Tuesday is Election Day. You know the mantra: Our ancestors died for the right to die. It’s your civic responsibility. It could be a lot worse. Vote for the lesser of two evils. This is the most important election since [fill in the blank].
If you’re unsure of the location of your polling place, hours of operation or who’s on the ballot, there’s an app for that -- Get to the Polls.
While I’m a voting rights activist, I understand why many are skeptical about the efficacy of voting. It seems like little ever changes for the better. Yes, your vote is your voice. But the change you want doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen.
Turning out to vote is the first step. But civic engagement is a process, not an event. Truth be told, elected officials want you to go away after you vote for them. To make a difference, you must stay engaged after Election Day.
You also must hold those for whom you vote accountable. No elected official should be given a pass simply because he or she looks like you.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s address before the 1st Berlin Jazz Festival. In his opening remarks, Dr. King reflected on the importance of jazz:
Jazz speaks for life. The blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.
This is triumphant music.
Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.
It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.
Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.
On Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, the Pennsylvania State Chapter National Action Network (PA NAN) will return to its roots and present the 3rd Annual Jazz for Justice Fundraiser.
I hope you will join us as we party for a cause and kick off PA NAN’s 2014 advocacy in action. Tickets are $20.00 and include live jazz (the Unity Band) and a fish platter.
Proceeds from the event will help fund PA NAN’s social justice initiatives, including voter protection and voter mobilization for the midterm election.
Tickets may be purchased on PA NAN’s secure website (please click this link).
It’s Week Four of Philadelphia’s school funding crisis. The fight for equitable funding of traditional public schools is rooted in the Pennsylvania state constitution which provides for a “thorough and efficient system of public education.”
The fight for full funding is being waged online (hashtag #phillyeducation) and offline.
Students at Roxborough High School “got the eye of a tiger.” They created video to express their concern about the state’s failure to provide a “thorough and efficient system of public education.” Since 2001, Philadelphia’s public schools have been run by the School Reform Commission, which is controlled by the governor.
At last weekend’s conference at the Church of the Advocate, Bishop Dwayne D. Royster, executive director of P.O.W.E.R., said he’s raring to go. P.O.W.E.R., Philadelphia’s largest faith-based organization, is an interfaith movement that uses prophetic voices to “fight for the least, the last and the lost.”
He said “interposition and nullification are dripping from the lips of political leaders in Philadelphia and Harrisburg. It’s time to hold them accountable:
We must be the source of their nervousness; make them tremble when they see us coming.
Bishop Royster added:
We have to do something that’s going to be transformational.
Still, the vultures are circling. There’s money to be made by siphoning taxpayers’ dollars to unaccountable charter and Catholic schools.
So today, wealthy donors gathered for a two-day conference ostensibly to “examine the most promising strategies to grow what works in all of a city’s schools—charter, district, and Catholic/private—and explore the challenges and benefits of a city-based, multischool sector strategy.”
My routine request to cover the conference was turned down by Cassandra McClellan, Meetings Coordinator for the Philanthropy Roundtable. McClellan wrote:
Thank you for your interest but our events are private and are not open to the media.
Isn’t that rich. A meeting to “increase the number of great K-12 options” is being held behind closed doors at the Union League. What are they hiding?
If they had any shame, they would want to hide the fact the co-founder of the Philadelphia School Partnership, which “will lead donors through a special discussion of investment strategies targeted at expanding great schools,” is looking for an investment strategy to escape bankruptcy.
PSP’s co-founder Michael O’Neill is Founder & CEO of Preferred Sands. The Wall Street Journal reported:
Preferred Sands Holding Co., a closely held supplier to oil-and-gas drillers, has hired restructuring advisers as it battles a high debt load and weak operating results, people familiar with the matter said.
The company may file for bankruptcy protection though it is still examining opportunities for an out-of-court restructuring, these people said. Barclays PLC—the company’s lender along with KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc.—could provide a debtor-in-possession loan in the event of a Chapter 11 filing, they added.
Now get this: In addition to leading his company to the brink of bankruptcy, O’Neill is a staunch supporter of Catholic schools. He is the Chairman of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools. It strains one’s faith to suggest O’Neill has any interest in strengthening traditional public schools.
By the way, Chris Bravacos, President and CEO of the Bravo Group, is also on PSP’s board of directors. Last year, I sounded the alarm about his role in promoting Pennsylvania’s voter ID scheme.
Public schools and voting are at the heart of our democracy. In the birthplace of our democracy, both institutions are under attack. In 2012, it was the assault on voting rights. Today, the same forces behind the push for restrictive photo ID laws are spearheading the assault on traditional public schools.
The new school year got off to a rocky start in Philadelphia.
Students must navigate the school system without guidance counselors. About 60 percent of all schools do not have a full-time counselor. A group of 16 ‘itinerant’ counselors will serve eight schools with a combined enrollment of 48,000 students. Do the math: That’s one counselor for 3,000 students.
The failure to fund basic education means in some schools, students will have to “hold it” because there are no hall monitors to unlock the bathroom doors.
Education for a Better America seeks to promote, fund and sponsor educational systems that serve the needs of students in urban communities. Philadelphia is dealing with a major crisis in public education. The children in Philadelphia deserve better. The focus should be on closing the achievement gap, not closing schools.
Ms. Sharpton asked:
If there are no guidance counselors, who will help students apply for college and financial aid?
The concern about the defunding of Philly’s public schools was echoed by speaker after speaker, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter.
While noting he has no direct control over the school district, Nutter said:
We need a new and real education funding formula across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania…There’s not one reason in the world that the things we have asked Harrisburg to do have not happened. If you’re not going to help us, let us help ourselves.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry T. Jordan said help is long overdue:
After many years of underfunding, our children are in the position where they are not getting the basics…They don’t have access to libraries because librarians have been laid off. They can’t access resources at multimillion dollar libraries…Class sizes have ballooned. Some classes have 40, 50, 60 children.
Jordan questioned whether the facilities should be called public schools:
Philadelphia schools have been starved to the point where it’s almost unfair to call them public schools.
It’s criminal for the state to abandon its responsibility to provide an adequate education. Gov. Corbett says teachers should pay for the deficit out of their pockets. He’s withholding $45 million until he’s satisfied that teachers have given up enough.
Jordan said we must move beyond “band-aid solutions to get us through another school year.”
Sharpton denounced a solution that scapegoats teachers who are on the frontline:
We need to bust that up and fight for the right to a public education. It will inspire children because they will know someone cares about them… We need an education movement to show in the name of Dr. King that education is a civil right. We cannot fulfill the dream without fighting for quality education.
He questioned the Governor’s priorities:
You got money, Corbett, for jails, but no money for schools. And you ask what's wrong with the kids? I come to ask, “What's wrong with you?” Bible says that you reap what you sow. Well, if you invest in jails and cut the budget on schools, you’re investing in incarceration rather than education.
Sharpton plans to expose what’s happening in Philadelphia on his MSNBC show, “PoliticsNation”:
The whole world needs to know that in the City of Brotherly Love they are building jails and closing schools…The whole world needs to know what’s happening here in Philadelphia. Unelected officials have destabilized the city and children’s right to a quality education.
We will take the veil off the city. We will not lie. We want you to stand buck naked before the world and let them see what’s happening here.