Over 320 people came out to Rally for Public Education on Sunday. After last year’s rally outside in a snowstorm, this year’s event was warm and dry at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty. With rousing performances and speakers, loud chanting and singing, the crowd sent a strong message to the many legislators in attendance that public education is a public good. The media was also there and we had radio and television coverage, as well as an excellent article above the fold on the front page of the Post-Gazette local section, with two large photos. [Post-Gazette, 2-11-13]
Arriving at the theater, Rally participants were greeted by OnePittsburgh volunteers who organized some street theater and a “state budget limbo,” inviting folks to see how low they could go, dropping the bar based on how much money different school districts are losing to budget cuts. In the lobby, children drew signs and recorded messages about how the cuts are affecting their schools at a booth set up by the Hear Me project from Carnegie Mellon University. And inside the auditorium, the Dilworth Drummers welcomed the audience with fantastic African drumming, sending the energy soaring to start the Rally. Then the music just kept coming, with everything from classic protest songs and civil rights anthems, to gospel, hip hop, rap, spoken word, folk … and a little Twisted Sister 80’s rock, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” playing the crowd back out of the theater.
In between performances, we heard about the State of Public Education, with a focus on equity and poverty issues. We celebrated the many achievements of this grassroots movement over the past year and enjoyed a slideshow that reminded us of just how much we did and how many folks have been involved. And we issued a Call-to-Action, with audience members whipping out their smart phones to sign an on-line petition, fill in story cards that will be delivered to Governor Corbett, and taking home an Action Menu to keep the movement rolling. [If you missed it, get your own “Call to Action Take Home Menu.”]
We have video footage coming soon for those of you unfortunate enough to miss the event. But here are some terrific photos by Pittsburgh public school parent, Derek Wahila, followed by our list of Rally highlights:
- Dilworth Drummers raising the roof and getting everyone ready to Rally
- Yinzercation activist and public school parent, Cassi Schaffer, as our M.C. leading the crowd in chanting “Cut Back? Fight Back!”
- Pittsburgh’s own singer-songwriter extraordinaire Anne Feeney opening and closing the Rally with spot-on performances.
- Rev. David Thornton of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, reading the “State of Public Education” with such passion the crowd was on its feet.
- Pittsburgh CAPA senior Sheryl Sesay, with tears running down her cheeks, reading and singing about losing her music teacher to the budget cuts. She said, “Knowledge is power, but your power (Gov. Corbett) is taking our knowledge.”
- Aaliyah Chapman, a sophomore at Pittsburgh Perry and student with the Arts Greenhouse hip-hop program, telling it like it is.
- A special guest appearance by the fast-rising rap star Jasiri X, himself a former public school teacher and now public school parent, performing his piece “America’s Most Livable City” with new lyrics about education.
- Jamaka Scott, a Pittsburgh CAPA senior, bringing the audience to its feet to sing along on the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
- With slides rolling showing the many actions we took this past year, Jessie Ramey celebrating Our Grassroots Movement and the wonderful Squirrel Hillbillies leading the crowd in singing “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
- The absolutely show-stopping spoken word performance of Vanessa German, Pittsburgh’s emerging artist of the year, whose Love.Front.Porch project combines kids and art in Homewood.
- Irene Habermann, chair of the PIIN education task force, and the Rev. John Welch, Dean of Students at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, issuing a Call to Action to support our public schools.
- Dr. Tim Slekar, head of the division of education at Penn State Altoona, giving his moving statement about why he opted his child out of high-stakes-testing, and then went on to help found the national Opt Out movement.
Here’s what we heard over and over again from the performers and speakers:
- This fight for public education is about equity.
- It’s the civil rights issue of our time.
- We must include the fight against poverty.
- Every child must have access to a great public education.
- Public education is a public good.
- No more high-stakes-testing.
- Give us back art, music, languages, tutoring, history – and our teachers.
- We demand adequate, equitable, and sustainable public funding for public education.
- Everything we did last year worked, now we have to keep working together.