And that, my friends, is how you win an election. For three long years we have been fighting the devastation wrought by Gov. Corbett on our public schools. But last night we helped unseat the first incumbent governor in Pennsylvania history, to elect Tom Wolf, who ran on a strong public education platform! In fact, I dare say that we here in the grassroots are largely responsible for this victory.
The political analysts all over the news this morning have missed this point. Although they are quick to highlight that Gov. Corbett’s budget cuts made him deeply unpopular, most have failed to mention the authentic, bottom-up movement that formed around Pennsylvania’s public schools. For instance, Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College explained that, “Governor Corbett’s job performance dropped in his first year and he’s never been able to recover,” as drastic cuts, particularly in education, “simply dogged him throughout his administration.” [Post-Gazette, 11-5-14]
While this is true, what really dogged Corbett was – us! Ordinary parents, students, teachers, and community members refused to let this issue go. We wrote letters to the editor, op-eds, and blog pieces; we staged rallies and demonstrations; we held mock-bake sales; we wrote petitions and got on buses to Harrisburg to deliver thousands of signatures; we hosted public debates, lectures, and national authors. With “dogged” determination, we took every opportunity to counter Corbett’s attempts to minimize the damage he was inflicting on our schools: we took to social media and made on-line comments on news stories at every chance.
Some folks had been doing this work for many years and became advisors and mentors to the more recent groundswell of advocacy, as we joined the long arc of the education justice movement. We connected with others across the state, from Philadelphia, to the Lehigh Valley, State College, Shippensburg, Erie, and beyond. I’m especially grateful to parent leaders such as Helen Gym, Rebecca Poyourow, Susan Spicka, Mark Spengler, and Dana Bacher. One take away message from this election is “don’t mess with Pennsylvania parents – or hurt their kids and schools!”
I also have immense appreciation for the work of state-wide advocates and organizations such as Larry Feinberg and Lynn Foltz at the Keystone State Education Coalition; Susan Gobreski and Education Voters PA; the Education Law Center; the PSEA; and the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.
Locally, I especially need to give a huge shout out to the 14 members of the Yinzercation steering committee who have kept this work going day-in and day-out for three straight years, entirely as volunteers: Beth Bosco, Valerie Brown, Matt Chinman, Kipp Dawson, Gabriella Gonzalez, Sara Goodkind, Pam Harbin, Tara McElfresh, Kathy Newman, Wallace Sapp, Cassi Schaffer, Steve Singer, and David Taylor. And there are so many, many others doing this work.
So when reports say that Gov. Corbett “never successfully countered Democratic messaging, specifically around education” – I feel we must point out that this was not merely political party messaging. In fact, we are the ones who created the message, by speaking the truth about what has been happening to our children and their schools. And then we kept that message out there constantly in the public eye. One Republican committee member explained Corbett’s loss saying that Democrats, “hit the ground running with the education thing.” [Post-Gazette, 11-5-14]
But that obscures the real involvement of thousands of ordinary people who became politically activated around this issue, yet were not acting as rank and file members of a political party – or any group, for that matter. There were plenty of Republicans furious about public schools, too. For many people, this was more a social movement – focused on kids, schools, and communities – rather than a political campaign orchestrated by party officials from the top down.
Why is this an important distinction? We just saw an authentic, grassroots movement give voice to real people, about an issue central to our democracy and our state’s future – and we won. We. Won. People matter, our voices matter, and we can make a difference when we work together. Congratulations public school advocates! And thank you!!