The Youth for Justice rally today was amazing! Over 100 high school students in Seattle came together in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin. They also expressed solidarity with the ongoing prison hunger strike, and demanded an end to ICE Holds. (ICE holds are when the King County jail holds prisoners to be deported; inside their chambers, the County Council was debating whether to drop this policy, while we rallied outside).
The students were better organized than many adult activists, and they spit some powerful poetry expressing a sharp analysis of the system we live in, including the education system. Their solidarity and care for each other was moving, especially since it crossed racial lines. The mainstream media coverage doesn’t really do it justice – if the youth share their experiences, poems, speeches, or videos of the rally, I’ll post them here.
In the meantime, here’s the speech I gave, calling for teacher-student solidarity in the struggle against white supremacy:
I am a public school teacher. And there are some politicians out there who think that my role should be to stand up in front of you and list a bunch of facts about history. They want me to make you write these down so you can regurgitate them back on a standardized test. If I don’t do that, they will try to get me fired. What those people don’t understand is that truth is not in a textbook or a test, it is out here in the streets. Truth is here in your poetry and your courage and your unity. It is here in the fact that you are not simply learning history, you are making it.
So I am not going to stand up here and lecture you. In fact, you are the teachers, and I am and the student. Because what I’ve learned from you today is that solidarity is alive. It is not just an idea or a slogan, it is here in your words and your actions.
In the California prisons, the Black and Latino gangs have declared a truce so they can strike against the prison guards who deny them an education and torture them in solitary confinement. You have taken that spirit of solidarity from the prison yards into your neighborhoods, your classrooms, and here into this park. I see non-Black youth here supporting Black youth who are being targeted by the George Zimmermans of the world. And I see non-immigrant youth here supporting immigrant youth who are being targeted by La Migra, and the ICE holds that the politicians up there enforce. This is the kind of solidarity we need to tear down white supremacy and to replace it with freedom.
You’re giving me hope that we can build that kind of solidarity between students and teachers. We all know that Black youth are 3 times as likely to be expelled from Seattle public schools as white students. If you all decide you want to fight that, some of us teachers will get your back. We all know that they are cutting funding for education and youth programs, while they’re spending 210 million on a new juvenile detention center to lock ya’ll up. If you want to fight that, we will get your back. We all know they are trying to deport immigrant youth who they label gang members, and we know that they put that label on you simply because of who you kick it with at school. If you want to fight that, we will get your back.
Teachers across the country are fed up with this system. Seattle teachers successfully boycotted the MAP test this spring and defended a teacher at the Center School when he was transferred for teaching anti-racist curriculum. So if they try to get us fired for teaching about the Black Panthers or the Chicano movement, will you get our backs? If we demand smaller class sizes and enough time to build caring relationships in the classroom, will you get our backs?
This, right here, is where the real learning happens, not on some scantron bubble test. We make the road by walking it. We write the story by living it. And together, we can tear down all the borders and prison walls that divide us.