birmingham, Alabama? These cuts don’t just affect our schools but our society at large. They target mainly Black and Latino students and schools that serve them. They are racist, ableist, and sexist. They further re-inscribe the class inequalities inherent in this capitalist society.
How does one cut a family “equitably?” I don’t know and don’t want to find out, but we will see. Elementary and Middle Schools, as well as Early education centers are still being cut despite the mayors concessions to some high schools. Dreams will be deferred. Wings are being clipped. The souls of public school are being whittled away by neoliberalism. There is always money for war, on terror and drugs, which have turned out to be wars on Black and Brown people, the working class and poor. However, those in power seem to never have enough money to fully fund our schools with the resources they need.
What is happening in Boston is happening in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, DC, Detroit, and New Jersey. This is a struggle for our minds and the institutions that help to build the next generation of critical thinkers. Frederick Douglass once said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and never will.”
I am happy to be on the right side of history, with the people struggling for what is rightfully ours. The established leaders want peace but they refuse to concede the power or resources necessary for our collective freedom.
An attack against one of us is an attack against all of us. So the concessions the mayor made to the high school students doesn’t mean that we have won. Malcolm X taught me that you don’t stab a man in the back 9 inches deep, pull it out 6 inches and call it “progress.” Our politicians and representatives of the establishment won’t even mention that there is a knife in the backs of teachers, students, and parents. True progress for us would mean the removal of the knife and healing the wound to the point where the scar cannot be observed.
These officials of this austerity regime think that their positions are to dole out public funds as an act of charity to us. They believe it is fine to throw scraps of our own taxpayer money to us and expect us to be content with less and less year after year. The budget cuts objectively leads us further along the path of austerity, of tightening of belts for the poorest and more stress for teachers, who are workers and not bureaucrats. These cuts and the logic of austerity mean a slow death of any semblance of a democracy we have in this nation.
Politicians ostensibly serve the people we are told. So we must ask, do these budget cuts serve us? If they do not, then whom do they serve? Do they serve the single parent who is working two jobs to pay for higher education, after-schools, childcare, and other hidden costs? Do they serve young teachers, especially those of color who are entering a profession that is already chastised by the elite in society? What about the teachers who need these vital HUMAN resources to survive and provide students with the most enriching learning experience? What about my student who is borderline homeless? The student with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome at the tender age of 8? The student who has a severe learning disability and is living in poverty? We who teach in public schools are on the front lines of the class struggle, the democratic struggle for social justice for the oppressed and exploited.
I am here to tell the truth, and if the truth is anti-Chang, Walsh, Baker, and establishment, don’t blame me, blame the truth! The truth is that over three years we have experienced $140 million in cuts. The truth is that General Electric is given more importance than the families, teachers, and students of Boston Public Schools. The truth is that those elected to serve the people, like the people standing in this room, don’t serve us. They serve the interests of the corporations, foundations, and a tiny wealthy elite that own and control the vast wealth of society. Noam Chomsky said “the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” The youth walk-out broke that hindrance and we should follow their lead. We must begin to critique the framework that these budget cuts are occurring in. We must question whether capitalism can fully fund anything other than war and the pockets of the ultra-wealthy in our society let alone our public schools. They don’t want to fund us because once you educate someone they become dangerous for they may begin to question the society they were educated in.
I have heard people say that this is OUR money that WE need back. I was raised in Brooklyn and I’m sure that there as almost anywhere, that is called ROBBERY. This system that is bleeding our public schools dry, to the point of privatization, is built on exploiting the many to the benefit of the few. This must end. Don’t exploit my students. Don’t “cut corners,” or apply your callous free market neoliberalism to our public schools. We are people; we are human beings, not tools and machines. Schools should not be factories nor should they be treated like them. We say no to the bloodletting of our public school system, students, parents, and teachers. You need to fully fund Boston Public Schools! We will not compromise on the lives that will shape our future world! An injury to one is an injury to all!